First & Subsequent Beats Revolver exercise

Objective: To focus on strong initiations that endow personal and scenic games and leverage those quickly defined games with subsequent beat initiations that heighten characters and relationships.

First Beat PERSONAL Game Revolver: Everyone stands in a circle. A player provides a Self-Contained Emotional Statement toward an active element – what s/he is doing (“I love filing”), what object s/he shares space with (“Ugh, this ice cream has icicles”), or what s/he is (“I’m super snazzy”). The next player around the circle then provides a brand new, unrelated Self-Contained Emotional Statement (SCES). Play continues with each player providing their own SCES.

Lessons:
•  As initiations, SCESs toward active scene elements immediately ground an improviser in a repeatable of cause (active element) and (emotional) effect. This should be a reminder.
•  There are no questions in emotional reactions to active endowments Make choices your character can live by.
•  Since we “know” characters by how they interact, a player’s SCES is all the ensemble needs to draft subsequent beat initiations that heighten that character (“I love organizing my sock drawer,” “Ugh, this igloo has freezer burn,” “I’m the zaniest hipster in this hizzy”). Prompt players to think up SCESs that heighten initiations that resonate with them.

 

Subsequent Beat PERSONAL Game Revolver: Still standing in a circle, each player provides a SCES toward an active element. When everyone around the circle has provided an unrelated SCES, the first player now has to provide an SCES that heightens the character choice of the last player. Then the second player in the circle provides an SCES that heightens the character choice that the first player made when this phase of the exercise began. Then the third player heightens the second player’s original SCES with his/her own SCES, and so on and so on.

Lessons:
•  Memory is critical. This exercise is contrived to make each improviser have to remember what the player before them in the sequence provided, and forced targeted remembering builds muscle memory.  The more we remember, the more we have to leverage moving forward.
•  Heightening is the goal; repetition will suffice. Simply repeating the player’s SCES will be funny; repeating the SCES with heightened emotion will be funnier still; and heightening the originating SCES by changing just one word To-The-Ether style reaches a higher ideal of this exercise; but repetition alone is heightening.
•  Subsequent Beats avoid rehashing by elevating away from the individual and/or the specific situation.  If Gary initiates his original scene smugly with “I’m the most powerful exec on the board,” we can certainly heighten Gary the Exec in subsequent beats but we really have to heighten Gary or risk retreading the same material which can get old.  If Bill initiates a second beat super smugly with “I’m the most powerful hero in the League of Justice,” then immediately there’s no risk of retreading and he’s heightened the idea of smugly powerful people among powerful people.  An improviser’s default is too often to make subsequent beats “all about Gary”; this exercise helps forge the muscle for making subsequent beats about “people like Gary” and/or “situations like Gary’s.”

Variations:
•  After playing this exercise through (having gone around the circle twice), have players shuffle up their positions so as to be standing next to new people.
•  If you started the exercise going clockwise, have the next round of the exercise go counter-clockwise.

 

 

First Beat SCENIC Game Revolver: Everyone stands in a circle. A player reacts emotionally toward an active endowment of the player to his/her right – what s/he is doing (“I love watching you file”), what object s/he shares space with (“Oh, wow, your mansion is intimidating”), or what s/he is (“You are one sexy garbageman”). The endowed player has their own emotional reaction to the initiating player, either reacting to the endowment (“Yes, I had these golden statues put in to intimidate”) or reacting to an endowment they give the initiating player which does not have to be related to the initiating reaction (“Your breath makes me desire death”).  Essentially, these are 2 lines scenes.  The endowed player then turns to the next player to his/her right and initiates a brand new, unrelated scene.  Player continues until each player has been on the initiating and receiving end of a 2 line scene.  To clarify, Player 1 and Player 2 do a scene, then Player 2 and Player 3, then Player 3 and Player 4,…then Player 6 and Player 1.

Lessons:
•  Don’t just endow your scene partner; choose to feel about the active endowment you give your scene partner. Now your scene partner can use this endowment to trigger more of that emotional reaction from you moving forward.  This should be a reminder.
•  Enthusiastic agreement never fails.  The second player in a scene should never be at a loss for what to say because they can always add “Me, too!”  If an initiating player comes at you with conflict, choose to lose (“Get out of my sight”/”As you wish”).  If an initiating player comes at you with a problem to solve, solve it (“I don’t know whether to hit you or kiss you”/”Do both”).
•  Since we “know” characters’ relationships by how they interact, the two juxtaposed emotional reactions are all the ensemble needs to draft subsequent beat initiations that heighten that relationship (“Your absentee fatherhood hurts me”/”Son, you bore me” to “Oh, God, I feel abandoned”/”You are no fun, Jesus”). Prompt players to think up initiations that heighten the 2 line scenes that resonate with them.

 

Subsequent Beat SCENIC Game Revolver:  Around the circle, each player in turn participates in a 2 line scene, being initiated to and initiating.  Having completed the circle to where it is again the first player’s turn to start, this player initiates a scene to his/her right that heightens the 2 line scene s/he was just in with the player to his/her left.  To clarify, in the second phase of this exercise, Player 1 and Player 2 do a scene heightening the scene between Player 6 and Player 1, then Player 2 and Player 3 heighten the scene between Player 1 and Player 2,…then Player 6 and Player 1 heighten the scene between Player 5 and Player 6.    

Lessons:
•  Memory is critical. This exercise is contrived to make each improviser have to remember two different 2 line scenes in order to successfully participate in heightening them with subsequent beats.  Forced targeted remembering builds muscle memory.  The more we remember, the more we have to leverage moving forward.
•  Heightening is the goal; repetition will suffice. Simply repeating a line will be funny; repeating the line with heightened emotion will be funnier still; and heightening the originating 2 line scene by changing just one word To-The-Ether style reaches a higher ideal of this exercise; but repetition alone is heightening.  “You think I’m an idiot”/”Yeah, you voted Republican” to “You think I’m an idiot”/”Yeah, President Dubya, I do.”   Or “I’m impressed, you’re hired”/”Happy to join up” to “I’m horny, let’s have sex”/”Happy to join up.”
•  Subsequent Beats avoid rehashing by elevating away from the specific relationship and/or the specific situation.  A scene where a nerdy teenage tries to attract a girl who’s clearly not interested in him, can certainly be heightened in subsequent beats by the boy trying different ways to attract that girl, but if too focused on plot the string of beats hinges on the resolution to that plot and aspiring to be in-the-moment sitcom writers is a risky gambit.   If instead a subsequent beat has the boy trying to connect with a puppy that’s clearly not interested in him, then we heighten the behavioral pattern of the character which requires only exploration, not resolution.  If instead a subsequent beat has a Third World country attempting to get the attention of the United States, then we heighten the theme of being overlooked by social “betters.”  In improvisation, we are not confined to one set of characters or a limited selection of set pieces.  We can be anyone anywhere in service of heightening the situational, behavioral, relationship and thematic games of our scenes.  Too tight a focus on the specifics of an originating scene can stunt the potential of subsequent beats.

Variations:
•  After playing this exercise through (having gone around the circle twice), have players shuffle up their positions so as to be standing next to new people.
•  If you started the exercise going clockwise, have the next round of the exercise go counter-clockwise.

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