Nothing bugs me more than a scene where two improvisers meet stage center, stare only at each other and talk only to and about each other.
I get it. Your stage partner is truly the only other active element on stage with you. But, c’mon, show some imagination.
The audience likes to see us interact with things we imagine. The audience loves to see us care about things we imagine. The audience f*#king adores when what we imagine makes us feel.
If you and/or the ensemble you’re in and/or the ensemble you coach are having the tendency to do centerstage talking heads scenes then this warm-up exercise might be right for you.
MIRROR, ACTION, OBJECT warm-up: Get three players on stage, standing in a line facing the audience, at least an arm’s span apart. Player One (most stage left) is tasked with looking into a mirror and feeling about what they see. Player Two is tasked with engaging in an activity and feeling about what they do. Player Three is tasked with defining an object through mime and feeling about that thing. These are three separate vignettes explored in silence (though any emotional noises felt are welcome). Play continues until the instructor deems fit to call “Statement,” at which point players provide a Self-Contained Emotional Statement defining how what they’ve imagined makes them feel – for example, by position, “I love my gut,” “This job is killing me,” and “Silly putty gives me the giggles.” Then Player One sits down, Player Two moves to the Mirror position, Player Three moves to Action position and Player Four enters to take the Object position.
The key, of course, is feeling about what you imagine. Strive, though, not to simply have a feeling while engaged in these environs, but, allow more of what you’re imagining to make you feel more. The player in the Mirror position, for example, loves his gut; when he pushes his stomach out to make more of a gut, we see more love in his expression. When we watch him discover his “love handles,” we see even more love fill his face. When he shakes the whole mess,… you guessed it… more love.
The player in the Action position, is not just miming typing while being miserable at the same time; with each typed word, misery further inhabits her hunched posture. Each successive word is harder and harder to type as each requires more struggle from her soul.
The player in the Object position connects his giggles to the putty’s stretch. Not just giggle and stretch. He shows the audience the cause and effect. Stretch. Giggle. Stretch further. Giggle longer. Stretch further still. Giggle further still.
The audience LOVES seeing us play by the rules of cause and effect we establish. In establishing these “rules” we give the world we’ve imagined power over us. What we imagine makes us feel. That’s crazy, yes. It’s engaging, yes – our commitment in this way renders our imagination “real” to the audience. It’s improv as improv does best, yessir – we further capitalize on the power of patterns with clearly defined cause and effect.
Having engaged in this exercise players will see that each separate vignette could have been a satisfying scene in and of itself. A player who imagines something active on stage with them and feels about it doesn’t need another player on stage to make it a scene. Please beat that into improvisers heads. Because if I see one more set of centerstage talking heads then I will beat in heads.