SWOT #11 – Pattern Progression

To be most effective our patterns must heighten, either in a concentrated progression or through pure repetition. In building a progression, we focus on the relationship of Offer, Set and Cement moves to define how we heighten as a group. The Offer is anything, an initiation. From the Offer’s single point in space on a blank stage, the Set move seeks to define a relationship of heightening. The Cement move seeks to clarify the relationship between the Set and Offer moves through its own relationship with the Set move. If a then B then C. A heightened sequence will pop and evoke an edit (with C) and/or clarify a continued direction (…then D then E…).  But what if a then B then z? All is never lost. The only mistake we make in forging a collaborative pattern is not incorporating every contribution. Through repetition we make every move purposeful. Through repetition, if a then B then z then c then D then y.

Attention to the relationship between Offer, Set and Cement moves enables a clear, heightening pattern. While through repetition any sequence can be made into a pattern, the earlier we cement a pattern the easier it will be to heighten and evolve.  Without attention to pattern progression, sequences of moves risk becoming a string of randomness that ultimately exhausts and disengages the audience, or a categorically-related but flat run of moves (i.e. apple then strawberry then grape then watermelon then pear…) that ultimately bores and disengages the audience.

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Game Mechanics
* Pattern Into Game Exercises
* The “To The Ether” Game Rubric
* To The Ether Exercises
* The “Help Desk” Game Rubric
* Help Desk Exercises
* The “Hey Everybody” Game Rubric
* Hey Everybody Exercises
* Organic Group Games
* Building Patterns of Emotional Behavior in “Two Person” Scenes

SWOT #12 – Capping Patterns

A pattern is established. It pops. What if it then gets put away out of play for a while? Tension, that’s what. The ability to Cap a pattern takes restraint and can help increase the impact of the pattern once it returns to play.

A teenage boy confronts his mother with his sinful proclivities. Mom tries to be understanding but her mimed preparation of dinner grows more and more aggressive with every shared sin. In response to the son’s third admission, mom, in her aggression, cuts her finger; “Goddamn, kale,” she shouts. The son relents, going to his mother’s aid with warmth and concern. Together they dress the wound, sharing memories of when she took care of his injuries. Bandaged and soothed with a glass of water that her son poured thoughtfully, mom sighs, “My carelessness will be the death of me.” That reminds the son, “I also once fucked a corpse.” Mom shatters the water glass in her hand; “Goddamn, water!”

Our inclination upon finding something fun for us and the audience is to play it to death. We beat a dead horse until the audience, too, is dead tired of it and then we scramble for something new – an edit having never arrived because our fellow players, excited while the pattern was hot, don’t dare kill the scene in the overplayed-pattern doldrums.

A pattern put away while still hot returns like a volcano. The audience may be caught up in our new pattern and their surprise at the return of a loved reaction is that of seeing an old friend again – “I know that guy!” Maybe, even, the audience thought we forgot the character’s old habit and the return to form evokes the laughter of relief – relief being a proven source of laughter. For the improviser, the ability to cap and re-trigger a pattern – and especially the ability to cap a pattern with another pattern’s trigger – helps facilitate sustainable scenes that yearn not for an edit but rather provide multiple edit points at the nodes of oscillating trajectories.

And one does not need to wait to cap a pattern’s trajectory. “I’m a Tea Party member.” “Fuckhead.” “What’d you call me?” “Luck ahead. I said. For you. I meant.” With triggers and caps so clearly defined so early in the scene we’re quickly playing with dynamite.

Capping Patterns

If this Weakenss is identified, the following posts may prove useful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Two Person Scene theory
* Two Person Scene practical
* My 3 Rules: A Triggers and Caps Warm-up Activity

SWOT #13 – Crafting Beautiful Trajectories

If beauty is defined by symmetries and proportional asymmetries – and it is – then we can craft beautiful trajectories in our scenes through pattern mechanics, employing triggers and caps to link heightening personal and scenic games. A scene that ends where it began – with a reformed character returnng to an old habit. A scene that clover-leafs back to a central point – with characters committed to completing their work yet consistently drawn back to kids playing in a fire hydrant. A scene that roller-coasters between emotional perspectives – with a woman who keeps being derailed in her attempts to be cool by an attractive loose curl in a man’s hair.

Without attention paid to our trajectories we… Overplay the first funny thing – hoping our scene’s edit arrives at the critical moment in the game’s assent. Or… Throw out a series of random contributions – hoping one will hit a funny chord with the audience and that our fellow players reward that moment with an edit. Or… Assume a consistent but non-heightening perspective/desire – hoping for a mercy edit before the audience dies of boredom.

