Situational Stakes exercises

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.
Lessons:
• 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.
Variations:
•  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.

Behavioral Stakes exercises

Behavioral 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 elevating characters by allowing choices to affect who they are as people.

Defining Behaviors – while a player who is doing something for the first time is dealing with Situational Effects, a player who is doing something for the hundredth time is defining herself as a person, and a player who is doing something for the first time after having done something else a hundred times is being affected.  The audience loves knowing our characters; it allows them to react with us in-the-moment.  We can build stakes by heightening patterns of emotional behavior.

BEHAVIOR Suggested Exercises:

(BUT) YOU ALWAYS/NEVER – Player One initiates to Player Two with a statement starting with one of the following variations:
• You Always…smile
• You Never…pick up your trash
• But You Always…read my mind
• But You Never…eat fast food
Player Two accepts the reality of the endowment.  Player Two should feel about the endowment (Not being able to smile makes me sad).  Player Two should heighten the endowment by elevating/expanding the details (“I feel like Prometheus stealing Doritos Tacos from the gods!”).
Lessons:
• You’re that guy; how does it feel? – Don’t just be Comic Boy Guy; love all things comics; despise books without pictures.
• Actively experience – Don’t just talk about what you’ve done or what you will do; engage the active elements of the present moment.

YOU ALSO / I ALSO – Every line of dialogue must start with either “You also…” or “I also…”.  Heighten the details through an emotional perspective.  Accept the endowments, engaging physically and in the present.
“You Also have booger hanging.”  “You Also have no tact.”  “I Also am disgusted by you.”  “I Also have bad gas.”
“I Also paint amazingly.”  “You Also live in a mansion.”  “I Also make computer chips without practical purposes.”  “I Also want to sell crap for millions.”
Lessons:
• Start in the middle – Making assumptions jump starts our scenes.  Choosing to react emotionally to and with those assumptions turbo charges our scenes.
• Actively experience – Don’t just talk about what you’ve done or what you will do; engage the active elements of the present moment.
• Can’t argue with these endowments

Memory exercises

Remember what you like; Repeat: We have to listen and retain so we can return to and heighten established information. Memory is a muscle to exercise. But the exercise can be fun – focus on what makes you laugh, what engages you.

Suggested Exercises:

STORY STEALING – Everyone in a circle. One at a time, players enter the center and tell a true, personal, 30 Second Story. Once everyone has told a story, the teacher tells the class that players now have to enter the center and recreate someone else’s story. Every story should be revisited once by another player.
Lessons:
• Don’t mock; mirror – this is not about making fun of each other, it’s about making each other look good by remembering their story
• Remember specifically – remembering a few specific details will be more powerful than remembering everything generally
• Remember reactions – our emotional reactions are improv gold; focus on those when setting other player’s stories to memory
See what’s not shown – recreating what our fellow players initially did subconsciously is great fun. How do they stand? How do they move? What do they sound like?

SCENE STEALING – Two players do a scene. Two different players redo the scene, repeating and heightening details, characters, stakes, and emotion.
Lessons:
• We remember the good stuff – they’ll drop questions, carry over specifics, and remember good stuff, point that out.
The bad stuff becomes good when we repeat it make each other look good! The first time is “random”; the second time is “purposeful”; the third time is “expected.
Don’t skimp on the emotion – Player Two might have been simply overwhelmed during the Offer dialogue, but Player Three and Four heighten the emotion of being overwhelmed characters.