Many improvisers feel that dialogue is a starting point in a performance, which needs to be infused with a viewpoint, tone and body language. Others feel like they must start with a viewpoint, tone or body language. Still others feel like they must start with a character or a location where the scene is taking place. They say there is no right way to start an improv scene, but for my performances there are wrong ways to start a scene.
I have to start with a character or a where. Preferably a location. A place where the scene is happening grounds me to that space. It gets me off “the stage” and out of my head. A location to me suggests a variety of characters, people who might be fully entrenched in the location, a frequenter or a visitor. I prefer to play characters who are entrenched for many reasons. First of all they are more integrated to the scene. They are part of the landscape. Scenes that have people who are visitors can become about “Why are you here?” too easily. Many people can be in many places, but characters who embody the location are just easier for me to play, and that means they are farther away from me and I have a tougher time getting into my head (thinking, not playing). Also, no matter how crazy the scene gets, If I know where I am I don’t revert back to myself as fast. Also, if I play a character that is part of this where and time, it becomes harder for me to make fun of the character. Scenes that make fun of the characters and their situations are good comedy, but not great theater.
I do like to start in my body, but this is not my easiest path. I know it is for others and that is awesome for them. For once your body is committed, you are there. You are not yourself. You are playing. Life is good.
The wrong way for me to start is dialogue. If I am not in character and not in a location by the time I start speaking then I have to do twice as much work to get out of my head. For dialogue, without a character, starts in my head. Once I start in my head, I have trouble getting out. My character is just me. Everything I do on stage starts from my intellect and not from my heart.
This is a struggle I have a lot. I used to be all from my head. Comedy was the name of the game, not improvisation or theater. I had an idea for a scene and I would drag someone on stage with me to do what I want them to do. This made for some good comedy, but it is not improvisation. Even long forms got muddled, because I started thinking what the next beat should be and not trying to take it organically. This is comedy, not improvisation. It is thinking, not reacting. This is creating, not discovering and for me it is wrong.
Another wrong way for me to start is to have someone tell me what to do and who to be on stage. Just as I try to let others bring what they want to bring to the table in an effort to keep me discovering the scene instead of scripting it in my head. I hate being in someone elses’ scripted scene. I hate being a pawn of another player.
I love improvisation and happen to find it through comedy. I love comedy too, but when it comes out of improvisation then it blows my mind. I see a lot of players who are very quick and very cleaver and very funny. They make me laugh, but most of the time I wish that it was good improv too. I think it’s good comedy. If comedy is your goal, God bless. There are lots of improv schools that will teach you to think faster and be cleaver. It’s not what I do. It’s not what I love.
So, for me I have to start my scenes in a way that gets me out of my head and into the body, location and situation of another person. I love the comedy that comes from discovery, play, true reactions, and from the heart, in other words Improvisation. If I start wrong, it is twice as hard to get back to playing.