“That’s my…” exercise for active emotions

Feeling about active endowments. That’s Improv As Improv Does Best.

It ain’t easy. That balance between making up imagined details and committing to feeling about imagined details is tough to manage. Already we’re trying to see our world’s details instead of thinking up details, but we also have to care about those details in-the-moment.

Like the “We gotta…” and “I was just…” initiation exercises, the “That’s my…” drill helps connect emotion to active endowments.

Example –
Player One: (proudly) That’s my grandpa there; the one with all the ladies around him.Gigging Gramps
Player Two: (proudly) That’s my grandpa there; the one hustling everyone in pool.
Player One: (proudly) Check out his slick seersucker suit. His mustache big and manly but maintained?  Damn.  Those ladies can’t get enough.
Player Two: (proudly) Look at that horde of marks just waiting to be taken.  They think because gramps is hunched and frail that he’s weak, but, damn, old man’s a sharp shooter.Hustler
Player One: (dismissive) Yeah, well, when my grandpa plays with shafts and balls, it’s with ladies.
Player Two: (dismissive) Yeah, well, the pockets my grandpa hits are tight and don’t bitch.
and…the scene continues until an edit is called for…

Mechanics –
Two players take the stage. One is designated as the initiator.  The initiator must begin his/her line with “That’s my…” and indicates a physical presence on or beyond stage. Importantly, the initiator should feel about the object s/he is addressing.  The second player must also begin his/her line with “That’s my…”, indicates a physical presence for his/her object and feel about his/her object.  The players don’t have to refer to the same type of object – both don’t have to have a grandpa, for example – but the scene is tighter if the two objects are at least related.  The players though can have totally different feelings toward their objects; it’s simply important that they feel something.

Think of two dads looking through the glass at their new babies.  Think about two people admiring their cars in a lot.  Think about two parents watching their children play a sport.

The purpose is to have improvisers focus outward On active elements and to feel about them. The struggle in the “That’s my…” Exercise is that the object a player defines is passive unless the players emotionally react to the endowed details. Because the initiation doesn’t carry any urgency (as in the “We gotta…” Exercise), players need to ensure their reactions to those endowed reactions keep the scene in-the-moment.

In instructing this exercise, the coach should focus on encouraging players to endow their surroundings with details and to feel an impact of those details.

Consider these two different scenes –
…and…as a coach, think through your notes for each scene…

Scene One –
Player One: (proudly) That’s my son who scored.
Player Two: (sheepishly) That’s my son your son just scored on.Soccer
Player One: (amused) Oh, wow. Hot damn. This is awkward. My son’s awesome. And your son..he’s terrible.
Player Two: (darkly) Yeah… I know. When I was playing, the goalie was an enviable position of flexibility and honor. Now it’s where you stick the fat kid.
and…the scene continues until an edit is called for…

Scene Two –
Player One: That’s my son who scored.
Player Two: That’s my son your son just scored on.
Player One: Well, look at their physiques. My son’s thighs, abs, hustle – he’s clearly the Plato’s horse of a Goalieteenage soccer player. And your son..huffing, puffing, dripping sweat and oozing failure…he’s more Gumby’s horse,… Pokey?
Player Two: You’re right. I was a goalie (assumes the goalie swaying stance); I was flexible (bends dramatically) and I was king of the team (raises his arms, shaking combined fists in triumph). And here I have this son (drops into his impression of his heavyset son).
and…the scene continues until an edit is called for…

Your notes?

Mine are:
Scene One got half-way there. Players reacted emotionally to details, but few details were made active on stage.
Scene Two got half-way there. Players painted an active stage, both in their descriptions and embodied memories. But – perhaps in-their-head thinking up details instead of focusing outward and “seeing” details – players share details back and forth without seeming to react emotionally to those details.

and so…the combo scene that both endows active details and makes those details felt through reactions could be…

Scene 1&2 Combo –
Player One: (proudly) That’s my son who scored.
Player Two: (sheepishly) That’s my son your son just scored on.
Player One: (amused) Oh, wow. Hot damn. I had no idea you (stares Player Two up and down) could be the father of that (stares Player Two’s son up and down). My son’s thighs, abs, hustle – he’s awesome; clearly the Plato’s horse of a teenage soccer player. And your son..huffing, puffing, dripping sweat and oozing failure…he’s terrible; more Gumby’s horse,… Pokey?
Player Two: (darkly) Yeah… I know. (proudly) When I goalie it was an enviable position (assumes the goalie swaying stance); it was about flexibility (bends dramatically) and honor (raises his arms, shaking combined fists in triumph). And here I got this (drops into his impression of his heavyset son).
and…the scene continues until an edit is called for…

Lessons –
Even when you create active elements on stage, they’re still imagined, so it’s too easy to fall into talking about them instead of “seeing” them. We can create funny details. But details the audience witnesses us discovering in-the-moment evoke laughter without having to be funny.
We can create a detailed world that the audience can follow, but we can care about a world the audience can engage in. At the core of Improv As Improv Does Best is being emotionally invested in imagined stimuli. Caring trumps Creating.
Focus outward and feel about active endowments.

The “That’s my…” Exercise can help a group practice this core aspect of Improv As Improv Does Best.

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  1. Pingback: Active Emotions two person scene exercises | Improv As Improv Does Best

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