“E” is for “Entrances”

“Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.”

Chinese Proverb


Why do we enter a scene: to raise the stakes or increase the energy; to help a featured character take the next dynamic step on their journey; to heighten a game or deepen an emotion or mood; to provide side support or playfulness as a Canadian Cross or quick hit; or perhaps to embody the next needed character or complication? All meaningful entrances add, build and shape the action and, unless avowedly surreptitious in intent, grab the focus to do so. To enter meekly, apologetically or perhaps even unimaginatively can negate or undermine the very gift of your presence (with the notable exception of background work designed to gently embellish the environment). Entrances, then, are moments worth savoring and so are appropriately featured as the sumptuous main course of this entry.

Knowing that you’re needed on stage for a scene is one thing, but knowing how to dynamically arrive is another altogether. Improv stages run the gamut, and you might have limited staging options in terms of your arrival – perhaps little more than space to the sides of your performance space and maybe a door in the back wall if you’re lucky. But regardless of the physical limitations of the stage, there are still a multitude of ways that we can make the most of our arrivals as performers. (Scenic starts, initiations and effective scenic transitions are a related topic that I deal with elsewhere.)


A scene is in full motion with Player A and B engaging in a lovers’ spat.

Player A: “…I just feel that you never even listen to me! What’s the point of arguing with a brick wall?”

Player B: “Maybe I’d listen to you if you ever said anything new! What’s the point of having the same argument again and again…?”

Player A: “Sometimes I could just…”

Player B: “Sometimes your could just what? Say it!”

Player A: (emphatically) “Sometimes I could just…”

And then an entrance occurs…

Under-utilized Ways to Get Onstage

1.) Bring on a continuing offstage scene. This works best if you can quickly elicit the aid of another player, but can also prove effective if you deploy a cell phone or similar device as an absent “partner.” Essentially this dynamic feels as if you are picking up another story thread midway, almost in an editing fashion (although ideally you’ll want to get the focus back quickly to the dominant action). This category of entrance is a great way of providing an energy shift or juxtaposition with the intent of shaking up the current status quo.

Player A: (emphatically) “Sometimes I could just…”

A and B’s child (C) and their lover (D) dash on in giddy excitement.

Player C: (flashing a newly acquired engagement ring) “…scream about how much I’ve been waiting for this day. I can’t wait to show the folks!”

Player D: “No ring could ever eclipse your radiance!”

2.) Announce your arrival. An offstage equivalent to the above, an announced arrival typically involves an unseen voice or voices that relay the essence of the intended gift prior to the new characters actually arriving. This can be a helpful choice if you want to quickly pause or redirect an onstage energy that might overwhelm a more gentle or nuanced entrance otherwise. It also has the added advantage of warning the onstage players of what’s to come so that they can adjust the staging or momentum as they deem appropriate. This technique stands in gentle contrast to the unequivocal focus take that tends to happen with the above method.

Player A: (emphatically) “Sometimes I could just…”

The neighbors (Players E and F) can be heard loudly whispering outside the apartment door.

Player E: “…tell them! You have to tell them honey. I don’t think they realize just how thin the apartment walls are.”

Player F: “It’s just that they didn’t respond very well when I asked them about their lawn maintenance last week… but here goes.”

There’s a knock at the door.

3.) Enrich the greater environment. You can also embellish a more traditional walk-on entrance by giving extra attention to the bigger picture of the dramatic world. This can serve as a generous way of adding specificity or volume to a scene that might have been suffering a little of “talking heads” syndrome. These entrances can also reinforce a previously established element that may have become neglected, or provide yet another means to elevate the mood or dynamic of the scene through heightened physicality.

Player A: (emphatically) “Sometimes I could just…”

Player G, wrapped in a drenched overcoat and holding a now-collapsed umbrella, bursts into the room.

Player G: “…Answer my phone calls please! I was waiting for half an hour on the side of the road in this thunderstorm before my cell battery finally died. I’m drenched!”

4.) Just don’t walk or meander on (please). Sometimes simply challenging ourselves not to just walk into the scene can unlock a whole new level of playfulness and creativity. So often entrances can feel mundane or under-energized with characters almost sapping more energy from the scene than they bring. What’s a different way to enter than through a real or ill-defined door? What’s a new or atypical tempo you could employ physically, such as skipping, dancing or even rolling? Is there a way of moving that offers up new staging patterns or potentials? How can we jump start our own emotional commitment and energy? Yes, we must always be wary of over-originality merely for the sake of over-originality, but giving some consideration to the way you enter can also invite new character or story possibilities.

Player A: (emphatically) “Sometimes I could just…”

Player H, assuming the role of a young child, slowly crawls their way between the arguing couple who immediately change their tone and posture.

Final Thought

There are certainly moments when entrances do not and should not take strong focus by design: you’re making a subtle Canadian Cross to frame the action; you’re gently offering up the featured characters the potential of side support from a marginal character if they should need it; or you’re carefully sharing focus as a lurking character in the background patiently awaiting for your moment to pounce. But in general, you should anticipate (and dare I say, unapologetically want) focus when you’re the next player in. Don’t throw away this inherent opportunity to add more than merely your passive presence: make an entrance! After all, if you’re unsure about joining the action or what your insertion will add, the scene may, in fact, be better served by you remaining in the wings.

Related Entries: Edits, Initiation, Stage Picture, Take Antonyms: Exits

Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2021 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Game: Key Word

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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