3D.2 – Subsequent Beats

Pop quiz, hotshot. What do you take as inspiration in initiating subsequent beats of a scene during a long-form show?
A. This makes me think of that
B. If this then what
C. If first beat is “a day in the life,” then second beat is “the day when X happens”
D. If a character was at work, show her at home. If a character was at home, show him at work.
E. If that makes him feel that emotion, this should make him feel this emotion.
F. If that makes her feel that emotion, more of that should make her feel more of that emotion.
G. A place/event/time was mentioned – let’s go there.
H. That same character dynamic would be funny mapped over these new characters
I. That same theme would be heightened through this context
J. The theme of this whole piece would be sharpened if I callback that scene with this focus

The answer, if you know your 3D.1, is, of course, serve the show. And we serve the scenes of our show, and the show of our scenes, by heightening the emotionally derived games at play. Continue reading

SWOT #8 – Reaction

Anyone can talk about something on stage. Not everyone can react to in-the-moment stimulus on stage. The few, the proud, the brave improviser reacts boldly in-the-moment to make-believe and taps into the art’s unique surprise.  The audience knows there’s no script to tell you how to react, so your reaction comes out of “your” perspective. The audience reaction of “I would have said that,” or “I know a woman who would have said that,” is such a satisfying response for any performance medium. In improvisation, that power is compounded as the audience knows that your reaction was “your” reaction in-the-moment.  Reacting to active elements on stage also give establish a foundation on which to build Personal and Scenic patterns and games, making improv more Pavlovian for the player and rewarding the audience for “getting it.”  If we’re not reacting, then we’re just talking.  And good luck with that.


If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Reaction – the 2nd 3lement
* Endowment of Active Elements
* Emotional Reaction Circle
* Personal Engagement Circle
* Scenic Engagement Circle
* Triggers and Caps

SWOT #9 – Active Endowment

We want active emotions in our scenes, so we need active details to react to.  If the doll your character is afraid of is actually on stage with you, then rather than just talking about how you’re afraid of dolls, you can actually act afraid because that doll is actively making you afraid in-the-moment.  If you endow the object with additional details you can sharpen the trigger for your emotional reaction.  That doll has an empty plasticine smile and way too many teeth for a baby and that’s what creeps you out.  See what’s on stage.  React to what’s on stage.  Define what’s on stage through your emotional reactions.  That’s active endowment.

On the flip side is when we talk about something in the past, in the future or off stage and talk in general, passive terms about our feelings toward that something.  Don’t make the audience wish you were off stage.

Active Endowment

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Endowments exercises
* Endowment of Active Elements
* Active Endowments Exercise
* Emotional Reactions to Active Elements
* Personal Engagement Circle
* Scenic Engagement Circle
* Triggers and Caps
* See something; don’t just say something

Reacting In-The-Moment class

Objective: A scripted actor’s whole job is to make an audience believe that the emotional reaction they’re rehearsed is real in-the-moment. In improvisation, we have a leg up; we are all experiencing what’s happening for the first time. So just react. Don’t be in your head thinking about how you should feel or why we should feel. Just react. React without words until the words come. React without why until the why presents itself. If you commit to your reaction, that’s all the “why” an audience needs. If you invest in your emotion, the audience will believe that you have a reason even if you don’t have a motivation in mind. Continue reading

Emotional Initiation exercises

Emotional Initiations:  The sooner we identify how a player feels the better – because that feeling can be heightened by the player and played to by the player’s teammates.  The sooner we can identify how a player feels about a something the better – because that something can be heightened by the player to heighten the player’s emotion and that something can be referenced/heightened by the player’s teammates to force the player into a reaction.

Suggested Exercises:

SELF CONTAINED EMOTIONAL STATEMENT CIRCLE – Around a circle, everyone makes a Self Contained Emotional Statement.  It can be as simple as “I love it here,” “I hate the arts,” or “I’m uncomfortable.”
It’s a statement. Not a question shifting the responsibility of providing information to your partner. There’s a period. It’s definitive.
It’s an emotional statement. Emotional reaction is one of our three key tools; let’s get to it. You need to feel and, for the reaction, you need to give that feeling a direction. Give X the power to make you feel Y.
Being self-contained, the statement places you on solid ground without dictating the scene to your partners – Mick Napier urges us each to “take care of yourself” without confining the scene. Allow your partner the choice of whether to mirror you in some fashion or to take on something entirely their own. Being self-contained is increasingly an imperative the larger a group you have on stage.


ANNOYANCE-STYLE SCENE STARTS – Have the class form a line across the back of the stage.  Call out one name.  That person should immediately take the stage and “take care of themselves” with a choice about their emotion, posture, environment, activity, etc.  The moment you call that name, another improviser should be coming out on stage as well.  That person must also “take care of themselves” with a choice.  Players expand on their choices, most importantly establishing and heightening their emotional perspective.  Run through this several times until you are confident everyone will take care of themselves right out of the gate and, eventually if not immediately, get to emotion.
• If I’m picking my nose, what does that say about my age?  If I’m forty-five and picking my nose, where am I?  If I’m forty-five and picking my nose in a restaurant, am I embarrassed?
A scene needs information.  But expand on what you’ve already got.  Commit to it.
You don’t need motivation to have a feeling

Emotional Reactions To Active Elements class

Objective:  In any scene you have at least two different emotional perspectives to play from: Your Personal and Scenic Emotional Perspectives – How you feel about “I” and How you feel about “You.”  Your Personal Emotional Perspective =  How I feel about who I am, where I am and what I’m doing.  Your Scenic Emotional Perspective = How I feel about who my scene partner is, where my scene partner is and what my scene partner is doing.   

