Looking for an exercise/warm-up that will engage your group in tapping emotions between characters and leveraging those emotions in heightened subsequent beats?This exercise builds in three parts: A Duologue, and two Split Screens.
First, two players take center stage and speak together as characters being interviewed by a camera (think Modern Family or any Christopher Guest movie). The two characters are sharing their relationship with the “camera.” For example: “Bill and met in the sixth grade and have been together since”/”Martha took my favorite pen and said if I didn’t date her she’d break it; she’s still got my pen.” Or: “We’re the best damn tight rope walkers there are”/”Danny and me, we’ve been all over this country and forty feet above it.” Don’t just talk about your feelings; feel your feelings. Let the feeling infuse your speech and infect your position and gestures. Make your relationship present in the way you react to one another, letting 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. For example: “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.” And this is important – make these “Day in the life” moments Not “The Day When” moments. It’s more fun watching a couple who should break-up exhibit all the behaviors that indicate why 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 change.
During the duologue the rest of the group is on the wings. Their job is to A) think about how to distill the duologue into a defining scenic relationship, and B) think about how that relationship can be heightened with a subsequent scene.
In their duologue, John and Jane play characters who have invested their life savings into a roller rink. While they are both infallibly optimistic about their potential for success, it’s made clear that their small town hasn’t embraced roller skating the way it has bowling.
How might the other players define these characters’ relationship through their duologue? How can the couple’s interaction over their profession and prospects be heightened into a defining behavior?
Here’s a potential statement to define John and Jane’s relationshiop: They are naively optimistic in the face of certain failure.
Now how can this couple’s emotional behavior be leveraged in another scene…
In our second step, two new players will initiate a scene involving brand new characters, but heightening the emotional stakes of the relationship from the duologues. For example: Players 3 and 4 are a Democratic candidate and her campaign manager trying to make a run for a Senate seat in Texas. They are unflappably optimistic in the face of the fact that they will never win. This is a scene, not another duologue. Players 3 and 4 will post up on either the left or right of the players in the duologue, and the duologue players will then move off to the far wing, ceding the stage.
So now, with this first two-person scene, the game of heightening the emotional relationship from the duologues has been set. Optimism in the face of certain failure. In the example of the Democratic candidate, the situational stakes of the looming failure are heightened. But Players 3 and 4 could have just as well chosen to lower the situational stakes. For example: Players 3 and 4 are watching Old Yeller, confident that the dog will survive the movie.
In our third step, we solidify the Split Screen. The Split Screen enables a team to heighten relationship dynamics in a way that makes for a sexy stage picture. Several different scenes can coexist on the same stage.
In this exercise, when Players 4 and 5 see that Players 3 and 4 have heightened the emotional stakes of the duologue, they enter stage to initiate a new scene with the Split Screen. This is a brand new scene further heightening the duologue’s emotional stakes along the same progression that the previous scene set. Off of the Democratic candidate scene, for example: Players 4 and 5 start a new scene as Jesus and Peter who are optimistic they’ll convince people to give up the sex, drugs and rock’n roll they clearly pay attention to more than Jesus. Off of the Old Yeller scene, for example: Players 4 and 5 start a new scene as two kids who can’t get to the end of Bazooka Joe comic strips because they’re already laughing too hard in anticipation of the joke they are convinced will be hilarious.
It’s a fun exercise. As a warm-up, players have to:
A) Tap into their interpersonal emotions, allowing them to explore characters and feelings in an environment that doesn’t have to be a “scene”
B) Remain thoughtful while on the wings, focusing on what’s happening on stage so as to determine how they might heighten moving forward
C) Initiate in service of the core relationship dynamic while establishing fun new characters themselves
D) Heighten the progression of the emotional-relationship-focused game with brand new stakes