You Are Not What You Do: Let your miming inspire a scene but do not let it dictate the scene. When you and a friend engage an activity, how much dialogue goes to discussing that activity? Do you talk about doing the dishes while doing the dishes? Mime gives us something to do so we’re more than talking heads, but it shouldn’t confine us.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING – Players form two “lay-up” lines. One player mimes an action. The other player asks, “What are you doing?” The asked player says something unrelated to what they are actually doing. The asking player engages in this new activity. Then the first player now asks the second player, “What are you doing?”
• Separate mind and body – we need to be able to engage our bodies in an activity/environment without confining our mind to dealing with that activity/environment
MIMED SEQUENCE / DIALOGUE SEQUENCE – Two players on stage are given a suggestion of location. Each player, in mime – without interacting or trying to tell a story – must define five objects in the space. Then have players go back to their starting positions. Tell them to go through their sequence of mimed interactions now with dialogue and reacting to one another, BUT without talking about what they are doing.
• Players will struggle not to talk about what they’re doing; stage coach quickly to get them re-centered if they go too far down that rabbit hole.
• Players will stop engaging environment and devolve to talking heads once they reach the end of their sequences; encourage them to keep engaged, developing new environmental elements while building on dialogue
• Activities gain weight in conjunction with the dialogue – don’t undermine subtext by making it explicit; let the audience make connections between what’s being done and what’s being said.
• A stage picture makes scenes more interesting – simply moving around the space and engaging in the environment – even if nothing is explicitly addresses or explicitly drives the scene – will make players engaged in dialogue more interesting to watch.
• Engage environment, rest your tongue – if we have something to do, we don’t have to rely so hard on our words
Beyond Objects: Environment is about more than objects. What sounds fill the space? Ambient noises? Loud music? A series of unexpected explosions?
What about the atmosphere? Is it hot? Raining? Low gravity?
SOUNDSCAPE – Sit players in a circle, give them a location and have them build out the noises of that location. It’s basically one vignette in a Bat opening. Emphasize fleshing out the space. Remind them to share the air.
• Let them create an environment without a suggestion, building on their contributed sounds
• Experience the cacophony – push them to explore all the different types of sound: words, mechanics, organics, ambiance, etc.
BIOSPHERE (a tweak of SPACE JUMP) – A short form game focused on exploring Atmosphere. One player enters stage, miming their reaction to an atmosphere (temp, precipitation, pressure, etc.) – ex: shivering and saying, “It’s so cold in the arctic zone.” A second player enters and changes which room of the Biosphere the two players are in – ex: trying to cover her head while saying, “Stupid rain forest area.” Player One must immediately accept Player Two’s new reality. A third player enters and establishes a brand new atmosphere for all three players to accept and react to. Repeat with a fourth and fifth player. Then have the fifth player leave stage to return the remaining players to the fourth atmosphere/environment. Then the fourth player leaves, returning the scene to the third atmosphere. Repeat until the initial player is back in the initial atmosphere/environment.
- Atmosphere is the least utilized active element in improv – Do yourself the favor of engaging in it.
- Explore the options – push them to explore all the different types of atmosphere: temp, precipitation, pressure, dust, fog, etc.
- Feel it, just don’t speak to it – feel the drops of rain, become crippled by the cold, sweat in the heat, etc.
- Silence is fun – Whether as Player One engaging environment in the first scene or Player Four joining the chorus, put more focus on embodying your reactions than explaining them.
- Again, enthusiastic acceptance of another player’s contribution is improv’s superpower. Immediately accept whatever world you’re brought to and the audience will love you for it.
- More people on stage necessitates more agreement – You can’t have four or more people on stage all with different perspectives/characters; it just gets too messy. Encourage players to agree to each other’s perspectives and mirror each other’s physicality to minimize the amount of “stuff” on stage and to focus the scene.
- MORE PHYSICAL THE BETTER – players having to justify their physical position/pose moving through and back through the scenes is part of the fun.
