Subsequent Beat exercise

Subsequent Beats: The stakes of one scene can be used as inspiration for initiating new scenes.

SUBSEQUENT BEATS – Two players do a scene (edited early by the teacher). These two original players go to the wings. A Player Three initiates a new scene, explicitly soliciting the participation of Player One, Player Two, Both Players One and Two, or Neither Players One nor Two.
• Put the onus on initiating subsequent beats on those standing on the wings – the players in the original scene need to be focused on the scene in play; those on the wings have the time to think up an initiation. When players from the originating scene initiate their own subsequent beats, it is too likely that they will over-prioritize plot or simply repeat what they did originally.
Use NAMES – it’s easier to solicit the participation of Player One if you can say, “Hey, Jack…”
• Elevate the situation – Spies stealing secrets? Have mountaintop-sitting, spiritual gurus stealing life’s secrets. Have Moses steal the Commandments.
• Elevate character’s defining behaviors – Player One is an enthusiastic baseball commentator; Have him do color commentary at his accountant day job; Have him narrate as he video tapes his son’s birthday
• Elevate themes – In lifting the reactions from the originating scene’s players and situation, we give those reactions wider applicability and telegraph to our fellow players that we are heightening the theme represented in those reactions. (A sailor’s wife awaiting her husband’s return would have a great scene with a dog awaiting his master’s return from the store).
Mapping – Lay the dynamic structure of one genre over the particulars of another genre to heighten thematic and narrative depths. Two male improvisers talk about cars or sports while really talking about women and/or sex. Play the emotional dynamic of a young man asking a father for his daughter’s hand over the particulars of a teenager asking his dad for the car keys – “Boy, what are your intentions with my sedan?”

Mapping definition

Mapping Exploring an idea through the filter of another scenario’s language and objects. For example, player one is a businessman being bothered by player two, a salesman.  If in trying to get the salesman to leave him alone the businessman uses language that we all recognize from a “break-up scenario,” such as “it’s not you it’s me,” the scene will be infinitely more interesting.  If the salesman reacts to this break-up with the same emotion that any boyfriend or girlfriend would, then we really have a scene.

FXX’s “Man Seeking Woman” is a master class in Mapping.  It’s their thing!

Check out this clip where the idea of out-maturing your “bro” friends is mapped over the language and objects of a “surrendering your dog to a shelter” scenario –


Check out this one where the idea of your friend prioritizing a girlfriend is mapped over the language of a “military ritual of giving condolences for the dead” scenario –


Or how about this clip where the idea of making enough money to afford “good beer” is mapped over the language and objects of a “graduation” scenario.


Now, like Seinfeld, this carefully-scripted show gives us aspirations for improvisation but in improvisation we mustn’t hold ourselves to its standard.  Obviously the show’s use of cuts, props and cinematic tropes will always enable film to do mapping with less reliance on the articulation of juxtaposed scenarios.

In “Man Seeking Woman” just about every scene is a mapping scene and each show contains at least three mapped tropes (if not singularly devoted to one trope like the marvelous “Woman Seeking Man” of second season). Good luck to any improv group attempting that feat!

But the clips above provide guidance as to how an improv group – all educated on mapping and with ears tuned for mapping’s flags – can initiate mapping

A character takes on the characteristics of a caricature – as in the “Bro Shelter” clip. A character established as a “bro” starts exhibiting characteristics of a “dog.” And that move inspires the full-on mapping of a “Bro/Dawg Shelter.”  If we are quick to establish a strong character we can add a layer with mapping that strengthens the character and provides direction for heightening.

The caricatures from the mapped reality start talking about the details of another – more relatable – reality – as in the “Negotiator v Texter” clip.  The cops (never before seen on the show / new to the scene) in cop dialogue discuss the potentially explosive situation of a guy on the verge of sending a terrible text message.  If we see a theme we want to heighten, we can bring on new caricatures to approach the established idea from a new angle.

A character’s situation gains more emotional stakes from the weight of a mapped-on scenario – as in the “Graduated to Good Beer” clip. To cap off an episode wherein Josh struggles between pursuing a career and chasing his dreams, he embraces his day job’s paycheck as in what could have been complacence but becomes triumph when mapped onto a graduation ceremony.  If characters are engaged in an activity as benign as buying beer, a host of tertiary characters can endow the activity with more emotional resonance simply by having strong emotional reactions to the activity.

God, I love mapping.

Damn, I miss “Man Seeking Woman.”