3.0  Warm-Ups:  Build energy, concentrate energy and emphasize the importance of emotion

Suggested Exercises:



EMOTIONAL REACTION CIRCLE – Around a circle, every player just has an emotional reaction.  They don’t need words – they can just make an emotional sound.  Have them go around and then go around pushing their emotions to 11.



3.1  Emotional Character Development:   We don’t need it “all figured out” the moment we step on stage.  Make one choice and then build other choices on top of that choice.  We can start with emotion and build the details of our character around that.  Or, we can start with a detail and build an emotional character from there.

Suggested Exercises:

CHARACTER WALK – students walk around the space as themselves.  Teacher gives prompts for them to make choices from (see Progression below).  Teacher asks additional questions to flesh out the characters.  Teacher has students reset, returning to walk around the space as themselves again.  And repeat.
•  Have players change elements of their personal walk to see how it affects the way they feel
• Change your rate – speed up, slow down
• Change your size – is your walk big or small?
• Walk with a different body part forward
• Change your spine
• Be an animal
• Walk like someone you know
• Ask the class to try on a different:
–   Emotion
–  Posture/Physicality
–  Desire (I want…)
–  Perspective (I like…, I hate…)
–  Environment
–  Action
• Ask questions to flesh out the character.  Basically “if this, then what”; for example, how do you feel about the action you’re doing, or how does that desire affect your walk?
• Ask students to speak in their character’s voice – calling out students individually to contribute
• Tell students to acknowledge each other’s presence to discover their ‘status’
Don’t let starting a scene be intimidating – all you need to start is one choice
Seek to establish emotion – as emotion will drive our scenes, we don’t want to stop our character development until we establish that emotional perspective.  Character ≠ Emotion.  You can be a lispy hick, but until you make a choice about how that lispy hick feels you’ll be hard pressed to heighten the stakes of a scene.



3.2  Personal Engagement:   If you were all by yourself on stage, how would you feel about who you are, where you are and/or what you’re doing? Finding an emotion and an active scene element to feel that emotion toward can be the continued catalyst for a successful scene.
If I say, “I love cats,” I’m just emoting.  If I say, “I love this cat,” I’m emotionally reacting.  If we make the object of our emotion active in the scene – actually tangible/ observable/ repeatable on stage – then we have something to react to instead of just talk about.
What is it specifically that we’re feeling about who we are, where we are and/or what we’re doing?  What is it specifically that we’re feeling about who our scene partners are, where they are and/or what they’re doing?  If we make a decision to connect our feeling to a tangible/observable/repeatable anything on stage, we can progress the scene by heightening our feeling and that “anything.”

Suggested Exercises:

PERSONAL ENDOWMENT CIRCLE – One by one around a circle, each player engages an emotion and makes explicit what it is that is evoking that emotion.
• I love this cat
• I hate pulling weeds
• Des Moines, you’re impressive
• I’m proud of my shoes
• I’m afraid of my face
• I’m sad I have no friends
Specificity breeds details – when you know what you’re feeling and what you’re feeling about, then our creative minds have a clear direction to explore.
Active elements keep us physically active – it’s much harder to sit still when you love this cats than to sit in a chair and talk about loving cats.
Don’t wait to be joined before making a choice – We don’t need anyone else. You’re never alone on stage, even if you’re the only improviser not on the wings; you have a world to explore and to react to.



3.3  Scenic Engagement:   How do you feel about who your scene partner is, where your scene partner is and/or what your scene partner is doing? Finding something active about your scene partner to feel about will help facilitate a scene you can both react through instead of think through.

Suggested Exercises:

SCENIC ENDOWMENT CIRCLE – One by one around a circle, each player turns to the player to their left, engages an emotion and makes explicit what it is about the player to their left’s character that is evoking that emotion.
• I love your hat
• I hate how smug you are
• You dead-lifted 200 pounds?  Impressive.
• I’m proud you’re my son
• I’m afraid of your soul
• I desire your friendship
Give gifts – it’s much more fun to be endowed with information (“Ugh, you got fat”) than to be burdened with requests for information (“What are you doing?”).
Want something?  Feel the absence – to avoid head-butting, don’t “demand,” focus on “desire.”  You can want something from your scene partner, but you don’t want to become hog-tied fighting for what you want.  How does not having what you want right now make you feel?
Give the gift of freedom – if you tell me, “I hate how smug you are,” I don’t have to directly respond to your feeling; I can focus on what I’m smug about (“I’m a golden god”) or I can do anything I want (“I’m tired of this wallpaper”).  You don’t want your scene partner to feel constrained to address or discuss your feeling (which is more likely the case with “Stop being smug,” “Why are you so smug?” or “Let’s talk about your smugness.”)
Give the gift of dynamite – If you say, “Your tap dancing makes me so horny,” you better believe I’m going to tap dance.



3.4   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.

Suggested Exercises:

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.”