Without scripts, improvisers are dependent on what’s in their head – details from their lives and their personal ability to access emotion in-the-moment. The audience loves seeing us on stage. Let the audience see you to give them the ability to connect with you and ultimately root for you.
CAFÉ SCENES – Two players sit in chairs facing each other. They are to have a conversation as their authentic selves, trying not to worry about people watching them.
• Share your opinions – We avoid “getting to know one another scenes” in improv because they end up being boring as players focus on figuring each other out instead of boldly committing to what they already know. A bold emotional statement immediately charges the scene with something interesting.
• No questions – questions are invitations for information; statements are information. Get to the information. Instead of asking “What do you do?” say “I’m a lawyer.”
• What you did or what you will do is ultimately less interesting than when we talk about the present – We are talking about the present when we talk about what we feel or what we care about.
• Focus outward and react – What do you see? How do you feel about that? Don’t be in your head thinking about what to say; focus on your partner and share observations and feelings.
• Be vulnerable – honest reactions are endearing; be endearing instead of calculating
• “Acting is a series of tics.” In our most famous examples of “good acting,” a la Buzzfeed and the like, what’s credited is what the actor does while doing what the script says. Brando stroking the cat or washing his face. Pitt literally chewing during conversations. What are our personal tics? I scratch the back of my head a lot. What do you do with your hands when you talk? How do you sit naturally? When we’re on stage playing characters we often get stiff, focusing all our words and gestures on the matter at hand. As our real selves, we create and follow tangents. Our bodies shift and arms gesticulate more freely because we’re not trying to control them. As we become more relaxed on stage, our characters feel more comfortable, more lived in. So A) we can bring our own personal tics to our characters, and B) we should give even our most alien characters personal tics.
The Dave Johnson Twist
Dave Johnson is my favorite improv actor. I love seeing him see and speak through a character. What he does so naturally is what I need patternwork to do.
In his workshops he runs an excercise that starts with Cafe Scenes – two improvisers, having a conversation as themselves, warts and all. Then once the improvisers are emotionally engaged and physically natural, he’ll tell them to continue “as vampires.” “Continue as ogres.” “As robots.” As whatever.
Players may change their voice. They may start peppering in nouns that relate more to their new world as opposed to their real life. But what’s fascinating is seeing caricatures become character because at their root players maintain their individuality.
Starting with personally held beliefs and then putting on silly characters also leads to way more interesting scenes than those that start with a silly character. I’ve seen a million robot scenes – 99% of them will feature a line like “Why was I programmed to feel pain?” But playing this exercise in class, two improvisers started by talking about one’s mild “face blindness” and one’s fear of “small talk.” When these two improvisers became robots, the scene was unlike anything I’d watched. Make individual characters out of caricatures by bringing your individuality through them rather than hiding your individuality beneath their cliche.