Ok, I have a secret. **Psst: There is no such thing as the good way to initiate a scene. **
It is a provocative proposition. I hope it starts bar brawls!
Oh, there are bad first lines. I once started a scene with the initiation (delivered with a disturbing amount of anger), “Why did you poop your pants again Jakala!?” That was a bad initiation. It is a question that both asked too much of, and determined way too much for, my scene partner. It came from a place of massive difficulty and frustration, set the improviser up to be denied throughout the scene, and was just not fun. I also started a scene once with “Wugga wugga wugaa” which is not a bad first line by its self, but was bad by virtue of the fact that its translation in English was “I got nothing.’” If at all possible, you should avoid saying “I got nothin’” to your scene partner at the start of a scene.
So back to the shocking proposition: there is no best kind of initiation. Clarity. Names/Endowment. Setting. Having a strong perspective yourself. These things are nice. There are times in your improv development, and especially when playing with certain people, where nothing could serve you better. But, still, there will come a time for a different move.
I assert there are three main types of initiating line: the hard, comfortable, and soft initiation.
Hard initiation/Strong Volley
Examples: “This funeral is a blast!” “Here is a twist-tie ring I made you; will you marry me Dawn?” “Mr. Penuckle we will solve this mystery.”
Best Used: A strong volley is useful for tacking down a premise. In a Megaphone or Armando scenes should be initiated with strength, because you need to communicate the premise as it has been derived from the monologue. At a Jam of any kind a hard initiation will serve you well. With a less experienced partner/when you feel cold/if you think a particular improviser is generally inclined to follow you closely, it is helpful to get things out fast & dirty. A strong volley also makes group scenes a lot easier.
Weaknesses: We are building a scene together. Terp talks about bringing a brick, not a wheelbarrow full of bricks. These initiations are wheelbarrows. Accordingly, the scene will be built very fast with a strong volley, but it will also be over quickly. If you set the premise, or a big chunk of it, with a first line then be prepared for a premise driven scene where the beats are clear but predicable. The other weakness is that this is the kind of initiation where you can accidently piss yourself off. If someone doesn’t pick up on your volley it may be hard to go on with the scene as it organically develops. It may also be difficult to resist feeling that your scene partner “messed up” the scene (ps. they didn’t).
Examples: “Mondays! Am I right?” “Dad, they don’t make Pontiacs anymore.” “Senorita, your hair glistens like the sun.” “Icecream is my favorite!”
Best Used: This is the go-to initiation type for most performers. You pull it out when you are performing with someone in your troupe, in class, or anytime you’ve just done a few scenes in a row and you are feeling comfy-but-cautious.
Weakness: There aren’t too many weaknesses to a comfortable initiation. You’ve given yourself a perspective and so you wait for your scene partner to complete the rest of the information for the scene. It is a pretty open place to be. However, if there isn’t a strong reaction or rejoinder from your scene partner, you will be in a tough spot.
Soft Initiation/Psychic Bump
Examples: “Doggie Style.” “(silence, space-work, weird stare)” “Welcome to the Uterus.”
Best Used: When playing with a second-line-wizard (like Christie Grace), who delights in having strong or unexpected reactions you can have so much fun with a soft initiation. It is also useful when playing with a trust-wizard, who knows you so well you trust him to inhabit your brain, or a wizard who is in an alpha-talks-a-lot-mood, where she wants to motor the boat while you steer. Don’t try with non-wizards.
Weakness: Three pointers are harder because they are farther away. The Soft Initiation has the potential to make your wildest dreams come true. It probably won’t though. It will probably make you have a slow opening to a scene. Sometimes it will leave you with nothing to hang on to and it will frequently panic your scene partner. You say “We got this…whatever this is” But, your partner hears “I got nothin’ Wugga Wugga.” Then the two of you forget how to be wizards. The soft initiation is a big gamble.
But, If you could solve it all with the first line there would be no challenge, point, or art to improv.
I await your counter-arguments.