Tips for effective initiating

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Tips for effective initiating

Postby dancrumb » February 23rd, 2011, 9:38 pm

Hey all,

Maybe this is just the case of me being in a funky or being rusty, but I've been having real problems initiating scenes of late.

I haven't been having problems responding and developing scenes, but I frequently find myself completely dry when it comes to providing opening premises.

I know that a good troupe will support one another, but I feel like resting on the skills of my troupe-mates means that they're carrying additional weight. That might be fine for 'off nights' and the like but I think we have responsibility to work on our weaknesses as well as honing our skills.

So: does anyone have any suggestions for exercise, mantras, techniques, whatevers for combating this problem? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Dan

PS: Sympathetic assurances that you went through this feeling once and got over are also welcome
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Postby ratliff » February 23rd, 2011, 11:38 pm

Why do you need a premise?

I'm not trying to be difficult; I'm just pointing out that there are entire schools of improv based on the idea that if everyone onstage works at creating their characters the premise will organically arise from the relationship that results.

If you've decided that premise-based is the kind of scene you want to play, then sure, you're going to come up with no (or crummy) ideas sometimes, because any technique that relies entirely on your conscious intelligence is going to fail you sometimes. Nobody's that smart.

But I wonder if by assuming you need a premise to initiate a scene you aren't denying yourself one of the great pleasures of improv, i.e., letting the scene go where it wants to instead of trying to control it, and possibly surprising yourself in the process. Worth exploring if you haven't.
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Postby Spots » February 24th, 2011, 12:44 am

What ratliff said. But I fret over opening lines too. The mantra really is "just feel it." Otherwise you are denying gifts at the top of the scene. Your partner's posture & the way they breathe are gifts, even. Feel the energy between you guys. Then express it.

Don't express a controlled premise and then suddenly switch gears into the correct energy. That shows. I think it's just a matter of being open and trusting your own abilities.

I'd suggest not to preload any opening lines unless it REALLY helps shape of show. (4 low energy scenes in a row or something.)

What happens when you step on stage & the other person initiates? You end up a little more closed off than you would have been just feeling it in your body. You've got a useless premise bouncing around in your head -- not doing you any good.


Having said that Rumney, you are really fun to watch on stage. I've seen "Quite Well Thank You" twice now and I really love you guys.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » February 24th, 2011, 1:44 am

yeah, i used to struggle with this too...until i embraced what the others have pretty much already said: fuck premise. premise based improv, unless you have the cleverest guys on the planet (see: Nerdvana) who are gonna knock it out of the park every time, just comes across looking like you're workshopping a sketch idea more often than not. now, i think you can have amazing scenes that come out of unique circumstances, but that's still going to come down more to the people in the scene and their relationship to be watchable than the wacky clever box they just built. in "premise" based scenes, it feels more like the performer is busy spending his time pointing at the wacky clever box to prove that he's wacky and clever but really because he's hesitant to connect with the other performers, to see what develops, to discover and to risk. i tell people all the time, don't be afraid to go out with nothing. most of the time these days, if i've got an idea that's taking me out onstage, i throw it away the second before my foot hits the floor. go with nothing. go with something simple. be boring and obvious in your set up. a brother and sister at a park. a husband and wife in a kitchen. a minute where you don't say anything. most of the time, too, you're not going to have a complete tabula rasa...use the scene before to inspire you or a song that's stuck in your head or that pesky little audience suggestion. ;)

i think, too, along the lines of what Ratliff said...when you let go of your conscious mind trying to come up with clever set ups and scenarios, you'll start to find that you organically discover them...and they're better, weirder and more surprising than anything you would've come up with by actually trying. 8)
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Postby valetoile » February 24th, 2011, 11:15 am

Since you've gotten lots of advice on what NOT to do, here are my two cents on what you CAN do.

Come on with an energy, an emotion about the other character, a physical posture, a voice. These are things that can survive no matter what the other player does. To steal from Ratliff's recent workshop, even if you come on hunched over and pissed off, if someone calls you "Grandma," you can still be a hunched over, pissed off grandma. And the scene will be all the more delightful for it.

