One issue I have been having in improv is going to crazy places and unbelievable characters at the beginning of shows. Then Case, our MUD coach who had been seeing our shows, saw it and he had us do exercises to work on this issue. This is improv 101 I think, but we had to go back to the basics. React as you would normally react, as yourself, even in those imaginary circumstances. There is no need to create anything funny or a context that is funny.
When we start a scene and there is the impulse to justify something, to verbalize a relationship or verbalize what the issue REALLY is about, then we would do it, we should do it. It is helpful to start “real” so that we can get crazier or funnier in the latter part of the show. This is what forms like the deconstruction or even the Harold are about: grounded scenes in the beginning to anchor the show, where we see normal human behavior. One could argue this is true of the whole show, but we have a license to be nuts later in the show, and not so much in the beginning of shows.
An exercise to work on this (hat tip to Case who introduced the exercise to us) is to have three players on stage, one in center stage who will give an improvised short monolog and two players on the sides (one in each side) would initiate a scene, one at a time (so as to make two person scenes), where the person who just gave the monolog would react as they would normally react as themselves. In the opening monolog, the person giving the monolog can talk about anything, with the only condition that he or she is him/herself giving the monolog, not a character. In the scenes that follow, the person that gave the monolog has a goal which is to stay as himself/herself and not to create anything too big as far as character. This exercise’s goal is to work on having more organic scenes at the beginning of shows.
Justifying: one of the things that we also worked on was to justify or make assumptions when one of the improvisers feels in his/her guts that a specific as far as context, relationship or underlying issue between the characters needs to be called out.