Are you well endowed?…playing long form…of course.

When I approached our second week Round 2 class, the focus was on character. I am someone who likes the physical. The physical informs the players who their characters are while grounding them in their bodies. Matt’s shoulders are curved. What does that tell him about who his character is in the world of the scene? Kelly walks with her toes leading her body around the studio. How does that inform her of who she might be in a scene? There is so much to play with when the body leads. Not to mention when living in a body shape that is not normally used, what sorts of phrases come out of a person’s mouth. I had an experience of leading with my chest and I felt my face get stiff. All I wanted to say with clenched teeth were, “Shut up, I like pudding!”

Endowments are the gifts we give to our team and ourselves. When we endow someone with a trait, habit or physicality it supports us as the receiver of the gift to know who and where we are. A better endowment is when someone adds an action. Another important aspect of character is to know what you want. I see plenty of people get up and just begin talking. Taking no time at all to set their space or sketch out a want that their character may have.

In Ben Hauck’s book on long form, he talks about character as being selfish and it’s our job as improvisers to loosen the characters up. This is brilliant! It highlights the differences between the two games at work for the improviser. There is the character game and the player game. The character game is explicit. It’s the game that is right out in front of the audience with its circumstances of the scene and playing with the other character(s) in the scene. The second game is the player game, which is implicit. It’s the game inside and it has to do with the player herself. If you find yourself with a character want and you as the improviser is having a hard time fulfilling that want of the character’s, then best take a look at what is stopping you. If you have to kiss that slimy frog and you’re resisting, but the character MUST do it, then take an internal moment and CHANGE YOUR MIND.

Kevin was working in class with Grady. The location was a pie eating contest and Kevin was the pie eater and Grady was his coach. Kevin at one point figured out his want was to not be in the contest anymore because he didn’t like sweets but liked hotdogs. Grady countered with a solution of a hotdog pie. The scene was deadlocked because Kevin was waffling on eating the hotdog pie. I stopped him and pointed that out and said, “Eat the hotdog pie and see where it goes.” The energy up to that point was stuck, but as soon as he ate the pie, he got a stomachache and the scene opened up again. Both were listening again and engaged in the scene instead of deadlocking it.

Thank you Ben for your insightful book, Long-Form Improv: The Complete Guide to Creating Characters, Sustaining Scenes, and Performing Extraordinary Harolds

Thawing out Freeze Tag

I was teaching an Improv Round 1 class and the game we always play is called Freeze Tag.

The basics are this, you have a team of improvisers and two people are put in physical positions. They have to stay still. When its time to begin they must create a short scene that justifies those positions. If all is working and the whole team is on board, then one of the members yells, “FREEZE!” and taps one of the two people out, thus taking on their physicality and then a whole new scene takes place and those two have to justify who they are, what they are doing, where they are! And so it goes on and on.

Inevitably, whether it’s a team or a class, some challenges arise. Often the players in the backline are frozen themselves. Maybe they think their ideas are not good ones or they have to be funny. Sometimes the scene goes on too long and the audience and backline both are cringing as they watch the two players suffer through their ideas and no one is jumping out to save them.

I was talking this through with a student of mine who is a Buddhist. We were talking about this game in the context of a Buddhist perspective, which brings me to write this post. He writes, “The reason I don’t like freeze tag is that it promotes cutting off scenes prematurely.  It even rewards you for doing that by giving you more turns if you do….” He was figuring out that in his experience, Freeze Tag seems to steamroll or cut people off from at least letting the scene get some legs first. That does happen in this game and sometimes people jump in even before one word is spoken.

This happens for newer players and as an instructor; I let it happen for a couple of reasons. One is you never know what will arise out of that scene. Two, I want people to have an experience of being cut off because they know how it feels when it happens to them. Three, its practice to let scenes and situations roll off our backs as improvisers. Freeze Tag is hard and easy at the same time. It pushes the performer’s edges to jump in whether you have a good idea or not and it also encourages people’s own ideas to let go and trust.

He continues, “I notice when you folks with more experience play that you don’t enter with your own complete idea of what is going to happen in the scene.  There’s lots of room to co-create and discover together what the scene is about.”

One of the things I do when I teach is encourage performers to slow down. Even though it’s an energetic game, there is time to take the other player in.

I wrote back to him, “As for Freeze Tag, it has a point to it and even though you don’t like cutting people off, one of the points is to keep the energy up and when you see that the scene is tanking, because ultimately it does, a team member comes in and changes the scene but keeps the energy. It’s like blowing on a feather to keep it in the air. And I’ll say that if you play those games enough and make friends with them, they will teach you about flow.”

Good players make use of their physicality, including touch and diving into their impulses. When players see something awesome and they think, “I have a great idea”…it’s already too late.

In closing this game is great for generating ideas, getting physical, jumping in with not a clue, and having a great time.