One way to think of a scene is that your challenge is to see how far you can go into a state where you are completely involved in the scene, with every cell in your body and every fiber of your being.

For those of us who have some training and experience in acting in scripted plays, we know that the normal acting technique is to be about 90% “inside” of the play and inside of your character, and to leave a little part of yourself on the outside, watching all the technical things, like making sure that you don’t knock over the set pieces, forget your cues, etc. This technique works perfectly well in a scripted play, because the playwright and the director have already worked out the structural integrity of the performance beforehand, so you can easily give up this 10% of internal involvement with your character without it damaging the continuity or integrity of the play itself.

However, in an improv situation, this technical habit no longer works. In an improv, the actors are writing and directing the play collaboratively, at the same time that they are acting. The scene derives all of its strength and integrity from the ability of the actors to be as completely inside of the flow of feelings that make up the scene as they can possibly be. The actors can no longer afford to leave 10% of themselves on the “outside” watching over the technical aspects of the scene. They can’t leave even 1%. Not even half a percent. I tell actors to be inside of the scene “110%,” by which I mean, when you think you are inside of the scene 100%, you can always go even further inside. Always.

In a narrative or comedy scene, one way to think about it is it is OK to make choices or decisions during a scene, but only from inside of your character. In other words, you, the actor, shouldn’t step outside of the scene to make up “choices” about how the scene should go, but you should stay completely inside of your character, and allow him or her to make choices as necessary.

I once began a series of performances (at Nada on Ludlow Street) with a technical aspect I hadn’t used before: there was a videographer onstage shooting us from various angles in closeup, and there was a video monitor on the stage with a feed from the camera. The audience had the choice of seeing us in close-up on the monitor, or just looking at us on the stage. The actors could also see the monitor.

In the first performance, I was confused as to how much or how often I should look at the monitor, and thus know what the audience was looking at. I found that I kept pulling out of the flow of the scene to “worry” about whether or not I should be looking at the monitor. Every time I did so, I would weaken or destroy the continuity of the scene, because I hadn’t remained fully “inside” of it. It was like having to start the scene from the beginning over and over, and the effect was not good.

In subsequent performances, I began to learn that I could actually take care of all technical questions, like “should I be looking at the monitor?” “are the mike cords getting tangled?” etc. etc. from inside of the flow of the scene. I can remain entirely inside of the scene, and also remain aware of all of the technical issues, and take care of them from the inside. If it’s the right moment to look at the monitor, I’ll look at the monitor. If the image I see on the monitor affects or changes what I’m talking about, then it does.

The point is to not exit the flow of the scene in order┬áto “worry” about any aspect of what might be going wrong with the scene. You can stay inside of the flow of the scene, maintain an awareness of all the technical concerns, and allow your intuitive self to solve all the problems, without having to stop and “think” of a solution.