In pursuing improv as improv does best, we seek to establish patterns of emotional behavior, leveraging them in developing sustainable scenes and subsequent beats.
To aid in that pursuit, focus on following a character’s “How.”
In the Facebook age our friends are defined by their “who,” “what,” “where” and “when.” Greg is a 30 year old lawyer, has a wife and a son, lives in New York and he and I met in college. But Greg is more than just a Facebook friend; I really know him. When he acts, because of our relationship I can say, “That’s how Greg is.”
We want our characters to be known.
It is through how our characters interact with their world – reacting to other characters, objects, actions – that the audience comes to know them. Knowing how our fellow players’ characters will react enables us to play to them, to set them up. Setting up and leveraging patterns of emotional behavior equips us to establish and evolve expectations to engage and surprise the audience.
Who, what, where and when – These are things you talk about.
How – That’s what you show.
Show Them How
Let’s warm-up. Let’s get in a circle. Let’s each talk about someone we know.
One at a time, each player describes “how” someone they know is and provides two examples of that person exhibiting that behavior. For example: My coworker, Alan, doesn’t think through his excited attempts to decorate the office. For example, he put Keith Haring stickers up on conference room windows only to find they left irremovable residue when they pulled off. And when he put assorted house plants around the floor, offices and cubes filled with fruit flies.
Now you try.
The specificity of the examples is important. Remember that on stage we want to provide our characters with active elements to react to. An improviser can play a character who is intense about his survival skills, but to ensure that he is showing that behavior and not just talking about it, it’s best if he has a reason to actively exhibit those skills on stage. So in this exercise, don’t just talk about your super Boy Scout father in general terms of what he likes and dislikes; tell the story about the time he dug out a makeshift bomb shelter in the backyard to be prepared.
The patterns of emotional behavior established in our first beat scenes provide the foundation for the progression of subsequent beats. With a new context, we seek to heighten the active stimuli that a character reacts to and the emotion of that reaction.