Hey Everybody game mechanics allow a group to build a focused direction out of disparate parts. They are so named because, though they have wider applications, they are useful to a player in navigating a scene initiated with a rush of players to the stage.
When Townsend Hart starts The Johnsons‘ group game with “Emergency meeting,” we get a rush of players to the stage. Now, instead of quickly establishing a sequence in which every player gets to contribute in the scene’s early goings, this particular Hey Everybody game starts off in the call and response category of initiator as facilitator that I caution against – Townsend speaks, then Scott speaks, then Townsend again. The danger here is that with the initiator interjecting between each other player’s comments, it can take a long time to get through players, which can seem stilted. And an audience’s eyes start to drift to s/he who hasn’t contributed yet, which can both be distracting.
How do The Johnsons surmount this potential obstacle? Watch.
Something fun happens in the Cat Pelts organic group game performed by The Coalition‘s Fall 2015 Patterns and Games class.
Four improvisers enter stage together and navigate the chaos by Seeking Symmeteries. And the audience stays with them through the initial uncertainty because they’re comfortable and committed.
I adore this scene.
In just over a minute 10 players flood the scene. They evolve by following and reacting. Even though a central player emerges, there is no leader.
Listen to the audience’s reaction. Yes, it comes at a great place in the pacing of a pattern-heavy show. Yes, the final line is a reference to an emergent theme.
But what the audience loves is the confident collaborative creation of something out of nothing. It almost doesn’t matter what Hannah says, the audience is going to love that she made a strong emotional choice to define the swell around her. They’ve been rapt the entire time – never doubting that the group was building toward something because the group never appeared in doubt. The audience is having fun because the players are clearly having fun.
And then of course after Hannah drops her line the group has the good sense to edit the scene, rendering it a Blackout, which plays beautifully into the pacing of the larger show.
I adore this scene.
Players are: Gerard Antoine, Sarah Berday-Sacks, Kevin Clatterbuck, Michael Farmer, Patrick Gaskill, Zachary Mann, Hannah Rumsey, Geoff Stone, Vince Sunga, Carter Tait and Elliot Wegman
Don’t solve problems in improv. If there’s a fire on stage we want to throw gas on it, not water.
A lot of group games start with problem statements. “We need to…” “Let’s figure out…” “Brainstorm time!” The problem with problems is that when we’re focused on working up a solution we too often deprioritize emotional in-the-moment reactions which in improv are always more powerful that clever dialogue.
Hey Everybody mechanics keep us focused on heightening patterns of emotional behavior, helping us to exacerbate problems instead of alleviating them.
Want proof? Watch this.
“A Massage Convention’s an HR hotbed.” –> “If OSHA says this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”
With Hey Everybody mechanics in our back pocket we can confidently jump into chaos knowing that all we need to do is each stick and heighten our individual perspectives while collectively sticking to the order of individual contributions. With these tools we harness the power of the chaos, enabling it to swell and pop.
We can relax, too, in the knowledge that every player doesn’t need to nail it; they just need to participate. Especially in that first pass, what’s most important is just for each player to say/do something, anything. And if “anything” is too broad and therefore crippling then we remember that we can always align and agree with one another as well.
Watch this example. Note how the first pass gets established – who agrees with whom, who has a different perspective, who doesn’t speak. How many different perspectives would you say are in play among these 7 improvisers?
I am immensely proud of this show and the group that created it. It comes from The Coalition Theater’s Fall Patterns and Games Class.
In a Patterns and Games, success and failure hinged on the collective performance of the group. And…this class succeeded. Watch them all support each other through a performance that runs the gamut of games – rubric and organic, shorter and longer, lots of folks and few folks. The show is well paced, varying the use of moves from scene to scene. Most importantly, as you can see, the group clearly had a lot of fun performing in it. And the audience loved it.
When improvisers follow each other, committing to taking the next step together, confident they’ll find whatever end together, the audience leans in, along for the ride. That’s improv as improv does best. Especially impressive given the size of the group, the level of collaboration shown here by a 301 class is alone worth the watch. Enjoy!
Players are: Gerard Antoine, Sarah Berday-Sacks, Kevin Clatterbuck, Michael Farmer, Patrick Gaskill, Zachary Mann, Shannon Rodriguez, Hannah Rumsey, Max Senu-Oke, Geoff Stone, Vince Sunga, Carter Tait and Elliot Wegman
Tertiary Player Good Faith Mantra – I will only enter a scene in progress to serve what has already been established.
If you’re entering a scene in progress, that scene is not about you. If you Walk On, you should only do so to heighten a reaction already perceived in the scene – feed a character’s personal game or characters’ scenic game.
And if you Walk On, Walk Off.
And if there’s one Walk On, one should be looking to do more. Be sure to find the rhythm of entering – don’t rush to be the 2nd Walk On, wait for the heigtening of the moment that proceeded the 1st. Make each other look good.
That’s what The Johnsons do.
I (and the audience) loved this show from The Johnsons. It’s a terrific showcase for their ability to find and build scenes together as an ensemble.
The Johnsons are: Scott Beckett, Shawn Hambright, Townsend Hart, John Hilowitz, Jonathan Nelson, Lauren Serpa and Alan Vollmer
Exercise for practicing building organic group games collaboratively and ensuring everyone steps up to participate. Continue reading
I’m enamored by memories of the Chicago teams “People of Earth” and “American Dream.” Often an audience member remembers a show by the handful of great scenes it produced. These groups of talented improvisers created memorable shows because the scenes built on each other to create a singular experience.
This post aims to provide some guidance to groups that endeavor to perform memorable shows not just memorable scenes.