Location, Location, Location: An exercise about Connecting through Characters and Relationships

GUS, the delightful and talented team from The Baltimore Improv Group, opens its sets these days by asking the audience for “Three non-geographic locations.” Asked to come up and lead a practice, I brought this exercise with me. We had a lot of fun with it. You will, too.

Have you ever been in The White House? Ever gone into space? Ever visited an old West saloon? No? Well have you ever seen a television show or movie about one of those locations that you felt was “relate-able”?

The audience relates to Characters and Relationships even in “unrelatable” circumstances. As improvisers, we can go to wackier and wackier places as long as we center our scenes in knowable characters and relationships. And, remember, we know our characters and relationships through their patterns of emotional behavior.

As an improviser, have you ever been suggested a location or activity you’re not personally familiar with and as a result you end up playing a character who is “new” to the location/activity or just openly inept?

When the audience is engaged with Characters and Relationships they care way less about the authenticity of your mime and/or details. It’s the old Back To The Future Versus The Matrix dynamic: Because we were invested in Doc and Marty as people, knowing that once 85 MPH was achieved the Flux Capacitor sent you back in time was all that we needed. Conversely, because The Matrix was mostly filled with unemotional characters, nerds ruthlessly attacked the world’s nitty gritty.

Bottom line: This exercise will allow your group to more confidently explore far off worlds by finding a connection in Character and Relationships.

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Ocean/Pool Contrasting Reality group game

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 –

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