Relationship 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. “I’m embarrassed to be seen in this Slayer tee-shirt” because “You’re my priest.”
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.
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.”