Objective: Reacting emotionally in-the-moment keeps our scenes effectively in the moment. You can’t calculate every change; you have to allow yourself (and your characters) to be vulnerable to the moment. React, and trust wherever it goes. We choose to feel, reacting emotionally without deference to “sense.” But. Our emotional choices can be aided, informed and heightened by situational, behavioral and relationship-based endowments.
4.0 Warm-Ups: Build energy, concentrate energy and explore the power of being affected, reacting in-the-moment to provided stimuli.
REACTION CIRCLE – Player One turns to Player Two on his left and drops a line with the intention of getting a reaction (“I’m pregnant”). Player Two reacts. Then Player Two turns to Player Three to try and get a reaction with a brand new line.
• Players react as “honestly” as possible – being authentic engages an audience whether a player is reacting “as they would in that situation” or through such a committed character as good actors can
• Players choose the emotion to react through before the line is said – what matters is that we commit to reacting in-the-moment
• Players use the same line multiple times – players’ relationship can inform the reaction and heighten the reaction
“I’m pregnant” – to husband, boyfriend, mom, boss, etc.
HITCHHIKER – One player starts, driving a bus, expressing an emotional perspective (“I love the South”). A second player enters the scene, boarding the bus with a contrasting emotional perspective to the driver (“The South scares me”). Gradually the driver accepts and embraces the hitchhiker’s perspective, and the two come into agreement. a third player enters as a new hitchhiker, boarding the bus with a new contrasting emotional perspective (“I think Mississippi’s beautiful”). The driver and the first hitchhiker gradually accept and embrace this new perspective. Repeat with another hitchhiker.
• Let the driver leave and have the car rotate around as more hitchhikers are added
4.1 Losing: The best tool in avoiding conflict? Losing. Losing is such a powerful skill. One, it allows players to disengage from talking-head arguments. Two, the losing player wins in the audience’s eyes – don’t ever underestimate the endearing quality of a player who is willing to be affected.
Bite your tongue. Swallow your pride. Engage in an unrelated shiny active element on stage. Be the dynamic character and the scene’s about you. Your scene partner will hurry to be affected also because the audience reacted so favorably to you. Or, your scene partner will support your dynamism by feeding you fuel to heighten your dueling emotions.
TURN THE OTHER CHEEK – Prepare contrasting pairs of scenic desires on slips of paper (“Love me”/ “Leave me”; “We have to stop rocking”/ “Never stop a’rockin’”; “I need you to understand my truth”/ “I’ll never believe your lies”). Instruct players to initiate fully believing in their given desire. Build tension, sure. But the first player to acquiesce wins. And the exercise’s focus is understanding how “losing” affects the scene.
• Giving in ≠ Giving up – If you acquiesce, that doesn’t mean you’ve given up on your desire. You can return to it. And you can acquiesce again. The dueling emotional reactions are what makes you a dynamic character.
• More than one character can be dynamic – “Love me”/ “Leave me”/ “Okay, I’m leaving”/ “Stay.” That’s fun.
4.2 Attract, Don’t Fight: Will your scene partner not agree to your awesome idea? Don’t fight him on it. Show him why what you want is superior. This not only disengages argument but it also engages active scene elements.
You want your older brother to build a sandcastle with you. He doesn’t want to. Have so much fun building a sand castle on your own that he has to come engage with what you want.
You want your life partner to come to home. She doesn’t want to. That’s okay. You’re having so much fun at home that you don’t need her. She’ll come home.
ATTRACT, DON’T FIGHT – Prepare contrasting pairs of personal desires on slips of paper (“I want quiet”/ “I want to blast this song”; “Wake up”/ “Let me sleep”; “Being healthy is awesome”/ “Cigarettes make me cool”). Instruct players to initiate fully believing in their given desire. Build tension, sure. But the first player to disengage the argument by engaging what they want by themselves with positive emotion wins. And the exercise’s focus is understanding how “attracting” with emotional engagement into active scene elements progresses the scene more successfully than argument and/or negotiation.
