Find “Game” by Feel

Mmmm…what do these have in common?

When asked for a desired focus for a scheduled coaching session, a Duo sent me the following:

Mainly character stuff, fleshing them out versus building out more plot. Getting better at finding and sticking to the game of the scene.

What follows is some didactic and exercises that filled two hours.

DIDACTIC: How do You think about “Game” in improv?

Acknowledged ad nauseam here on Improv As Improv Does Best, the idea of “Game” gets thrown around a lot in improv.

At its most dumbed down, “Game” is “the funny thing, done more.” Though what the “funny thing” is is subjective.

At once both more sophisticated and more corny, “Game” can focus on the repetition of the cause and effect of actions. Short Form‘s blessing and curse is that its rhythms connect so quickly (helped by being made explicit) – the audience is rigged to react to anticipation but the rigging can be too tight and become stale.

Aiming for an universal answer this site’s materials are predicated on the definition of “Game” as “a sequence of actions related by cause in effect, heightening in a progression through repetition.” Holds true for baseball and Monopoly alike.

Regardless of definition, “Game” needs Emotion.  Continue reading

Personal & Scenic Games in a two person scene video example

To establish sustainable scenes, it is helpful to remember that each player on stage can have at least one Personal and Scenic game at their disposal to heighten.

Personal Game  how you react to who you are, where you are or what you’re doing
* I love cake; when I eat a piece I’m overcome with joy and I sigh involuntarily

Scenic Game  how you react to who your scene partner is, what your scene partner is doing or how your scene partner is acting 
* Greg is my hero; when he criticizes me I’m destroyed and flagellate myself
* We are scared of ghosts; when we hear a noise we freak and run around

The games represent a pattern of behavior established through evolving rules. Establishing and leveraging these games A) enable players to react through rather than think through scenes and B) engage the audience, letting them know our characters through their patterns of emotional behavior and care about them.

Continue reading

1A/2A/3A Subsequent Beats video example

The clip embedded below shows the 1A, 2A and 3A scenes from a Harold in succession. It shows how, instead of just following plot through the beats, one character’s emotional behavior – in this case, Matt Newman’s reaction to learning that people close to him are sleeping together – can be heightened through scenarios beyond the initial scene’s.  It also shows how the responsibility for initiating subsequent beats is not on Matt, but on his fellow players who’ve been watching from the wings – this helps avoid rehashing the initial scene.

To learn more about the who, what and how behind heightening a scene with subsequent beats, READ THIS.

SWOT #14 – Enabling Sustainable Scenes

We play with the three core elements of improvisation – The Details,  Emotional Reactions and Patternsin balance.  We don’t over-rely on being clever, which works as long as we are clever and fails us the moment we aren’t.  We don’t over-play our emotional range with erratic characters that, at best, the audience just can’t follow and, at worst, annoys or drains the audience.  We don’t overload on games, finding “the funny” and then riding it to death.

We establish patterns of emotional behavior that define how we interact with our world and our scene partners.  And we develop a rhythm between those patterns of emotional behavior.  We don’t run from one idea to another desperate to find something the audience will like, or audaciously assaulting the audience with randomness, or caught so far up in your own brilliance that you don’t care what the audience thinks.

We lead by following.  We know that if we’re ever lost that we can always go back to something we’ve done before.  We embrace improv’s inherent chaos, working to direct the flow without controlling it.  We focus on supporting the scene moment by moment, and not pushing the scene to an envisioned end.  To ensure our scenes a robust life, we raise them right and trust them to explore their freedom.

Enabling Sustainable Scenes

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may help you coach to the Opportunity:
* Trajectory theory
* Trigger and Cap Mechanics
* Situational Stakes
* Behavioral Stakes
* Relationship Stakes

Relationship, Stakes and Scene class

Objective: How we feel about our scene partners determines a lot of our scene.  Emotional agreement is strong default.  But our characters needn’t always align. 

We love tension.  We can do conflict.  But we should be wary of argument, negotiation and head-butting. 

Active scene elements, relationship stakes and a willingness to lose ensure our scenes move forward as they heighten.  Continue reading

Being Affected class

Objective:   Reacting emotionally in-the-moment keeps our scenes effectively in the moment.  You can’t calculate every change; you have to allow yourself (and your characters) to be vulnerable to the moment.  React, and trust wherever it goes.  We choose to feel, reacting emotionally without deference to “sense.”  But.  Our emotional choices can be aided, informed and heightened by situational, behavioral and relationship-based endowments. Continue reading

Behavioral Stakes exercises

Behavioral Stakes:   Our “What” is emotional reactions to active elements.  Commitment and repetition are the only “why” we need.  But “Because” can elevate the emotional stakes of a scene with context. 

“You always sleep the day away.”

“Stakes” come in many forms – and we want to apply emotion to all of them.  These exercises focus on elevating characters by allowing choices to affect who they are as people.

Defining Behaviors – while a player who is doing something for the first time is dealing with Situational Effects, a player who is doing something for the hundredth time is defining herself as a person, and a player who is doing something for the first time after having done something else a hundred times is being affected.  The audience loves knowing our characters; it allows them to react with us in-the-moment.  We can build stakes by heightening patterns of emotional behavior.

BEHAVIOR Suggested Exercises:

(BUT) YOU ALWAYS/NEVER – Player One initiates to Player Two with a statement starting with one of the following variations:
• You Always…smile
• You Never…pick up your trash
• But You Always…read my mind
• But You Never…eat fast food
Player Two accepts the reality of the endowment.  Player Two should feel about the endowment (Not being able to smile makes me sad).  Player Two should heighten the endowment by elevating/expanding the details (“I feel like Prometheus stealing Doritos Tacos from the gods!”).
• You’re that guy; how does it feel? – Don’t just be Comic Boy Guy; love all things comics; despise books without pictures.
• Actively experience – Don’t just talk about what you’ve done or what you will do; engage the active elements of the present moment.

YOU ALSO / I ALSO – Every line of dialogue must start with either “You also…” or “I also…”.  Heighten the details through an emotional perspective.  Accept the endowments, engaging physically and in the present.
“You Also have booger hanging.”  “You Also have no tact.”  “I Also am disgusted by you.”  “I Also have bad gas.”
“I Also paint amazingly.”  “You Also live in a mansion.”  “I Also make computer chips without practical purposes.”  “I Also want to sell crap for millions.”
• Start in the middle – Making assumptions jump starts our scenes.  Choosing to react emotionally to and with those assumptions turbo charges our scenes.
• Actively experience – Don’t just talk about what you’ve done or what you will do; engage the active elements of the present moment.
• Can’t argue with these endowments

Subsequent Beat exercise

Subsequent Beats: The stakes of one scene can be used as inspiration for initiating new scenes.

SUBSEQUENT BEATS – Two players do a scene (edited early by the teacher). These two original players go to the wings. A Player Three initiates a new scene, explicitly soliciting the participation of Player One, Player Two, Both Players One and Two, or Neither Players One nor Two.
• Put the onus on initiating subsequent beats on those standing on the wings – the players in the original scene need to be focused on the scene in play; those on the wings have the time to think up an initiation. When players from the originating scene initiate their own subsequent beats, it is too likely that they will over-prioritize plot or simply repeat what they did originally.
Use NAMES – it’s easier to solicit the participation of Player One if you can say, “Hey, Jack…”
• Elevate the situation – Spies stealing secrets? Have mountaintop-sitting, spiritual gurus stealing life’s secrets. Have Moses steal the Commandments.
• Elevate character’s defining behaviors – Player One is an enthusiastic baseball commentator; Have him do color commentary at his accountant day job; Have him narrate as he video tapes his son’s birthday
• Elevate themes – In lifting the reactions from the originating scene’s players and situation, we give those reactions wider applicability and telegraph to our fellow players that we are heightening the theme represented in those reactions. (A sailor’s wife awaiting her husband’s return would have a great scene with a dog awaiting his master’s return from the store).
Mapping – Lay the dynamic structure of one genre over the particulars of another genre to heighten thematic and narrative depths. Two male improvisers talk about cars or sports while really talking about women and/or sex. Play the emotional dynamic of a young man asking a father for his daughter’s hand over the particulars of a teenager asking his dad for the car keys – “Boy, what are your intentions with my sedan?”