Greg Tavares’s Improv for Everyone compares building a scene to flying a plane:
When you fly a plane, there are three distinct stages: takeoff, flying, and landing. Each stage of flight is different. Each stage requires the pilots to focus on different information and rely on different skills.
As someone who has never tried to fly a plane, all I can say is that the description above harmonizes with how I picture an improv scene. Namely, I find that there are different stages to a scene, and the discovery process ends up being different for each.
The make-or-break for me recently has felt like it’s happened during the takeoff stage, which one could either think of as the first part of a scene but also the first beat of a Harold. This might be because I’ve focused my attention on exploring cool ideas from workshops over guidelines that have generally served me well in the past (establish a relationship while YesAnding like crazy). Notes from my coaches would appear to confirm this, and when things haven’t worked, the result has been that I’ve found elements of a character at the expense of the larger scene.
To avoid that turbulence, perhaps I should pay more heed to Tavares’s warnings:
If you push your point of view too much at the top of a scene, before everyone knows what is going on, it is like trying to take off before the plane has enough speed.
Likewise, perhaps there’s a middle ground (maybe something like Jill Bernard’s VAPAPO combined with what’s worked well for me in the past) that would allow me to reach cruising altitude with a more interesting character.
Fasten your seat belt.