• Positives progress; Negatives stagnant – Remember that agreement fosters collaborative building. If your fellow player doesn’t want to play your game, that’s fine; have fun without him. The fun will move the scene forward. Disagreeing roots the scene in static emotion. Dynamic characters breed dynamic scenes.
• More than one character can be dynamic – “Build a sand castle with me”/ “Let me read my book”/ “Okay, I’ll have fun building a sand castle alone”/ “Great. I’ll enjoy engaging this book solo”/ “Let me read a line” / “Let me build a spire”/ “Come back and build with me”/ “How could you leave this book? It’s awesome.” That’s fun.
4.3 Stakes: Our “What” is emotional reactions to active elements. Commitment and repetition are the only “why” we need. But “Because” can elevate the emotional stakes of a scene with context.
“Stakes” come in many forms – and we want to apply emotion to all of them.
Situational Effects – The impact that success or failure of a particular circumstance’s efforts portend to have on players’/a player’s feelings. “We have five minutes to defuse this bomb or we’re dead.”/ “I don’t want to die.”
Defining Behaviors – while a player who is doing something for the first time is dealing with Situational Effects, a player who is doing something for the hundredth time is defining herself as a person, and a player who is doing something for the first time after having done something else a hundred times is being affected. The audience loves knowing our characters; it allows them to react with us in-the-moment. We can build stakes by heightening patterns of emotional behavior.
Relationship Status – “I don’t like your shoes” gains weight in the context of the relationship between “I” and “you.” What if “I” is a neighborhood kid? A boss? A romantic conquest? How we feel about the relationship can heighten the stakes of our emotional reactions to active elements.
SITUATIONAL Suggested Exercises:
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – Players initiate two person scenes with the wildest, crazy-detailed quests/needs that they can imagine. “It is left to us janitors to slay the dragon.” “Build me a robot that makes robots and runs on souls.” They seek solutions. They pursue options.
• Try, don’t discuss – “I don’t know if this will work.” Shut up. Try it.
• All that matters is that you feel – care about what you’re doing. Experience successes and failures emotionally. The Matrix was totally predicated on the intricacies of plot (and special effects) and when plot failed, there was no emotion (too cool) to carry it. Because “The Flux-Capacitor” was the only sense Back To The Future needed; it had Marty and Doc.
• Confidently engage environment – explore your wild premise beyond words. More often, the stranger the world, the more we hang back from making physical choices (I’m “a pilot” but I don’t know how to fly a plane so I’m scared to engage the cockpit’s control”). Do whatever confidently and deliberately (How do you build a mainframe? “Like this. Ugh. Umph. Twist. Torque. Here.”)
• Get Satisfaction – We often unnecessarily fear achieving our wants to avoid dealing with what lies on the other side. When that fear has power over the scene it stagnates. What happens when you give the guy who wants a robot a robot? What if you left when someone demands that you “get out of here”? What if you can suddenly do the thing you couldn’t do? Especially if we have emotionally committed characters, we can feel comfortable exploring the other side of our obstacles.
• Lead and/or break into exercise with a few environment warm-ups – “What are you doing?”, “Mighty Isis,” “Build a room,” “Environment/Dialogue Sequences,” etc.
BEHAVIOR Suggested Exercises:
(BUT) YOU ALWAYS/NEVER – Player One initiates to Player Two with a statement starting with one of the following variations:
• You Always…smile
• You Never…pick up your trash
• But You Always…read my mind
• But You Never…eat fast food
Player Two accepts the reality of the endowment. Player Two should feel about the endowment (Not being able to smile makes me sad). Player Two should heighten the endowment by elevating/expanding the details (“I feel like Prometheus stealing Doritos Tacos from the gods!”).
• You’re that guy; how does it feel? – Don’t just be Comic Boy Guy; love all things comics; despise books without pictures.
