“Hey, Everybody,” we say as our initiation in some form. Maybe it’s “Team, take a knee,” “Soldiers. Attention!,” or the Zhubin Parang special, “People, people, [important person] is ready for your questions.”
The potential for trouble in a “Hey Everybody, get out here” initiation is high. Players may rush out on stage to support the initiation with disparate reactions that then battle for dominance; chaos ensues and awkwardness follows. Or, though players may rush out on stage to support the initiation, they await to take their cues from the initiator who becomes the facilitator in a stiff and slow series of interactions that typically revolves more around thinking and problem solving than feeling. Hey Everybody game mechanics allow a group to quickly build a focused direction out of disparate parts.
The Keys to success following a “Hey Everybody” initiation are:
A pattern is established. It pops. What if it then gets put away out of play for a while? Tension, that’s what. The ability to Cap a pattern takes restraint and can help increase the impact of the pattern once it returns to play.
A teenage boy confronts his mother with his sinful proclivities. Mom tries to be understanding but her mimed preparation of dinner grows more and more aggressive with every shared sin. In response to the son’s third admission, mom, in her aggression, cuts her finger; “Goddamn, kale,” she shouts. The son relents, going to his mother’s aid with warmth and concern. Together they dress the wound, sharing memories of when she took care of his injuries. Bandaged and soothed with a glass of water that her son poured thoughtfully, mom sighs, “My carelessness will be the death of me.” That reminds the son, “I also once fucked a corpse.” Mom shatters the water glass in her hand; “Goddamn, water!”
Our inclination upon finding something fun for us and the audience is to play it to death. We beat a dead horse until the audience, too, is dead tired of it and then we scramble for something new – an edit having never arrived because our fellow players, excited while the pattern was hot, don’t dare kill the scene in the overplayed-pattern doldrums.
A pattern put away while still hot returns like a volcano. The audience may be caught up in our new pattern and their surprise at the return of a loved reaction is that of seeing an old friend again – “I know that guy!” Maybe, even, the audience thought we forgot the character’s old habit and the return to form evokes the laughter of relief – relief being a proven source of laughter. For the improviser, the ability to cap and re-trigger a pattern – and especially the ability to cap a pattern with another pattern’s trigger – helps facilitate sustainable scenes that yearn not for an edit but rather provide multiple edit points at the nodes of oscillating trajectories.
And one does not need to wait to cap a pattern’s trajectory. “I’m a Tea Party member.” “Fuckhead.” “What’d you call me?” “Luck ahead. I said. For you. I meant.” With triggers and caps so clearly defined so early in the scene we’re quickly playing with dynamite.
If beauty is defined by symmetries and proportional asymmetries – and it is – then we can craft beautiful trajectories in our scenes through pattern mechanics, employing triggers and caps to link heightening personal and scenic games. A scene that ends where it began – with a reformed character returnng to an old habit. A scene that clover-leafs back to a central point – with characters committed to completing their work yet consistently drawn back to kids playing in a fire hydrant. A scene that roller-coasters between emotional perspectives – with a woman who keeps being derailed in her attempts to be cool by an attractive loose curl in a man’s hair.
Without attention paid to our trajectories we… Overplay the first funny thing – hoping our scene’s edit arrives at the critical moment in the game’s assent. Or… Throw out a series of random contributions – hoping one will hit a funny chord with the audience and that our fellow players reward that moment with an edit. Or… Assume a consistent but non-heightening perspective/desire – hoping for a mercy edit before the audience dies of boredom.
We play with the three core elements of improvisation – The Details, Emotional Reactions and Patterns – in balance. We don’t over-rely on being clever, which works as long as we are clever and fails us the moment we aren’t. We don’t over-play our emotional range with erratic characters that, at best, the audience just can’t follow and, at worst, annoys or drains the audience. We don’t overload on games, finding “the funny” and then riding it to death.
We establish patterns of emotional behavior that define how we interact with our world and our scene partners. And we develop a rhythm between those patterns of emotional behavior. We don’t run from one idea to another desperate to find something the audience will like, or audaciously assaulting the audience with randomness, or caught so far up in your own brilliance that you don’t care what the audience thinks.
We lead by following. We know that if we’re ever lost that we can always go back to something we’ve done before. We embrace improv’s inherent chaos, working to direct the flow without controlling it. We focus on supporting the scene moment by moment, and not pushing the scene to an envisioned end. To ensure our scenes a robust life, we raise them right and trust them to explore their freedom.