Not a super fan of a scene? Don’t sweep it under the rug – you may want to forget about it but the audience may not be able to. Better then to double down on it. Use the Help Desk dynamic to heighten the interaction and turn a “not great” initial scene into the base of a beautiful run of collaborative pattern play.
That’s what The Johnsons do.
Objective: Reacting emotionally in-the-moment keeps our scenes effectively in the moment. You can’t calculate every change; you have to allow yourself (and your characters) to be vulnerable to the moment. React, and trust wherever it goes. We choose to feel, reacting emotionally without deference to “sense.” But. Our emotional choices can be aided, informed and heightened by situational, behavioral and relationship-based endowments. Continue reading
Situational Stakes: Our “What” is emotional reactions to active elements. Commitment and repetition are the only “why” we need. But “Because” can elevate the emotional stakes of a scene with context.
“Stakes” come in many forms – and we want to apply emotion to all of them. These exercises focus on endowing premises and “wacky circumstances” with emotion.
Situational Effects – The impact that success or failure of a particular circumstance’s efforts portend to have on players’/a player’s feelings. “We have five minutes to defuse this bomb or we’re dead.”/ “I don’t want to die.”
SITUATIONAL Suggested Exercises:
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – Players initiate two person scenes with the wildest, crazy-detailed quests/needs that they can imagine. “It is left to us janitors to slay the dragon.” “Build me a robot that makes robots and runs on souls.” They seek solutions. They pursue options.
• Try, don’t discuss – “I don’t know if this will work.” Shut up. Try it.
• All that matters is that you feel – care about what you’re doing. Experience successes and failures emotionally. The Matrix was totally predicated on the intricacies of plot (and special effects) and when plot failed, there was no emotion (too cool) to carry it. Because “The Flux-Capacitor” was the only sense Back To The Future needed; it had Marty and Doc.
• Confidently engage environment – explore your wild premise beyond words. More often, the stranger the world, the more we hang back from making physical choices (I’m “a pilot” but I don’t know how to fly a plane so I’m scared to engage the cockpit’s control”). Do whatever confidently and deliberately (How do you build a mainframe? “Like this. Ugh. Umph. Twist. Torque. Here.”)
• Get Satisfaction – We often unnecessarily fear achieving our wants to avoid dealing with what lies on the other side. When that fear has power over the scene it stagnates. What happens when you give the guy who wants a robot a robot? What if you left when someone demands that you “get out of here”? What if you can suddenly do the thing you couldn’t do? Especially if we have emotionally committed characters, we can feel comfortable exploring the other side of our obstacles.
• Lead and/or break into exercise with a few environment warm-ups – “What are you doing?”, “Mighty Isis,” “Build a room,” “Environment/Dialogue Sequences,” etc.
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?”