The hardest jump for people to make is from looking like a beginning player to looking like a practiced player, or more accurately from looking like a timid player to looking like a confident player. There are four steps that the beginning player can do to help them look more confident and help their scenes. None of these are new ideas, but they are crucial to playing well.
Start When You Begin. So many new players come out and wait for their partner to show up before starting the scene. Meanwhile the audience is watching you wait. Or if their partner is already doing something they come out and watch them to try to figure out what they are doing instead of doing something too. This automatically sets up a separation between you and your partner(s). So \"Start When You Begin\" is a simple way of getting into the scene without stalling. There are 3 things you can do to begin a scene and get past the stall. If you can do these things as you start you will have more fun and scenes will be easier.
- The first is Be Someone. Characters, real characters are never boring to watch. They have a purpose on stage. They can be sitting in a chair waiting, but there is an energy that makes it 100 times more interesting than watching an improviser sitting in a chair waiting for someone to start the scene with them.
- Second, Be Someplace. Get involved in the where. Come out and grab something, even if you don't know what it is. This will get you out of the stage and into the where. For years, whenever I was starting a scene, my first move (even before grabbing a character) was to grab an object (9 times out of 10 it was a glass).
- The third thing is Do Something. Get out in the environment and be active. I have seen a thousand scenes about digging a hole. Most of them struggle because they focused on the hole, but it's still better than watching talking heads. After you get used to starting doing a specific action try starting an action that you are not sure of what you're doing. When I jump I haven't figured out what I am doing, who I am or where I am, but usually I am somebody, someplace, doing something. My partner usually helps me finds out the answers and defines parts of my actions. If you can do these three things in the first seconds of a scene you are way ahead of the beginners.
Don't Talk About What You Are Doing. Unless you are hosting a cooking show, you don't need to talk about what you are doing. You can season the scene be mentioning it now and then, but don't talk about what you are doing. If you are talking about what you are doing it is because you can't talk about what you really need to talk about. I know sometimes an improviser has no idea what the hell is happening on stage, so they want to talk about it so they know and the audience knows what they are doing. Don't.
Take Stuff Personally. Nothing is worse than seeing a character watch his mother die and have them say something like \"Oh well, let's juggle cheese. Mom loved our cheese juggling.\" WHAT!? I don't know what your character felt about her, but to feel nothing about her ruins the scene. Take the big things personally. Once you start taking things personally, scenes become easier. You then start taking the small stuff personally. The smaller the stuff you can take personally the better. \"You put your drink down on my coffee table. On my table\" If you say that line with something behind it it means something. Everything matters, nothing is meaningless. There are no throw away lines. Every line on stage is said for a purpose. Take it personally. Infer what that purpose is. It will drive your scenes. Let your partner define why your character is acting like they are and it will keep you out of your head.
Always Be Connecting. The scene is between you and your partner(s). It's not in a hole. It's not about the coffee table. It's not about that thing 'over there'. Here and now between you and them. This moment matters. Why? Because you two are on stage. Nothing matters about finding treasure in a hole unless it changes your relationship in this moment. Nothing matters except relationship (not even treasure). If you are talking about the weather you need to know that you are actually talking about (or avoiding talking about) is what is going on between you two. The best way to do this is look them in the eyes and read their face. If you are lost in a scene, look your partner in the eyes. It will connect you.
I hope these four tips will help you with your scene work. Pick one a night and try it out. You don't want to get in your head, so start slow. Master one tip and move to the next. The hard part about getting better is tweaking your play without getting in your head. focus on one thing and just play and have fun. And remember, when performing in front of an audience, don't work on your stuff, just play.