But on more than one occasion, I've witnessed a scene where two improvisers refuse to get specific, often about something as simple as an object. Said scene typically goes like this:
Player A: I got you a gift!
Player B: (object work of opening gift) Wow, I love it!
Player A: I knew you would like it.
Player B: I do! I've always wanted one of these.
If the scene is in a show, the scene goes on like this until either it is awkwardly edited or the entire audience dies of boredom. If this scene is in a class or rehearsal setting, it goes on like this until it is stopped by the coach. The scene probably could have been stopped after the first line, but people get kind of sensitive about being stopped THAT early so when I'm coaching I'll give people a couple more lines to get their shit together. But after line three, I am totally comfortable puttin' on my cunt pants and cutting this scene.
I would say about 75% of the time that I've done so and given the note "Somebody needs to define what that gift is," the players have said "Oh, I thought the game of the scene? Was that we didn't know what the gift was?"
No. That is not a game. Vague is not a game. I have seen this scene a hundred times and I have never, ever liked it. It is never good. Okay, I take that back. Probably somewhere in the history of improv such a scene has been moderately enjoyable, but the fun-to-boring return rate is very, very, VERY low. Don't gamble on those odds unless you are the kind of gambling addict who goes to a racetrack and bets your last ten dollars on the fat horse with arthritis.
If you read nothing else in this stupid blog for jerks, just read & remember this bold-text-pro-tip:
IF AN OBJECT HAS NOT BEEN DEFINED IN THE FIRST TWO LINES, DEFINE IT IN THE NEXT LINE OR GTFO.
Vagueness is not a game. It's pussyfooting. So when I or any other coach tells you to use specifics, please don't believe your own bullshit that you thought being vague was "the game." What's really going on is that you are refusing to name specifics because you are afraid you'll say the wrong one. To cover up your fear, your brain is confabulating a plausible, non-fear-based reason for your choices.
It's ok to be afraid. We are all just sacks of terror looking for validation in numerous forms: laughs, likes, upvotes, hugs, sexual encounters, wins, dollars, grades, ownership share in fat & arthritic racehorses, whatever. I'm like that, too. So don't chastize yourself for being afraid. Just admit you are afraid and suddenly it won't be so scary. If you aren't ready to admit it, that's ok, too. But I'm probably not the coach for you.
This is interesting to me, that people think not defining something is a game. Remember how I defined game? As a pattern that repeats itself in novel and surprising ways? It was earlier in this post, how have you already forgotten? Anyway: how are you going to heighten the act of not knowing something? Well, okay, you might actually be able to heighten not knowing something- not knowing something that's hard to know, then not knowing something that's more obvious, then not knowing something that's so fundamental it's ridiculous (eg, not knowing you have to breathe both in AND out, and passing out as a result) - in a way that's playable and interesting. But even in that hypothetical scenario, only one of the characters doesn't know things. The other character has to know things.
Even if you could think of making "not knowing" fun and playable, it still doesn't apply here. It's not accurate to describe the vague "game" as "not knowing." It's not that the characters don't know what the gift is, it's that the actors are refusing to say what it is. At its best, this behavior is fear and politeness. At its worst, it's meta bullshit.
I don't want all this stress on defining an unknown object to mislead you into thinking that the game is about said object. I think that's the sort of misunderstanding that leads people to pussyfoot about defining specifics early on. "If the specifics are so important, then we must make sure we select the right ones! I cannot define this object, for what if my scene partner has a better idea!"
Wrong. Your scene partner has no idea what's in that gift box he's handing you. And if he did know, he should have said it already. The scene is not going to be about the invisivle object in the box, it's going to be about the two characters we can see. So it doesn't fucking matter whether the gift is a ring or a potato, whether your scene partner's name is Jim or Glordob, whether you guys are cousins or lovers, or whether you're in a living room or a spaceship. But getting that information out of the way sooner, rather than later, will help you and your audience establish just what the fuck is going on.
The next time you decide initiate a scene by giving your scene partner an invisible gift, don't say "I got you something!" or any of its vague cousins as you hand him or her an invisible box. Say "Here, I got you this (noun)," but replace (noun) with literally any noun. Any noun at all. Try it now! I'll start. Carpet. Mailbox. Mao's Little Red Book. Jordache gift card. Diamond ring. Penis hat. The eyebrows of the guy who ran against George HW Bush, I forget his name, oh yeah it's Dukakis. Mud. See how easy that was? ANY OF THOSE NOUNS, OR ANY OTHER NOUN YOU CAN THINK OF WILL DO. The sooner you get the specific, the sooner we can all move on to what's really going on.