• Actively experience – Don’t just talk about what you’ve done or what you will do; engage the active elements of the present moment.
YOU ALSO / I ALSO – Every line of dialogue must start with either “You also…” or “I also…”. Heighten the details through an emotional perspective. Accept the endowments, engaging physically and in the present.
“You Also have booger hanging.” “You Also have no tact.” “I Also am disgusted by you.” “I Also have bad gas.”
“I Also paint amazingly.” “You Also live in a mansion.” “I Also make computer chips without practical purposes.” “I Also want to sell crap for millions.”
• Start in the middle – Making assumptions jump starts our scenes. Choosing to react emotionally to and with those assumptions turbo charges our scenes.
• Actively experience – Don’t just talk about what you’ve done or what you will do; engage the active elements of the present moment.
• Can’t argue with these endowments
RELATIONSHIP STAKES Suggested Exercises:
DECK OF CARDS – Prepare a deck of cards that includes a different number/face card for every player (there should only be one King, one 2, etc.). Players take a card and put it face-out on their forehead without looking at it first. Then all players walk around the space. Players work out their respective status through mimed deference and/or dismissal. High and low cards typically get established first, with the in-between cards struggling for consistency. It doesn’t have to become worked out cleanly before it’s edited.
• Show status without words – If you see an Ace, you should be deferential. If you see a 2, you can be dismissive. Paying attention to how other people react to you versus others can help you to determine your status.
• Do it without cards – have students choose a rank in their heads and then attempt to interact consistently to determine how the whole class would rank in order
• Vary suits – mix red and black cards (still only one King, 2, etc.). See if that figures into how people chose to react to one another.
BAG OF EMOTIONS & RELATIONSHIPS – Player One takes a printed slip of paper out of the pre-prepared “Emotions” bag (“I’m hypnotized by your charm”). Player Two takes a printed slip out of the pre-prepared “Relationships” bag (Your scene partner is your baby sitter). Player One initiates (with the line of dialogue or an approximation). Player Two has an emotional reaction to Player One’s emotion through the filter of the given relationship (explicitly explaining the relationship or not).
• Relationship informs feeling – whose mouth a line came out of can determine whether we like the sound of it or not. But a relationship’s description is not enough; we have to decide how we feel about that relationship.
• Status – the regard to which we hold our scene partner’s emotional opinion can determine our reaction. Is her opinion inscrutable even if you disagree? Is he such peon that nothing he says could be right? Do you bite your tongue or speak your mind? Do you take advantage or show mercy?
• Allow emotions to coexist; don’t mute conflicting desires – a boy sits across from a girl, pining silently while coolly attempting to flirt: that’s a drama aided by a camera’s close-ups. A boy sitting across from a girl shouts, “I love you,” only to then remember that she’s cooler than he is so he self-consciously retracts his assertion: that’s a comedy that explodes on stage.
DUOLOGUES – the teacher/class interviews a pair of players sitting on stage who have known each other for a very long time. Players can assume/endow anything about the other and, while emotional reactions abound, nothing is surprising to either of them.
• “Day in the life” Not “The Day When” – it’s more fun watching a couple who should break-up exhibit all the behaviors that indicate the “because” they should break up than for the couple to directly address they should break-up and argue about it. Accepting a relationship often means accepting the relationship’s permanence. Remember that in scenes where you’re trying to change another person. Suffering the present is being affected, which is more in-the-moment than demanding or negotiating. Accept being affected – everything he does annoys me, and that’s clear to the audience and my scene partner, but I’m going to explore being annoyed instead of trying to not be annoyed
• Let familiarity breed emotion not mute it – knowing you don’t have to solve the problem should enable you to explore the problem with emotions at 11. “It really upsets me that my husband sleeps around, I hate it today and I’ll hate it tomorrow, but that’s my burden. When I say, I do, I mean it.”