There are only a few differences between improvisation with a partner and preparing a scene with a partner. While improv requires you to think on your feet, a scripted scene means you know exactly what's going to be said. While you may strive to be giving to your partner in improv, it's not a given your character is going to be as selfless.
Both forms require a lot of communication and co-operation between actors, both require listening and reacting skills, both need the full participation of each actor in order for the scene to work.
Some things to think about while preparing a two person scene:
Choosing a scene: Look at both characters. What do they want? What is their relationship? Is the scene equally meaty for both actors, or is it a monologue with a couple of lines for the second actor? You want to choose a scene that has characters in your age range, but it's important that those characters have some element that is dissimilar from your personality. You want to stretch yourself,right? Once you've chosen the scene, read the whole play. You never know how events that have happened earlier in the play may affect your scene.
The Given Circumstances: Each actor needs to write out a list of what they know about their character and what they know about their partner's character. Compare lists – what are the similarities? What are the differences?
The World of the Play: In order to create the world of the play you and your partner have to know what happens outside the realm of the specific scene you're working on. Together you should discuss what happens to each character in the play leading up to your scene. Are there previous moments between these two characters? Do these previous scenes add subtext to your present scene?
Not only that, but you and your partner should determine what has happened, if anything, before the play begins. What went on outside the world of the play? This is especially important if the relationship between the two is longstanding. In order to explore these moments, improv scenes that take place before the play begins. For example if the play focuses on the breakup of of a couple, you and your partner should work out what the first date was like. If characters are old in the scene, what were they like as children? If there is a defined emotional tone to the scene, explore what the two characters are like when in an opposing emotional tone. For example, if they are tense and angry at each other in the scene, improv a moment when the two are at their happiest. All of this can be used as subtext and depth beneath the lines in your scene.
Conflict: A two person scene is (or should be) about direct conflict. Therefore, it's important that each actor identifies the conflict in the scene – a conflict is the thing in the way of a character getting what they want. So answer the following questions: What do I want? What am I fighting for? Is Character B stopping me? If not, what is? What tactics do I use to get what I want?
The relationship: In every two person scene there is a relationship. A couple, a parent/child, a customer/retailer. It could be a long engrained connection, or it could be two people who have just met. Regardless, there is a relationship and that means give and take. What are you giving to your scene partner, and what are you trying to take?
Character Development: In order to get the best out of yourselves and your scene, you should each know as much as possible about your characters. That may require you to fill in the blanks that the playwright may not have included in the text. Create a character profile which could include such details as: Full name, age, family, living environment, favourite
food, favourite object, pet peeve, secret, dream job, favourite and least favourite memories. Human beings are made up of the small details and the more of these you can create for your characters, the more three-dimensional they become.
Blocking: What you want to avoid in a two person scene is standing face-to-face to your partner and talking. That's boring for the audience, and pretty boring for the actors too. There has to be levels and movement. The best way to block is to make all movement character-driven. There is something in the line that compels the character to move. That's why it's important to do all the above character work. It's not just about saying the lines but coming up with a physical characterization.
Defining the characters will help you define the relationship between those characters. If the two characters are at odds, what movement can show that? If the two characters are loving toward each other, what movement shows that? If one character feels a certain emotion and the second character has an opposing emotion, that needs to be shown by how the two move about the space. When do thecharacters move toward each other, and when do they move away? Exercise: Do the scene without the dialogue, only the movement. Can an audience figure out something about your characters just by seeing them move? Can they figure out the relationship?
Communication: In the two person scene, actors should ask the following questions with each line: How am I communicating? How is Character B communicating with me? Good theatre happens when actors work toward communicating their story to an audience. And in order to do that, actors must strive to listen and react. It is not just saying lines. It's an easy trap to fall into, saying the lines by rote. But that doesn't communicate anything to an audience. To present the scene at its best level is to listen to what your partner has to say, as if they are saying it for the first time and react accordingly.
Subtext: In a direct conflict situation between two characters there is always going to be subtext.Exercise: Run through the scene and after each line verbalize what your character really wants to say. It may be your character says what they mean, but more often than not, what we say is in direct opposition to what we're thinking.