This is perhaps an over intellectualization (and simplification), but I’ve been trying to categorize the steps we take to make a good set of improv. This doesn’t go into specifics as I tried to keep it as broad as possible. And a lot of these happen concurrently.
1) Starting our scenes clearly and economically.
When playing fast or slow, from premise or more organically, making our intent clear and doing it with minimal detritus right up top can make so much difference. We should be listening so hard (to everything) at the tops of scenes, is is so easy to get sidetracked by things we don’t intend. (Of course that often leads to delightful discoveries but that is beside the point.) We don’t have to have everything planned (in fact, we shouldn’t), but we should at least try to get across what we mean to get across.
2) Recognizing the “fun” thing (or at least the germ of the “fun” thing.
I use the phrase “fun thing” instead of “game” because it probably isn’t a game yet. It’ll start to become game when we react to it. If we make our reaction clear (both in intent and in the fact that it is a reaction), we indicate to our scene partner and the the team what we are interested. And the more specific we make our reaction, the easier it is to get to step 3.
3) Exploring the “fun” thing until we can define it.
Patterns. Justification. Specifics. Point of view. Relationship dynamic. Status. And more. All of these can get us deeper into the “fun” thing so that we can define it. If our definition is both specific and deep, we both know how to play the “fun” thing again and we can play it in different ways… so we don’t get trapped with just a repetitive pattern where all we can do is heighten size, amount or intensity of that first “fun” thing (the old “we just eat more or bigger hotdogs”).
4) Doing the “fun” thing again by the definition we formed but in new and surprising ways.
If we know our behavior and we know why we do it and we have gotten to something deeper than that first thing, we can do the essence of the “fun” thing without just repeating it. We can use different emotional tactics. We can use anything in our environment . We open up a wealth of back line support opportunities. The clearer we’ve defined it, the chance that intent behind each move will be picked up by our teammates.
5) In second beats, place the “fun” thing in most fun places we can.
Make it active, especially if we didn’t make it active in the first beat. And we can now jump past all those first steps and get right to the fun. Know what things were actually patterns that related to the “fun” thing and what things were just side color. The deeper we have made our definition, the easier it will be to change the some of the specifics of the patterns so that we can play the real essence.
6) Look for larger themes and connections.
What things did scenes have in common? What characters have similar or complimentary world views? Or contrasting world views? What is Are there bigger truths in the set? Especially when we start making connections, specifics from scenes can be instant short hands so that we can indicate connects with clarity and economically.
There are things this doesn’t quite cover - resting the game, orphans/tangents, “other side of the coin” scenes, reversals/turns, pure following the fun, etc.. It has mostly been a mental exercise for me. Not sure if it is really useful. I just like looking at improv from different angles.