Relationship, Stakes and Scene class

Objective: How we feel about our scene partners determines a lot of our scene.  Emotional agreement is strong default.  But our characters needn’t always align. 

We love tension.  We can do conflict.  But we should be wary of argument, negotiation and head-butting. 

Active scene elements, relationship stakes and a willingness to lose ensure our scenes move forward as they heighten. 


5.0  Warm-Ups: Build energy, concentrate energy and emote boldly.

Suggested Exercises:






5.1  Active Endowments:   If I say, “I love cats,” I’m just emoting.  If I say, “I love this cat,” I’m emotionally reacting.  If we make the object of our emotion active in the scene – actually tangible/observable/repeatable on stage – then we have something to react to instead of just talk about

What is it specifically that we’re feeling about who we are, where we are and/or what we’re doing?  What is it specifically that we’re feeling about who our scene partners are, where they are and/or what they’re doing?  If we make a decision to connect our feeling to a tangible/observable/repeatable anything on stage, we can progress the scene by heightening our feeling and that “anything.”

Suggested Exercises:

PERSONAL ENDOWMENT CIRCLE – One by one around a circle, each player engages an emotion and makes explicit what it is that is evoking that emotion.
•       I love this cat
•       I hate pulling weeds
•       Des Moines, you’re impressive
•       I’m proud of my shoes
•       I’m afraid of my face
•       I’m sad I have no friends
•       Specificity breeds details – when you know what you’re feeling and what you’re feeling about, then our creative minds have a clear direction to explore.
•       Active elements keep us physically active – it’s much harder to sit still when you love this cats than to sit in a chair and talk about loving cats.
•       Don’t wait to be joined before making a choice – We don’t need anyone else. You’re never alone on stage, even if you’re the only improviser not on the wings; you have a world to explore and to react to.


SCENIC ENDOWMENT CIRCLE – One by one around a circle, each player turns to the player to their left, engages an emotion and makes explicit what it is about the player to their left’s character that is evoking that emotion.
•       I love your hat
•       I hate how smug you are
•       You dead-lifted 200 pounds?  Impressive.
•       I’m proud you’re my son
•       I’m afraid of your soul
•       I desire your friendship
•       Give gifts – it’s much more fun to be endowed with information (“Ugh, you got fat”) than to be burdened with requests for information (“What are you doing?”).
•       Want something?  Feel the absence – to avoid head-butting, don’t “demand,” focus on “desire.”  You can want something from your scene partner, but you don’t want to become hog-tied fighting for what you want.  How does not having what you want right now make you feel?
•       Give the gift of freedom – if you tell me, “I hate how smug you are,” I don’t have to directly respond to your feeling; I can focus on what I’m smug about (“I’m a golden god”) or I can do anything I want (“I’m tired of this wallpaper”).  You don’t want your scene partner to feel constrained to address or discuss your feeling (which is more likely the case with “Stop being smug,” “Why are you so smug?” or “Let’s talk about your smugness.”)
•       Give the gift of dynamite – If you say, “Your tap dancing makes me so horny,” you better believe I’m going to tap dance.


5.2  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. 

While “Stakes” come in many forms – and we want to apply emotion to all of them – this curriculum focuses on Relationship Status.  “I’m embarrassed to be seen in this Slayer tee-shirt” because “You’re my priest.”

Situational EffectsThe 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.

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 player 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.”


5.3  Being Affected:   There’s power in being vulnerable enough to accept another player’s perspective.     

Suggested Exercises:

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


5.4  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.  

Suggested Exercises:

TURN THE OTHER CHEEK – Prepare contrasting pairs of scenic desires (“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 is 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.


5.5  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. 

Suggested Exercises:

ATTRACT, DON’T FIGHT – Prepare contrasting pairs of personal desires (“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.


5.6  Scenes:   Have students practice initiating and building two person scenes.

Suggested Exercises:

BLIND SCENES –  Player One starts engaged in the environment (with an action, object, atmosphere, etc.).  Player Two, starting with his back to the stage, has the first line of dialogue.
•       No justification necessary – If players’ initiations don’t align, they don’t have to make sense of why they’re together.  They can just accept and heighten what’s happening.

FREEZE TAG –  Two players engage a scene, having been encouraged to be physical.  A third player calls, “Freeze,” causing the players on stage to hold their physical positions at that moment.  The third player replaces a player of their choosing, assumes that same physical position and starts a brand new scene.
•       No hesitation necessary – You don’t have to have any idea before calling “Freeze.”  It can be fun to just get out on stage and discover the scene in-the-moment.  Assume the position and decide how you feel.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.