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Thinking 'bout: Initiations


"Go out in the woods, go out. If you don't go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin."

--Clariissa Pinkola Estes

The free from Wix images continue to impress.

We're back on track with the series of posts about Improv Knowledge. Click that link to see where it all began, then go in order of Directing, Acting, and Writing, if you want to catch up.

Initiations. They're the perfect handshake between directing and acting. If you're too heavy on one side or the other, then you start to have problems.

Initiations: The Directing Side

Generally speaking, people don't like to be told what to do. Therefore, it follows that audiences really hate watching people being told what to do, too. Starting a scene by essentially saying "do this, this way, when I say to" won't work.

Good directors understand they can't make an actor do anything. Good initiators understand the same thing about their partners. But that doesn't mean either goes in without a plan.

The best directors provide their actors with internal and external motivation to make the choices the best character choices. Bad directors say: "you're sad in this moment. Be sad." From my days back directing high school theater, I found that if you gave an actor anything to interact with- even just a broom, a cup, or just a chair to sit in- they were more connected to the script. They were more real.

If you want an improv scene or a comedic scenario to play out exactly the way it is in your mind, then go write a sketch. It's not fair to expect a scene partner to understand every piece of your idea on the spot in front of an audience. But, if you have a good lead on a comedic scenario and are really open to exploring it, then go initiate an improv scene! Give gifts to your scene partner- tell them they're a cop, give them a shiny new badge, name them Murphy...then back off. Let Murphy tell you 'bout his shiny badge and how it makes him feel.

Initiations: The Acting Side

Again, we go back to my high school theater directing days. Beginning actors tend to do something I like to call "acting on an island." The idea is that they go home and learn their lines and inadvertently plan how they expect their scene partner will deliver their lines in return. Then, when they get to rehearsal and that other actor makes different choices, they tend to ignore them and still act the way they prepared at home. So what you get is two actors on two different islands interacting with each other not at all.

This happens with beginning improvisers, too. Either: A. you plan an initiation and your scene partner doesn't do what you expected, so you shut them out and stick to your guns, or B. you don't have a great initiation, but they think you do and don't want to ruin it, so you end up say "well what if we buy fireworks" instead of buying fireworks.

So, act! Do!

If you come out with the greatest initiation in the world and your scene partner ignores it, then jump on board with their thing.

If your scene partner didn't initiate with a who, a what, and/or a when, then you decide an answer to what they omitted.

If someone accuses you of something in an initiation, be guilty of that thing.

If they say you have a shiny badge and your name is Murphy, then be shiny-badged Murphy.

If they say to do, do. If you say you'll do, do.

Directing and Acting Together

Good initiations are basically a really great game of make pretend, like when you were a kid. What if we were sorcerers on a secret mission and this was a doorway to a magical realm? Cool, we are and it is. Let's hit it with sticks to open it. (Actual example from my actual childhood. I was and am very cool.)


Direct. Provide you and your scene partner with active people to be, doing a thing, in a place.

Act. Do that thing in that place emphatically as those people.

Drop your preconceived notions of what is "right." Question and push back when needed, but never at the detriment of fun. Guide clearly, accept dearly.

So, I've been thinking 'bout initiations...

Guide clearly, accept dearly.

If you're into the blog, check out my podcast with Kerri Shannon, Gettin' Biggie with It. We interview a new member of the Baltimore Improv Groupevery Thursday! Get it where you get your podcasts!