You can have three relationships in an improv scene:
- With your scene partner(s)
- With your environment
- With your activity
The first one is covered often in classes and is easily the most important one. But there are two more that I don’t always get to see on stage and are great options to explore in a scene. Both of them can be best understood in the context of being alone onstage.
Relationship with environment
The character you’re playing in a scene can have a relationship with their surroundings. For instance, if you’re a CEO in your own office, then you’re likely to be comfortable in your home base. You know where everything is. You own everything in there. This is your domain! But if you’re a new hire coming into this office, it’s the opposite. You might enter gingerly, looking for permission to sit. You shrink into your chair. This is the lion’s den!
Some of this is status work but it’s also a relationship. And just like any relationship, it can change over time, especially if we put them together. Maybe the new hire gains confidence and the CEO loses theirs? Or we can start with their environment relationships swapped with the CEO uncomfortable in their office and the new hire strolling in as though it was their home.
If you’re alone on stage, you can choose this relationship to explore right away. Let’s say you’re camping. Are you an expert, familiar with camping from years of experience? Are you terrified of nature? Are you one with all around you and birds float to your outstretched finger? Are you happy to be out there? Angry at the campsite? There’s a lot to play with here and it’s totally up to you since you’re out there by yourself.
Relationship with activity
This is similar to the last one but now we’re talking about how you do what you do. Let’s say you’re getting dressed. Again, the world of options opens up. Are you putting on the clothes with resentment? Are you exhausted and doing it slowly? If you’re up there, getting dressed neutrally is a fine choice but you can tell us something about your mood, your character, your view by choosing a relationship to what you’re doing, no matter how trivial it is.
- You can iron clothes with zest!
- You can get into a car with sadness.
- You can wash dishes while being paranoid.
It’s up to you to make that choice and let that inform you and the audience as to what is going on. Let your mime/object work sell it. Use your whole body, your face and make sounds like giggling or groans of fear.
And have fun with it! Keep building. Don’t drop it. If you’re angry at doing the dishes for the hundredth time in a row and your lazy roommate walks in, bring it up! Come back to it after they fail to apologize. Get angrier! Whatever you like.
These last two relationships are hugely important in the world of clowning. If you ever get a chance to take a class, jump on it. You know what? Lemme see if I can’t make that happen at MIT this year; a one/two day class would be a perfect intro.
It’s good to know that even if you’re on your own in a scene (maybe you’re starting the scene or maybe it’s a solo scene), there are a couple of options for you to play and have fun with.