Prioritizing Character Over Plot exercises

“I love opium.”

It’s a fine line between a character evoking a plot and a character reacting to their reality. A very fine line. But I believe that attention to that line can mean the difference between a scene where improvisers force a sequence of events dependent on an audience’s satisfaction with a resolution and a scene where characters are engaged in the moment of their reality with an audience reacting to – and investing in – a character’s consistency regardless of “sense.”

The following is a series of exercises geared toward prioritizing characters in-the-moment over improvisers setting-up-situations-to-be-negotiated. Continue reading

Mirror, Action, Object an exercise in personal active stakes

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.
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Comfortable & Committed scene

Here’s a scene from a Pack show I did with Nick Leveski, a seasoned Chicago improviser.

This scene evoked a huge laugh from the audience. Like many stage-to-video improv moments, the laugh gets lost in translation.

But I believe I know what the audience liked. We didn’t explain the scene; we lived the scene.  When we as improvisers made choices, the audience could believe that those choices were the characters’ reality all along.

Nick and I had previously talked about avoiding audition scenes and scenes focused on “bad acting.”  The audience would rather see you try your best and fail than purposely be bad.  We knew I would never actually perform a monologue.  The scene is about two improvisers building a world moment-by-moment that the characters have been living since day one.

Just Act Natural

Acting. Webster’s defines it as: the art or practice of representing a character on a stage or before cameras. Fine. You’re acting when you’re pretending to be someone else. Then what’s “good acting”? Representing that character better. What’s “bad acting”? Representing that character worse. How does that relate to improv where the character only exists in what we do and what the audience sees? What about the 4th wall – so prominent in improvisation – that calls attention to the actor and the audience?
I like this definition for acting: Being convincingly in-the-moment.

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SWOT #5 – Emotional Perspective

When we spontaneously emit an emotion toward something imagined on a blank stage, that’s crazy – and the audience loves it.  Society’s path to “maturity” often overlaps with a push to subdue your emotions; the upside is that people like watching other people share their emotions on stage – it’s a cathartic surprise.  A scripted actor’s whole job is to make an audience believe that the emotional reaction they’re rehearsed is real in-the-moment. In improvisation, we have a leg up; we are all experiencing what’s happening for the first time.  And as improvisers we don’t have to understand our motivation to emote; we just have to emote – feel!  If you don’t have feelings, get off the stage.  An improviser without access to their emotions has to be a very “clever” improviser.  Relying on cleverness alone works for very few people, let alone improvisers.  Not engaging your emotions is improvising without one of the core elements of improvisation that can evoke a response from the audience beyond the capabilities of any other performance medium.

Emotional Perspective

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Acting is believing in your emotions
* Emotional Reaction Circle
* Yes, Yes I Am
* Acting vs. Indicating
* Just Act Natural
* Mirror, Action, Object
* Tyler Durdan sez, “How’s that working out for you?”

Cafe Scenes channeling self exercises

Without scripts, improvisers are dependent on what’s in their head – details from their lives and their personal ability to access emotion in-the-moment.  The audience loves seeing us on tom-waits-ccstage.  Let the audience see you to give them the ability to connect with you and ultimately root for you.

CAFÉ SCENES – Two players sit in chairs facing each other. They are to have a conversation as their authentic selves, trying not to worry about people watching them. Continue reading