In Improv 101 at The Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Training Center in New York City, students are taught the foundations of long form improv. For 8 weeks, UCB students in the 101 course learn how to establish a base reality (the who, what, where, of the scene) and how to find the game (what specifically makes the scene funny). At the end of the course, students perform a long form show with a monologue opening based on one word suggested from the audience.
Monologues that are real stories and memorable anecdotes are going to provide you with the type of information that will be useful to improvisers looking for a starting point for scenes. Remember, the audience doesn't know you. You don't want to gloss over any part of the monologue you are telling and assume that the audience will be able to fill in the blanks. Be specific and detailed.
Trust that your true stories will be the best inspiration for scenes. Don't try to perform improvised stand-up. You don't want to riffor go off on tangents inspired by the suggestion. Don't launch into a character. Don't just offer opinions inspired by the suggestion. Most importantly, don't create a fictional story. If you try to be fictional, you will most likely end up being derivative.
Don't put pressure on yourself to be hilarious in a monologue being used as an opening. A great monologue is nothing more than a true reminiscence containing good specifics. (Besser, Roberts, Walsh 98)
Out of curiosity, convenience (the UCB Training Center is located exactly one long and two short blocks from my photography-based day job) and a love of theater, I found myself in an Improv 101 class in the middle of 2015. Unsurprisingly, I fell in love with the UCB Theater, the improvisers in my courses (I went on to complete the Long-Form Basic Course), and the stories - monologues that I often heard in class, on a stage, or over a post-show celebratory drink.
Selfishly, I wanted to hear more monologues - and I wanted to marry my love of photography with my love of theater - in this case improv theater. Wanting to remove any distraction from the improviser and their real life story, I removed them from the stage - putting them instead in front of a white seamless backdrop. I photographed them in black and white to place an equal weight on the black text of their transcribed monologue and to place emphasis on their facial expressions, body movements, and any object work that they might utilize. Lastly, I requested each improviser to strike a pose inspired by Communist-Utopianism propaganda art due to my own experiences living and traveling through post Communist countries and the parallels I saw in the cultlike following I observed within the improv community.
Besser, Matt. Roberts, Ian. Walsh, Matt. The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisational Manual. New York City: Comedy Council of Nicea LLC, 2013.