Crafting Scene Trajectories

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may help you coach to the Opportunity:
* Trajectory theory
* Trigger and Cap Mechanics
* My 3 Rules: A Triggers and Caps Exercise

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

SWOT #15 – Tertiary Additions

We enter a scene only to serve what is already in play. We enter to heighten a Personal Game.  We enter to heighten a Scenic Game.  We may help our fellow players by focusing them on one aspect of the scene when they’re juggling too much, but in that effort we are focusing on what is already an aspect of the scene.

We don’t enter with a self-serving funny idea that risks derailing the central players’ progression.  We don’t enter with totally new information that players on stage now have to address and deal with.  We don’t enter just to selfishly get in on the fun because the scene might have been fun precisely because you weren’t in it.  We don’t help players on stage by changing the direction of the scene; if players were struggling with what they have, they aren’t likely to seamlessly adapt to your idea however brilliant.

We wield a slew of tools: Walk-Ons, Cut-Tos, Tag Outs, etc.  Brandishing these tools in service of what’s already in play we recognize that we must also be ready and willing to draw out Walk-Offs, Cut-Backs, Tag Back Ins, etc.  Entering a two person scene in progress, you are a tertiary player. The scene’s not about you and you shouldn’t make it about you.

An improv team should agree to this Tertiary Player Good Faith Mantra: I will only enter a scene in progress to serve what has already been established. And I will react to those who enter my scene in progress on the assumption they seek to heighten what has already been established.

Tertiary Additions

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Being Tertiary
* Tertiary Moves Drill
* Establishing Personal and Scenic Games

SWOT #16 – Beat Structure Rhythm

Subsequent beats leverage an aspect of an originating scene in setting up a new scene. But… As our goal in any scene is establishing and heightening patterns of emotional behavior, initiations of subsequent beats that clearly focus attention on emotional reaction get us to our meat faster and leverage the power of pacing and pattern in building a show.

The green improvisers’ tendency is to follow plot, to rehash the originating scene and/or to simply introduce an old character to a new character and/or situation and hope for the best.  While none of these moves are bad on their own, failure to focus subsequent beats on originating patterns of emotional behavior puts these follow-up scenes at risk of getting lost, growing stale and/or losing the momentum built earlier exactly when the form needs to be getting faster and tighter.

Beat Structure Rhythm

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Subsequent Beats
* Subsequent Beats Class
* Memory
* Heightening with Tag-Outs
* Subsequent Beat Exercises
* Pattern Mechanics

SWOT #17 – Playing with Flexible Formats

I like formats.  Playing within The Harold’s dictated structure of Opening, 1A, 1B, 1C, Group Game, 2A, 2B, 2C, Group Game and 3A/B/C an improviser can spend less time on the wings worrying about what to initiate and more time focused on how to initiate.

I like rules.  Rules free us to play Pavlovianly and enable audiences to engage, even subconsciously, in the pattern.  Again, while rules indicate what gets said more creativity can be pumped into how what gets said gets said.

An improv group has a lot on its plate building something collaboratively out of nothing.  A set format and established rules can be helpful spines to flesh out – useful maps on which to erect roadside attractions.  An improv group though that is experienced in a wide swath of formats, a troupe that is working from the same rulebook, can grow to trust in its ability to be flexible.

Sure, at “Harold Night” every show’s content will be different and of-the-moment.  And, sure, a known format, like The Armando, can foster a loyal crowd week after week.  But.  But if a group of improvisers who know each other, trust each other and share the same language can get on stage and follow each other into a format made up in-the-moment?  That’s improv as improv does best.

Flexible Format Capable Ensembles

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Kick The Duck Red Rover
* Flexible Long Form “Formats”
* Establishing Organic Forms

SWOT #18 – Confident Vulnerability

Don’t let becoming a good improviser keep you from becoming a great improviser.  Believing in your ability is good; being open to your weakness in committing to constant betterment is great.  Finding a personal understanding of what works for you on stage is good; staying receptive to the ideas of even the greenest improviser is great.

Confidence is not bulletproof.  Confidence is not brash, is not loud, is not immovable.  Confidence is a personal calm.

Vulnerability is not weakness.  Vulnerability is not meek, is not afraid to speak, is not constantly acquiescing.  Vulnerability is accessibility.

Practice makes perfect it’s said.  Through experience in improv a player grows to bring calm into the chaos and remain open to the moment’s possibilities.  The greatest players exude this accessible calm; they expose themselves on stage without fear.  It makes the audience root for them before they’ve said a word. Seek to emulate the classic Dead Head: Accepting who they are without shame and accepting who you are without judgment.

Yes, with practice confident vulnerability will come.  It also doesn’t hurt to practice confident vulnerability until what you fake you feel.

Confident Vulnerability

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Get confident, stupid
* The Path to Unconscious Competence

SWOT Weaknesses

Here are the list of Weaknesses – ordered to track with an improviser’s growth from novice to artist – linking to the relevant piece of the matrix:

SWOT Strengths

Here are the list of Strengths – ordered to track with an improviser’s growth from novice to artist – linking to the relevant piece of the matrix: