SWOT #3 – Bold Initiating Choices

When we show make a bold choice the moment we step out on stage, a blank slate is immediately endowed with an active element that provides fuel for a scene to grow.  If we put off making a choice – instead timidly walking out to the center of the stage to meet our scene partner and cautiously negotiate a scene on vague information – the scene is doomed not to go anywhere out of fear of going in the “wrong” direction.  In improv we are collaboratively building something out of nothing; the moment we make a choice we have something to build from, and the earlier in the scene we have that something the better.

Bold Initiating Choices

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Why “What” should not wait for “Why”
* Emotional Character Development
* Emotional Initiations
* Hot Spot
* Freeze

Hot Spot bold choice exercise

HOT SPOT (Singing or Monologue) – Players stand in a circle. One player enters the center and begins singing or telling a true, personal story. In no particular order, players enter to take the place of the player in the center to sing a new song or tell their own story.
Lessons:
Hesitate and miss your connection – While players should be encouraged to inspire their moves based on what preceded it, players that wait too long over-thinking their move’s connection is going to miss their chance to enter.
Just start – A player needn’t know all the words to the song or how the story is going to end to enter the circle. Just get out there and start, and commit to continuing confidently.
Focus outward and support your fellow player – don’t be in your head thinking about what you’re going to do while a player is standing in the circle suffering through what they’re doing. Make them look good. Smile at them. Sing along.

Freeze, Thank You bold choice exercise

FREEZE, THANK YOU – Two players assume frozen positions on stage. From the wings, another player says, “Freeze,” confidently enters, taps a player on the shoulder to indicate that they should go to the wings, and assumes a new frozen position in relation to the remaining player.
Lessons:
Confidence sells – Don’t worry about making “sense” with your stage picture. Whatever you do confidently appears purposeful.
Acceptance is the easiest choice – Mirroring is a great default. Whatever Player One does, if Player Two also does it, too, it appears purposeful.
Take inspiration from others – Mirror exactly what they do. OR, complementary mirror what they do (she’s banging a drum; I’ll air guitar). OR, contrast – without opposing – what they do (he’s stretching; I’ll make myself small).

Active Endowment exercises

Active Endowments: If I say, “I love cats,” I’m just emoting. If I say, “I love this cat,” I’m emotionally reacting. If we make the object of our emotion active in the scene – actually tangible/observable/repeatable on stage – then we have something to react to instead of just talk about.

What is it specifically that we’re feeling about who we are, where we are and/or what we’re doing? What is it specifically that we’re feeling about who our scene partners are, where they are and/or what they’re doing? If we make a decision to connect our feeling to a tangible/observable/repeatable anything on stage, we can progress the scene by heightening our feeling and that “anything.”

Suggested Exercises:

PERSONAL ENDOWMENT CIRCLE – One by one around a circle, each player engages an emotion and makes explicit what it is that is evoking that emotion.
Example:
• I love this cat
• I hate pulling weeds
• Des Moines, you’re impressive
• I’m proud of my shoes
• I’m afraid of my face
• I’m sad I have no friends
Lessons:
Specificity breeds details – when you know what you’re feeling and what you’re feeling about, then our creative minds have a clear direction to explore.
Active elements keep us physically active – it’s much harder to sit still when you love this cats than to sit in a chair and talk about loving cats.
Don’t wait to be joined before making a choice – We don’t need anyone else. You’re never alone on stage, even if you’re the only improviser not on the wings; you have a world to explore and to react to.

SCENIC ENDOWMENT CIRCLE – One by one around a circle, each player turns to the player to their left, engages an emotion and makes explicit what it is about the player to their left’s character that is evoking that emotion.
Example:
• I love your hat
• I hate how smug you are
• You dead-lifted 200 pounds? Impressive.
• I’m proud you’re my son
• I’m afraid of your soul
• I desire your friendship
Lessons:
Give gifts – it’s much more fun to be endowed with information (“Ugh, you got fat”) than to be burdened with requests for information (“What are you doing?”).
Want something? Feel the absence – to avoid head-butting, don’t “demand,” focus on “desire.” You can want something from your scene partner, but you don’t want to become hog-tied fighting for what you want. How does not having what you want right now make you feel?
Give the gift of freedom – if you tell me, “I hate how smug you are,” I don’t have to directly respond to your feeling; I can focus on what I’m smug about (“I’m a golden god”) or I can do anything I want (“I’m tired of this wallpaper”). You don’t want your scene partner to feel constrained to address or discuss your feeling (which is more likely the case with “Stop being smug,” “Why are you so smug?” or “Let’s talk about your smugness.”)
Give the gift of dynamite – If you say, “Your tap dancing makes me so horny,” you better believe I’m going to tap dance.

Emotional Character Development exercise

Emotional Character Development:   We don’t need it “all figured out” the moment we step on stage.  Make one choice and then build other choices on top of that choice.  We can start with emotion and build the details of our character around that.  Or, we can start with a detail and build an emotional character from there.

Suggested Exercises:

CHARACTER WALK – students walk around the space as themselves.  Teacher gives prompts for them to make choices from (see Progression below).  Teacher asks additional questions to flesh out the characters.  Teacher has students reset, returning to walk around the space as themselves again.  And repeat.
Progression:
•  Have players change elements of their personal walk to see how it affects the way they feel
• Change your rate – speed up, slow down
• Change your size – is your walk big or small?
• Walk with a different body part forward
• Change your spine
• Be an animal
• Walk like someone you know
• Ask the class to try on a different:
–   Emotion
–  Posture/Physicality
–  Desire (I want…)
–  Perspective (I like…, I hate…)
–  Environment
–  Action
• Ask questions to flesh out the character.  Basically “if this, then what”; for example, how do you feel about the action you’re doing, or how does that desire affect your walk?
• Ask students to speak in their character’s voice – calling out students individually to contribute
• Tell students to acknowledge each other’s presence to discover their ‘status’
Lessons:
Don’t let starting a scene be intimidating – all you need to start is one choice
Seek to establish emotion – as emotion will drive our scenes, we don’t want to stop our character development until we establish that emotional perspective.  Character ≠ Emotion.  You can be a lispy hick, but until you make a choice about how that lispy hick feels you’ll be hard pressed to heighten the stakes of a scene.