Another thing you can do is start with some space work, and invest it with an emotion. Even if the other person misinterprets your space work, you emotion can carry. And the way they misinterpreted your space work might very well be the inspiration for the entire scene. I once saw a scene start where a guy was (in his head) washing dishes in a big commercial kitchen, with a kind of assembly line set up. He was disgruntled. The other person thought he was on a cake decorating assembly line, and endowed the situation as such. The environment changed, but the emotion stayed- he was still disgruntled about cake making, which was such a lovely juxtaposition.
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Postby Marc Majcher » February 24th, 2011, 11:19 am

Yep. What they all said. Fuck premise. You don't need to *do* anything. You don't even need to say anything. Just allow yourself to be open, and step out. If something comes out of your mouth, fine. If not, fine. If a character or an action comes to mind, hit it. If not, that's okay, too. Just pay attention to what's going on out there, let go, and react. It's all out there already - you just need to commit and let it happen.

To address the question in your post more directly: One of the simplest things that you can do is to literally just look at your scene partner, tell them what you see, and let that build. "You look tired. Rough night?" "Wow! What are you so happy about?" "You've got that gleam in your eye again... something's up..." Again, you don't have to be clever or some up with something funny. Just be honest and say what's there - if you see it, the audience probably sees it, too, and they'll feel your reaction as well, and then joy happens.

As far as mantras go, again, it doesn't matter what it is, just pick something and scream it in your head as you go along, and it will be impossible to not be affected by it at the top of the scene, or whenever. "I like cookies" or "This shirt is red" work just as well as "I love you" or "I'll kill you!"

I could say more, but I'd just be continuing to repeat what Ratliff and company already said up there. Let it all go, don't worry about being funny, and trust your instincts.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » February 24th, 2011, 11:31 am

valetoile wrote:Since you've gotten lots of advice on what NOT to do, here are my two cents on what you CAN do.

Come on with an energy, an emotion about the other character, a physical posture, a voice. These are things that can survive no matter what the other player does. To steal from Ratliff's recent workshop, even if you come on hunched over and pissed off, if someone calls you "Grandma," you can still be a hunched over, pissed off grandma. And the scene will be all the more delightful for it.

Another thing you can do is start with some space work, and invest it with an emotion. Even if the other person misinterprets your space work, you emotion can carry. And the way they misinterpreted your space work might very well be the inspiration for the entire scene. I once saw a scene start where a guy was (in his head) washing dishes in a big commercial kitchen, with a kind of assembly line set up. He was disgruntled. The other person thought he was on a cake decorating assembly line, and endowed the situation as such. The environment changed, but the emotion stayed- he was still disgruntled about cake making, which was such a lovely juxtaposition.


i like this. getting out of your head by focusing on your body and the physical space.

on the flip side, as someone who gets stuck in my own head a lot, i like to sort of go deeper in and let the suggestion (or whatever form the "inspiration" takes) bounce around inside my head in a ricocheting pinball sort of way, doing a lot of free association and connection with other ideas, until there's a whole web/field "construct" (or at least that's how i visualize it). then i find i can step into and initiate scenes, characters, relationships, whatever much more confidently, even if i'm not directly or consciously drawing from it.

don't know if getting stuck in your head is the problem, but that technique works pretty well for me (even just as a Dumbo's feather...:p).
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Postby Pdyx » February 24th, 2011, 12:07 pm

You have one of the most amazing vocabularies, accents and way of stringing words together of all the people I see do improv in Austin, and you're having trouble initiating scenes? Man...

I'm serious about all that, but to take your question a little more seriously, since everyone else is talking about non-first-line based stuff, here's some general suggestions for opening lines: keep it super simple, keep it grounded, make it declarative and not vague. Keep initiating, or start initiating if you're in the rut of letting scene-partners do it.

Run lots of short scenes in the next rehearsal and trade off who initiates (with words and/or actions). Do so many that you don't have time to think about it. Pay attention to what works and what doesn't.
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Postby arthursimone » February 24th, 2011, 1:40 pm

one of my little chestnuts is:

If you go into a scene intending on becoming the President and you get endowed as something entirely different, there is no force on the planet that can keep you from remaining presidential (whatever that means to you).

