How to improv in a rehearsal of a written scene?
March 14, 2013 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice and resources on how to use improv to flesh out a written scene. I'm not looking for freestyle improv where you're trying to create a new situation, or general theater games, but a more targeted form of improv, where you already have a scene and characters and backstory and dialog, but you want to get the actors to exercise their imagination and flesh out the relationships rather than just play the dialog that's already on the page. What are some parameters? How involved should an improv scenario be in this situation? Should you tell the actors where to end up? How far do you let it go?
posted by musofire to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I've done this, I've given the actors the scene as written, asked them to rehearse it a couple of times, given them an ending point, and then just let them loose, while I recorded the whole thing on video.

If you want something more open, you can write out the beats of the scene on index cards and let the actors go at it, to see how well it matches with what you've come up with yourself.

And if you're interested in finding more than just scene from --> to filler, then you can keep the same actors workshopping your scenes and doing very open improv, keeping the characters they've had through each workshop. Often, the actors will improv out entirely new directions than you thought your play was about.
posted by xingcat at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2013

There's an improv game called New Choice that might be helpful.

In a scene, during dialogue, the director can at any point yell "New choice!" (or ring a bell or clap), and whoever was just talking must deliver a new line (or word), to take the place of the line just said. It doesn't have to drastically change the scene, but it must be different. The director can do it over and over again, whenever he/she wants.

Actor: So, it says here that you have anger issues... Let's talk about your mother.

Director: New choice!

Actor: That Hulk tattoo on your face seems relevant.

Director: New choice!

Actor: Anger leads to hate, and f*** haters, amiright?

And the scene continues until the next time the director wants a new choice.
posted by desertface at 12:56 PM on March 14, 2013

where you already have a scene and characters and backstory and dialog

Take one of these things away.

* You have a scene and characters and backstory ... but no dialog (have them develop their own based on the situation).
* You have a scene and characters and dialog ... but no backstory (are they lovers? enemies?)
* You have a scene and backstory and dialog ... but no characters (are they men, women, children...)
* You have characters, backstory and dialog ... but no scene (are they in a house? a school? a spaceship?)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:03 PM on March 14, 2013

In addition to what's already been suggested, you could have the actors use the same lines, but through adjusted backstory, delivery of lines, etc., they must create the opposite effect/relationship than the scene calls for on its surface. A good example is Naomi Watts' audition scenes in Mullholland Drive.
posted by Rykey at 1:30 PM on March 14, 2013

I have done this before as an actor (the director was also the playwright.) He simply would give us the script with the written lines at rehearsal and then tell us to flesh it out. In two different plays I had a climactic speech and he just had me wing it totally, in character.

So in essence, it is really up to you. Pick actors who are comfortable doing this as I think it makes a difference.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:36 PM on March 14, 2013

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