Mmmm…what do these have in common?
When asked for a desired focus for a scheduled coaching session, a Duo sent me the following:
Mainly character stuff, fleshing them out versus building out more plot. Getting better at finding and sticking to the game of the scene.
What follows is some didactic and exercises that filled two hours.
DIDACTIC: How do You think about “Game” in improv?
Acknowledged ad nauseam here on Improv As Improv Does Best, the idea of “Game” gets thrown around a lot in improv.
At its most dumbed down, “Game” is “the funny thing, done more.” Though what the “funny thing” is is subjective.
At once both more sophisticated and more corny, “Game” can focus on the repetition of the cause and effect of actions. Short Form‘s blessing and curse is that its rhythms connect so quickly (helped by being made explicit) – the audience is rigged to react to anticipation but the rigging can be too tight and become stale.
Aiming for an universal answer this site’s materials are predicated on the definition of “Game” as “a sequence of actions related by cause in effect, heightening in a progression through repetition.” Holds true for baseball and Monopoly alike.
Regardless of definition, “Game” needs Emotion. Continue reading
Personal Games are the focus of the base Mirror, Action, Object warm-up exercise. Engaged in either how they feel about themselves, how they feel about what they’re doing, or how they feel about a mimed object, players build progressions of emotional reaction triggered by active endowments. As examples: A player loves his outfit, and as he scans himself toe to head he grows more and more impressed with himself (Mirror). A player grows more insane with every monotonous saw stroke. A player becomes more and more vain with every bite of the apple.
This add-on expands the warm-up to practice Scenic Games as well. Continue reading
To establish sustainable scenes, it is helpful to remember that each player on stage can have at least one Personal and Scenic game at their disposal to heighten.
Personal Game – how you react to who you are, where you are or what you’re doing
* I love cake; when I eat a piece I’m overcome with joy and I sigh involuntarily
Scenic Game – how you react to who your scene partner is, what your scene partner is doing or how your scene partner is acting
* Greg is my hero; when he criticizes me I’m destroyed and flagellate myself
* We are scared of ghosts; when we hear a noise we freak and run around
The games represent a pattern of behavior established through evolving rules. Establishing and leveraging these games A) enable players to react through rather than think through scenes and B) engage the audience, letting them know our characters through their patterns of emotional behavior and care about them.
Active Endowments: 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”