Taking responsibility for your scene

This year I attended the Improv Fest Ireland and one of the shows that got me thinking was Neil+1. In it Neil Curran finds an audience member who has never improvised before, preferably someone who has never even seen improv, and makes them his scene partner for a 45 minute show. It’s a daring concept, improvising with a complete newbie in front of large festival audience. And yet it works.

I’ve seen demonstrations like this a couple times before, taking someone from the audience and creating a scene or a show with them on the spot. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but it always seems to work. In part, it may work because the audience lowers their expectation of what the newbie can do, so any good move by them is treated as particularly surprising, but I think something else is going on. I think it tends to work because the experienced player takes on the full responsibility of making the scene work and making their scene partner look good.

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Etiquette for starting an improv scene

Whoever makes the first move to edit, should get the first chance to initiate. It doesn’t matter how awesome your idea is. If they were a half second ahead of you, let them start an activity first and let them say the first line.

Perhaps one of these have happened to you in an improv show.

It’s time to edit a scene. One player makes a sweep edit, and everyone else hesitates before joining. Finally someone joins, but the first player doesn’t see them, and waves for someone else to join the scene too. Now there are three people in the scene. They each make fumbled initiations, and the scene stumbles forward as they try to make it work.

Or perhaps you’ve done this. You walk on stage and start doing an activity. You say nothing. No one joins for a really long time, perhaps because they can’t make sense of what you’re doing. Finally someone does come on stage and immediately says something that contradicts what you have created. You freeze because you’re not sure if you should drop your initiation or clarify what you’re doing.

Maybe you have done this. Continue reading “Etiquette for starting an improv scene”