Be Biased (When Improvising)
Be biased about starting scenes with familiarity: your characters know each other; you know what you’re doing; they know what they’re doing. Save the mysteries or big reveals for later in the scene.
Why? In short-form scenes, all we have is a few minutes to co-make a story and stories start with context:
“So I was talking to my girlfriend on my normal commute home, when there’s this explosion up ahead…”
“We were at the supermarket shopping for our picnic, when I suddenly hear the unmistakable cackle of my ex, Marilyn, behind us…”
If you started the story with “there was this explosion up ahead” the listener would be confused.
Next time you tell someone a story, listen for the context, aka the “platform.” You will do it without thinking about. It comes naturally. You want the listener to understand the circumstances so they can relate to your emotions. We often don’t think about setting context (aka platforms), because that isn’t the really interesting part…but it’s soooo necessary.
In a short-form scene it might look like doctors performing a routine operation—maybe they’re not really even talking about the operation. They’re comparing musical tastes or hospital gossip.
It might look like a couple at the top of a ferris wheel talking about how relieved they are to have a break from the kids.
It might look like a sea captain and his first mate heading back to their home port chatting about their wild last night.
It might look like a mother-in-law talking with her son’s fiancee about how wonderful he is.
We can be so focused on making something interesting or funny happen quickly in a scene. Remember, context is important! We can relax a little and think about painting the platform picture one brushstroke at a time. Little “yes, ands” that build until you’re surprised and delighted.
Just like the game “I am a Tree.” Don’t think about funny. Think about building on the offers that came before.
© 2019 Andrew Merit
Drew Merit is a coach and Artistic Director for Improv Marin. What a jerk.