- In the sequence’s assent, it’s fun to transpose players’ physical positions into new worlds. Ex: Shielding your eyes in the Desert Zone becomes waving away mosquitoes in the Jungle Zone.
- In transitioning back through the Sequence, a scene that had fallen into the doldrums is sparked back up when players leap to their previous stage positions in the Volcano Zone.
- In the sequence’s assent, a scene of characters running around in eruption-fearing panic in the Volcano Zone transitioned into a scene of characters prancing around trying to catch Unicorn Butterflies in the Magical Zone. In transitioning back through the sequence, characters closely studying Unicorn Butterflies trapped in their fists become characters hunched over a lave-spewing volcano as if surrounding a trashcan fire, blowing in their cupped hands for the warmth (“I thought it would be hotter.”)
BLIND SCENES – Player One starts engaged in the environment (with an action, object, atmosphere, etc.). Player Two, starting with his back to the stage, has the first line of dialogue.
• No justification necessary – If players’ initiations don’t align, they don’t have to make sense of why they’re together. They can just accept and heighten what’s happening.
Focusing Stage Picture: Staging an environment in a group game breeds potential complications as players abandon pattern for roles and over-prioritize explaining who they are and what they’re doing. But attention to the elements of stage picture can help focus a group scene and facilitate quick collaborative heightening.
STAGE PICTURE TABLEAUS – One by one, players enter stage, fleshing out a picture with static poses and/or repetitive motion. Teacher gives a suggestion of a location, for example, “Apple Orchard,” “Beach,” “Race Track.”
• Players tend to want to fill in all the possible roles in a location. An orchard has pickers, trees, baskets, landscapers, squirrels.
• Ask “Where’s the focus?” They won’t know.
• Build deliberately with agreement – There’s no reason we can’t all be trees. A scene about five trees and one squirrel will be easier to find and heighten faster than a scene where six separate entities struggle for reason to exist.
• Seek symmetries; empower asymmetries
• Ask “Is this a One Person, Two Person, or Three Person Scene?”
• Ask “Who should talk first?”
• Have them point out the groups, defining focus. Point out Upstage/Downstage distinctions for focus. Point out who can see who, and so who has to take their cues from who
• Push them to define more and more abstract environments; i.e., NASA, Hell.
• Speed loading – have everyone crowd the space quickly upon hearing the suggestion, making bold choices and seeking symmetries faster.
ONE, TWO, THREE PERSON SCENES – Player build tableaus and then get to talk. Remember, Self Contained Emotional Statements. To start, players should align their emotional perspectives with the other players they are physically mirroring/complimenting.
• Simplify and find focus through agreement in stage picture and emotional perspectives
• There’s no reason we can’t always do One Person Scenes – even if our physicality is different
• When you do have groups, don’t fall to negotiations, arguments or other lines of questioning – exploring juxtaposed emotional perspectives is all the scene we need
• Have everyone pick someone to agree with before the suggestion is given – players can mirror/compliment one player’s physicality and another player’s emotional perspective; it can be fun to surrender to being forced into aligning with a perspective despite “sense”
Embodying the Environment – we can be set pieces; we can be crowds.
Scene Painting/ “We See” – we can come in from offstage to describe (and physicalize) a previously unseen “visual” aspect of the scene. For example, a pompous character is painted with a monocle, “#1 Boss” button, etc. For another example, a scene with a child bemoaning having to do his/her chores is painted with a window showing a beautiful day outside, an Everest of dishes to clean, etc. This type of move is typically executed by a player entering the scene, not as a character, but, with a verbal aside directed at the audience. “These people are in clown costumes.” “We see this man has a hole through his torso.” These are Detail moves, but they work best when they are delivered emotionally and when they connect with a character’s emotional behavior. Sometimes, while contributing his verbal add-on, Player 3 will wave his hand generally over or toward the area of stage he’s referring to; but a better Player 3 will often define what he’s describing in mime as well as words. In conjunction with “We see this man has a beard,” this Player 3 shows how big and bushy the beard is by cupping and fluffing it with his hands before exiting the scene.