We want to avoid conflict, debate and negotiation in our improv scenes. The audience knows we’re making it up – building something from nothing – they don’t want to see us arguing over imagined reality; they want to see us react to an accepted reality.
What’s the best way to avoid arguing? Acceptance! Agreeing to a conflict-laden declaration is the easiest way to ensure a scene’s forward momentum.
So want a warm-up that’ll engage those Acceptance muscles? Continue reading
And they were not “Yes, and.” Continue reading
Be careful changing a scene’s reality.
In improv we’re building something out of nothing. So if improvisers make a choice on stage they’re moving forward and to negate that choice threatens to stall that forward motion as they scramble to justify the contradiction. Not only do contradictory choices disrupt the scene for the improvisers, it erodes the audience’s willingness to engage in the scene – if the players aren’t seeing eye to eye, what hope does the audience have to understand what’s going on?
Admittedly, a contradictory choice can get a laugh – but if in the aftermath of that choice the scene is compromised you have to ask yourself whether that laugh was worth it?
Now, if you’re on stage and a scene’s reality is changed on you, here’s what you do: Don’t justify or explain away the contradiction; Embrace it. Commit to heightening both sides of the contradiction, allowing them to coexist. If we confidently accept both realities the audience can relax and buy in as well.
Check out this example –
Losing: The best tool in avoiding conflict? Losing. Losing is such a powerful skill. One, it allows players to disengage from talking-head arguments. Two, the losing player wins in the audience’s eyes – don’t ever underestimate the endearing quality of a player who is willing to be affected
Bite your tongue. Swallow your pride. Engage in an unrelated shiny active element on stage. Be the dynamic character and the scene’s about you. Your scene partner will hurry to be affected also because the audience reacted so favorably to you. Or, your scene partner will support your dynamism by feeding you fuel to heighten your dueling emotions.
TURN THE OTHER CHEEK – Prepare contrasting pairs of scenic desires (“Love me”/ “Leave me”; “We have to stop rocking”/ “Never stop a’rockin’”; “I need you to understand my truth”/ “I’ll never believe your lies”). Instruct players to initiate fully believing in their given desire. Build tension, sure. But the first player to acquiesce wins. And the exercise’s focus is understanding how “losing” affects the scene.
• Giving in ≠ Giving up – If you acquiesce, that doesn’t mean you’ve given up on your desire. You can return to it. And you can acquiesce again. The dueling emotional reactions is what makes you a dynamic character.
• More than one character can be dynamic – “Love me”/ “Leave me”/ “Okay, I’m leaving”/ “Stay.” That’s fun.
PDF of “contrasting pairs of scenic desires” to print and cut out for exercise.
2 Person Scenes Heightening Emotion: Establish an emotional perspective, heighten the emotional perspective through reaction to active details, and edit – That’s scene. We want to avoid negotiation, conflict and the tepid, talked-out “discovery” that stagnates scenes’ growth.
ENDOW AND HEIGHTEN LAY-UPS – Player One initiates from stage left. Player Two initiates from stage right. Both players heighten what they initiate. After a few lines back and forth, teacher calls “Scene” and two new players start the exercise.
• Personal / Personal – Player One engages a personal emotional perspective and Player Two engages a personal emotional perspective.
– Disparate initiations: Player 1 – (staring forlornly at the Cat’s Cradle he works with his fingers) “sigh.”
Player 2 – (looking around in panic) “I heard it again.”
– Complementary initiations: Player 1 – (staring forlornly at the Cat’s Cradle he works with his fingers) “sigh.”
Player 2 – (flipping nostalgically through a big book) “Those were innocent times.”
– Mirrored initiations: Player 1 – (staring forlornly at the Cat’s Cradle he works with his fingers) “sigh.”
Player 2 – (playing with a yo-yo sadly) “siiiigggghhh.”
• Scenic / Scenic – Player One engages an active aspect of Player Two with an emotional perspective and Player Two engages an active aspect of Player One with an emotional perspective.
– Player 1 – I want to kill you and steal your life.
Player 2 – I laugh at your weakness.
• Personal / Scenic – Player One engages a personal emotional perspective and Player 2 engages an active aspect of Player One with an emotional perspective.
– Player One – (staring forlornly at the Cat’s Cradle he works with his fingers) “sigh.”
Player Two – “Oh, I’ve had it with your attitude, mister.”
• Scenic / Personal – Player One engages an active aspect of Player Two with an emotional perspective and Player Two engages a personal emotional perspective.
– Player 1 – I want to kill you and steal your life.
Player 2 – Oh, hey, my Diamond of the Month Club package arrived!
• Don’t give up your thing – heightening our individual choices together is all we need to move the scene forward. Trying to “figure out” how our things mesh, fighting each other’s thing or dropping our thing in favor of our partner’s thing robs scenes of their potential.
• Commitment avoids justification – explaining why two people are on stage often saps the energy from a scene. When two players commit to simply heightening their choices, no one will question the juxtaposition of even the most mismatched initiations.
• Reactionary statements avoid negotiation – when we’re not comfortable with and/or don’t understand what’s happening on stage, we revert to asking questions that often bog down scenes. Simply making choices moves us forward and making emotional choices helps statements stand without defense (“What do you mean, I’m a pig?” versus “Oh, I’m a pig. You’re a dirty whore.”)
• Heightening avoids conflict – “I want to kill you”/ “I want to kiss you.” If these are the initiations, we don’t want to debate or argue – heighten the feelings. You don’t have to address the disparity between feelings right away if ever. Heighten conflict/tension by heightening your part of it. Addressing/discussing conflict/tension takes the dynamite out of the scene.
• Make Scenic/Personal Initiations less rare – it can be fun for Player Two to choose a personally grounding emotional perspective despite Player One′s attempt to initially engage her in his thing.
TWO PERSON SCENES – Player One initiates from stage left. Player Two initiates from stage right. Players heighten what they initiate. Have players decide BOTH how they feel about “I” and “You” – engaging an active endowment about themselves AND about their scene partner.
• Bored? React! – don’t know what to do in a scene? Have an emotional reaction to an active element.
• Lost? Repeat! – I scream. Why? I don’t know. So I keep screaming, heightening the emotion of the scream. Don’t stop what you’re doing to make “sense” of it; Find “sense” through continuing doing what you’re doing.
• Be affected – There’s power in reacting in-the-moment to another player’s perspective/actions/choices. When we don’t react to a fellow player’s move that deserves a reaction we risk pulling the rug out from under the scene.
• Feel first, understand second (if ever) – don’t wait to “understand your motivation” before making a choice about how to feel
• Never trapped by your choice – while players should be encouraged to push their heightening before changing course onto a new thing, players should never feel trapped by the things. “I love my teddy bear.” I heighten why I love my teddy bear (“He doesn’t judge”) but I don’t have to react only to teddy. “I really love my fluffy duck.”/ “He doesn’t give a shit.”