Grab hold of status and your own motivations and you'll successfully navigate even the craziest of rivers.
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Postby valetoile » February 24th, 2011, 2:45 pm

Also, starting in the middle of the action is always a great move. Make your first line a reaction to something that was said before the scene started.
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Postby KathyRose » February 24th, 2011, 4:24 pm

One thing that I've learned at the Institution Theater is that you can't go wrong giving your character a strong point of view, belief, philosophy or obsession at the top of the scene (one that you will enjoy espousing). It works no matter what the situation or characters turn out to be, and it fuels emotional investment in the scene.

You could be "that guy" who has all the answers and hands them out like cheap cigars; or a guy who thinks that everyone is beautiful and feels compelled to touch them; or the guy who believes in organized labor and works collective bargaining into every conversation; or a guy who believes that everyone is a liar; or that guy who is a militant vegetarian; or that gal who wants to get pregnant because ...; or that guy with a dream to ... anything. Could be inspired by the suggestion, if there is one.

Just have fun being "that guy" wherever he finds himself, at any age, gender, occupation or relationship, and let yourself be surprised by what ensues because of it.

Your first line or reaction could be something about the other player, coming from your chosen POV; but you're not dependent on creating an "instant relationship" with them. You can let that reveal itself. You already know everything you need to know: you know "who you are" (in spirit) and/or what's currently on your mind.

In class last week, one of my first lines was, "I've been thinking a lot lately about frogs." It led to a scene about the mother superior of a nunnery, who had won an Olympic medal in her youth (swimming, of course) and had secretly kept her frog-rubbed spandex unitard in a wall safe behind the crucifix. She was advising a novice who wanted to leave the nunnery.

In another scene, the other player was wearing a knit skullcap. He placed us sitting very closely together, half-facing each other. Concerned with my social status & appearances, I started with, "I can't get over how much that hat makes your head look like a penis." Turns out, we were sitting in church on Easter Sunday.

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Postby jillybee72 » February 28th, 2011, 1:04 pm

'Look at your partner, name what you see' is the kick I'm on. When we see someone, we're already making assumptions. I once found a gold ring on the sidewalk and when no one claimed it, I brought it into a pawn shop. I pushed it across the counter and the man said, "Didn't work out, huh?" In two seconds he'd written a little story in his head about me. We do that all the time. Open your mouth and say the thing you see. There's already a story there. You just have to have the courage to say it without judgement.

I've been doing this exercise lately where I have someone start from way offstage. Their scene partner takes a position on stage (I've been saying 'makes a shape' for viewpoints reasons but without context I'm terrified you'll think I'm proposing I'm-A-Little-Teapot times) The person offstage takes a look and says the name of that character that they see, and enters saying it. "Diane, Diane, Diane, Diane..." and when they get onstage they start the scene with whatever blurts out after that, effortlessly.

--------------

If you prefer things to be more intellectual because less intellectual is terrifying, I would recommend starting a scene with a variety pack of the following options: a sound, a gesture, a statement that you don't personally believe, a statement that you do personally believe, an emotional statement or outburst either mad sad glad or afrad...afraid, sorry. I always want it to rhyme.
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Postby Spots » February 28th, 2011, 1:23 pm

jillybee72 wrote:
I once found a gold ring on the sidewalk and when no one claimed it, I brought it into a pawn shop. I pushed it across the counter and the man said, "Didn't work out, huh?"


Wow, the pawnbroker enters the scene offering you this great gift, that the ring symbolizes an entire relationship. Now you've got value, not only in the weight of story but in the power of negotiation. All you'd have to do is choke up a little, or make an argument for the ring's sentimental value, and the pawnbroker would lose leverage to you bit by bit.

You can actually watch "Pawn Stars" on the History Channel & see examples of this type of "story negotiation" in action. Great story Jill!
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Postby Timmy R » February 28th, 2011, 7:13 pm

Dan,

The IRC has a great podcast about an exercise using an "I am", 'You are" style beat and mantra that I found really helpful in getting myself out of my head (and the guilt that I am leaning on my partners too much) up top of scenes.

It's also connected with students of all levels.

I'll chase the link in my million podcast file and post.

T
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