What's In An Initiation?

The first moments of a scene are most often forgotten pieces that audiences tend to hold on to more than improvisers do, and I think it’s a valuable part.  If you view improv as more of an artform through discovery, then you wouldn’t want to throw away the very first thing given. For example, if we have the initiation of “These are my favorite muffins,” it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot there, but as an improviser, we really have so much to go off of.


First off, I would pull apart how it was said to me.  The best part is I get first stab at the context. “Well, I made them because I knew you were swinging through,” is a soft attempt to clarify the context.  It’s like playing twenty questions but I want the person to get it right, so my reply should be as leading as possible. When all else fails, just be heavy handed.  Another response could be “Well these are the muffins that won you the state fair….ohhhhh….you! My great competitor!” or “These are laser muffins used for the mission.”  In hindsight, these scenes sound fun, but we’re talking mechanics here. I don’t want my shot at context to be completely out of left field. We’re looking for the quick ability to be on the same page, so try to make an educated guess.  If I asked you what to do with a key your response wouldn’t be “Peel it like a banana! Nom nom nom.” I would expect the same level of thought for that question as I would my initiation.


The second place I can get my response is through reading my scene partner’s body language and almost always making eye contact.  Without this, we can’t make an educated guess at what’s actually going on in the scene. The point of anything said next should be to build on what we already have, right?  I believe every improviser would agree with me, but it’s not what we see most often on stage. The pressure gets to us because we’re doing a show, and it puts us in a place where fast = good.  It’s as easy as taking a breath at the top of your scene and playing at the speed life happens. If you can overcome the pressure to be funny and understand the means to an ends, it’s a lot easier.   I think I owe it to my audience to take my time up top and visually look at my scene partner. Another thought is to make sure your response is geared towards them and not their object work. If you’re looking for something to create with an invisible object while ignoring the cool-ass human in front of you, you’re probably already not connecting.


The last place I listen is in my gut.  How did that make me feel? Oh shit I felt comforted by that!  Why did I feel comforted by that? That’s because this person most likely cares about me! That’s what I try to let influence my tone.   But none of this happens if I don’t sit back and listen to my gut instead of let it run rampant. This is the asshole part of you that just wants to blurt nervous words out that is fueled by your adrenaline.  This is also a part of you that will prevent you from hearing their first line in the first place and being to worried about your invisible object work or some other distraction we’ve given ourselves besides our fellow human.


I emphasize taking your time in those first moments, because if you continue the pattern, you will build something rich from nothing and get swept away in the action to work as patiently as you could up top.  It’s about establishing an emotional POV in the first moments, not lines. Also note that up top, my focus isn’t on what I’m going to do or what my hands will do. They’ll be fine until I’m more informed. I’m also operating under the assumption of automatically listening and not thinking which can be a difficult set of wiring to break. As Jill Bernard says “Brains are assholes” and I 100% agree!  I’m happy to expand, clarify or talk about anything this may have made you think of shoot me an email.


Penned By Justin Franzen

Justin@grafenbergproductions.com