Focusing Group Scenes class

Objective: Bringing characters into group games brings new opportunities for chaos.  Simplifying character-based group scenes with emotional agreement, stage picture and sharing focus can help a team confidently navigate the chaos. 


2.0  Warm-Ups: Revisit names, build energy and concentrate energy

Suggested Exercises:



21 – The group (without teacher) huddles in a tight circle and together counts to 21 with players contributing one number at a time.  If two people speak at once, the group must start over.
•  Breathe; Don’t rush to speak; Share focus.
•  We are walking backward, making each subsequent step based on the trajectory laid down behind us
•  Don’t emphasize failure; there are no “mistakes” on stage, only what happens
•  Don’t rush to 21, just build each move on top of the one before it
•  The audience only knows you’ve “messed up” if you tell them you have



2.1  Self Contained Emotional Statements: Emotion should be the base of all the improv we do.  A “Self Contained Emotional Statement” establishes a stable starting point without dictating a direction and therefore is the initiation most conducive to patterns’ possibilities. 

Suggested Exercises:

SCES CIRCLE I – Around a circle, everyone makes a Self Contained Emotional Statement.  It can be as simple as “I love it here,” “I hate the arts,” or “I’m uncomfortable.” 
•  It’s a statement. Not a question shifting the responsibility of providing information to your partner. There’s a period. It’s definitive.
•  It’s an emotional statement. Emotional reaction is one of our three key tools; let’s get to it. You need to feel and, for the reaction, you need to give that feeling a direction. Give X the power to make you feel Y.
•  Being self-contained, the statement places you on solid ground without dictating the scene to your partners. Mick Napier urges us each to “take care of yourself” without confining the scene. Allow your partner the choice of whether to mirror you in some fashion or to take on something entirely their own. Being self-contained is increasingly an imperative the larger a group you have on stage.

SCES CIRCLE II – In a circle, one person leads with a Self Contained Emotional Statement.  Then progressively each person to the right heightens the perspective by agreeing with it – essentially with a “Yes, and.”  “I love the beach.”  “Yeah, I love the white sand.”  “Yeah, I love getting my tan on.”  Etc.  The initiator gets the final addition.  And then the person to their right starts a new SCES.
•  Repeating Agreement is funny – what’s better than one person who believes something strange?  Two people who feel that same way.
•  Agreement fosters collaborative building – many people united behind one emotional perspective will be able to heighten creative details to apexes beyond the reach of any single person.



2.2  One Person Scenes: We simplify by minimizing the number of perspectives on stage through agreement.  We build collaboratively through enthusiastic acceptance.  Emotional reaction is most important piece of content.

Suggested Exercises:

ONE PERSON SCENES – Groups of 5 or 6, line up along an assembly line conveyor belt.  Have them mime something coming down the line.  When you say, “Go,” someone will voice a SCES which everyone else will agree with and heighten through repetition.  Their miming is just an activity for their hands; it is NOT what the scene is about.
•  The clearer the emotional perspective the better – if you don’t think it’s clear, clarify it by heightening the emotion
•  Like 21, don’t rush to speak – You have something to do with your hands.  You also have an emotional perspective to fill your face with.
•  Agreeing to the emotion is more important than heightening the details with words – remember an enthusiastic “yeah” will always be funnier than a rambling monologue
•  There are no questions in agreement
•  Share the air space – Put periods at the end of your sentences.
•  Agree despite “sense” – If someone has a tumor, each person can have a tumor.  If someone’s pregnant, each person can be pregnant.
•  If an emotional perspective is heightened to its apex, the group can follow another emotional perspective, but push them to explore the heights before changing.
•  Feel free to break them away from the conveyor belt to a new environment, but beware this will cause them to talk about what they’re doing and/or drop physicality – You can use the resultant chaos as a transition…
•  Or… you can transition with, “Bored of the conveyor belt?  Let’s work on building your own stage pictures with agreement.”

Performers are: Steve Curtis, Noel Elias, Nolan Graveley, Andy Lett-Durant, Blake Mirzayan and Emma Trachman

2.3  Focusing Stage Picture: Staging an environment in a group game breeds potential complications as players abandon pattern for roles and over-prioritize explaining who they are and what they’re doing.  But attention to the elements of stage picture can help focus a group scene and facilitate quick collaborative heightening. 

Suggested Exercises:

STAGE PICTURE TABLEAUS – One by one, players enter stage, fleshing out a picture with static poses and/or repetitive motion.  Teacher gives a suggestion of a location, for example, “Apple Orchard,” “Beach,” “Race Track.”
•  Players tend to want to fill in all the possible roles in a location.  An orchard has pickers, trees, baskets, landscapers, squirrels.
•  Ask “Where’s the focus?”  They won’t know.
•  Build deliberately with agreement – There’s no reason we can’t all be trees.  A scene about five trees and one squirrel will be easier to find and heighten faster than a scene where six separate entities struggle for reason to exist.
•  Seek symmetries; empower asymmetries
•  Ask “Is this a One Person, Two Person, or Three Person Scene?”
•  Ask “Who should talk first?”
•  Have them point out the groups, defining focus.  Point out Upstage/Downstage distinctions for focus.  Point out who can see who, and so who has to take their cues from who
•  Push them to define more and more abstract environments; i.e., NASA, Hell.
•  Speed loading – have everyone crowd the space quickly upon hearing the suggestion, making bold choices and seeking symmetries faster.

Performers are: Steve Curtis, Noel Elias, Nolan Graveley, Andy Lett-Durant, Blake Mirzayan and Emma Trachman


ONE, TWO, THREE PERSON SCENES – Player build tableaus and then get to talk.  Remember, Self Contained Emotional Statements.  To start, players should align their emotional perspectives with the other players they are physically mirroring/complimenting.
•  Simplify and find focus through agreement in stage picture and emotional perspectives
•  There’s no reason we can’t always do One Person Scenes – even if our physicality is different
•  When you do have groups, don’t fall to negotiations, arguments or other lines of questioning – exploring juxtaposed emotional perspectives is all the scene we need
•  Have everyone pick someone to agree with before the suggestion is given – players can mirror/compliment one player’s physicality and another player’s emotional perspective; it can be fun to surrender to being forced into aligning with a perspective despite “sense”



2.4  Simplifying By Leveraging Backward: Mirroring/repeating language, details and rules heightens a group’s work while keeping it cohesive. 

Suggested Exercises:

INVOCATION – Players stand in a half circle.  On the count of three, a “god” appears before them that they will worship in three phases: First, they will describe it physically; “Oh, God, with your fowl beak.”  Second, they will address its less tangible qualities; “Oh, God, who tastes like everything.”  Third, they will ask it to do unto them; “Oh, God, henpeck my enemies.”
•  Be clear about what “it” is – don’t be vague for artsy sake; the sooner everyone knows what “it” is the sooner everyone can dig deep into the details
•  Unite behind an emotional perspective on “it” – “what we hate about Microsoft” will collaboratively heighten faster than “what we know about Microsoft”
•  Simplify with mirrored language – switching between phases is clearest when there’s a defining cadence to phase one (“Oh, God”) and a new cadence to phase two (“Sweet, Jesus).
•  Callback – What does a detail from phase one signify in phase two and can be used for in phase three?
•  Establish rules of reaction – Y follows X: “…who is never afraid,” “You’re a chicken who’s not chicken;” “…who never stops going,” “You’re a chicken who’ll always win at chicken.”  I’m the guy who: said, “Eyes as red as flames” so I’ll say, “Heart as black as coal.”
•  There are no mistakes – seek to fold in everything; don’t drop things that seem out of place

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