I’ve been doing improv for the last 12 years now and I still feel like an idiot when I go out to start a scene. I’ve done hundreds of them – some of them great while others left something to be desired. I feel like I know nothing when I go out there but having done this so much I go ahead and let my instincts take over and cross my fingers that the Improv Gawds guide me in helping make a scene great. Until recently, I felt that would be my fate forever. Then I got introduced to the idea of C.L.E.A.R.
Using the C.L.E.A.R. method gives the actors in the scene a goal to hit within a scene; that goal is to provide all the key ingredients of what a traditional theatrical scene requires to be watchable by an audience. If the actors can collectively provide these details about the scene, they’ve increased the likelihood of having a good scene. Note that we’re not saying they will definitely have a good scene – just that the likelihood of it being good has increased. Also note I didn’t invent this acronym or concept. Dave Quiñones, a Chicago-based improv actor/coach/director, taught it to me as it was taught to him and I’m sharing it here for others as I have found it very useful.
When going into a scene, determine who your characters are. More importantly, determine who you are playing. Give yourself a name if you’re not given one by a scene partner. Establish your character’s physicality; how does your character move/stand/walk/sit? Develop a voice that supports the physicality of your character. Determine if your character wants or needs something (“I want to be an astronaut” or “I need to get out of this insane asylum”).
There’s nothing worse seeing the “talking head syndrome” take place on stage. Many improvisers feel that their wit alone will pull them through their scenes. The truth is that many of us just aren’t that smart to be able to do so in an interesting way. Thus, establishing the location via object work is an easy way of adding depth to a scene and save brain cycles to make the scene come to life. If a location is given to you, “see” what’s in it and start interacting with it via object work. Show the audience the location. Avoid talking about it unless it’s necessary to mention it in passing via the dialogue just to put all characters in the same world.
Give your character an emotion to play. You can do this as part of your initiation or better yet as a result of reacting to what’s going on in the scene. Ask yourself at all times “How do I feel about what was just said?” Use those feelings to empower what the character will do or say next.
In the space that’s been established perform actions inside of that space. Find reasons to move around in that space. Do something. If the location is a kitchen, wash dishes, dry those dishes, and put them away. If the location is a gym, visit each one of the machines available and work out different parts of your body. If the location is a space station, go into the airlock to put on your space suit then head out to the training area. Move in the space with purpose, i.e., see if you can justify the reasons to move with your reactions or dialogue. It will add depth to the scene to making the location even more real.
This is the cornerstone of the given scene. If you can establish how your characters relates to the others on stage, this point can be revisited over and over again. Ask yourself, “Why does my character care that I’m interacting with the other characters in this scene?” Why do you care about that other person being there? What’s going on between you and the other characters? Who are you to each other? Brothers? Mother & daughter? Co-workers? Make those decisions by stating them if it’s not overtly obvious from the scene initiation.
Here are some questions I’ve been asked about this concept:
Do I have to do C.L.E.A.R every time I’m in a scene?
No, of course not. It’s improv. You don’t have to do any of it; however, it does provide a good framework for you to try to follow. We’re looking to increase the likelihood of having a good scene. C.L.E.A.R. provides a direction for you to head in so that you can play with confidence.
Can I just do parts of C.L.E.A.R.?
Of course. You don’t have to do all of C.L.E.A.R. to have a good scene. If the scene is going well, for example, and you haven’t established where you are in the scene, don’t force that into the dialog. However, if the scene isn’t going well or is neutral, try to hit the missing components of C.L.E.A.R. to see if that helps things move along.
This seems pretty inorganic/mechanical to do just to do improv. Why should I consider doing this?
When first performing with this concept, it may feel a little bit contrived to be actually thinking about it during a scene or standing on the backline. It may feel like you’re planning. I can’t deny that aspects of this may be planning aspects of your scene; however, I counter that not all “planning” is “bad”. I look at this process as giving yourself gifts so that you can go out there and play. You don’t plan what you’re going to do in the scene but rather that you have these gifts to play with at some point.
At some point, this concept will no longer be in the forefront of your mind while you play and become habit. That’s when you can be “organic” and feel your way through these concepts while you are playing.