Thursday, October 30, 2008

Avoid Transactional Relationships

Marc from our improv team had a great observation the other night: avoid merely transactional relationships on stage.

What is a merely transactional relationship? A relationship that involves nothing more than a transaction of some sort. Examples: store clerk and person buying something, beggar and giver, etc.

What is the thing most transactional relationships have in common? The people are usually strangers, and so the scene always involves a process of getting to know each other from scratch. This can be a problem. Sure, sometimes that's interesting. But, usually strangers have WAY less interesting interactions than people who know each other.

To dis MAD TV a little bit, lots of their bits involve this transactional scenario: 2 strangers, 1 is crazy, 1 is normal. Seriously, just watch a few sketches and you'll see this pattern develop... quickly.

There are a lot of interesting directions existing relationships can go. For one, it makes more sense for these people to be in a scene together in the first place. Secondly, the scene flows more naturally, rather than every justification being about why the normal person should go along with the crazy stranger's idea.

Every scene starts with some assumptions. Here's 3 good ones. Assume:
  • The characters already know each other
  • The characters choose to do something together (even if they don't enjoy it)
  • The characters have some history, and will have some future (even if it's not happy)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Develop your style, then push your boundaries

Everybody develops a particular improvisational style.

Some people are wordsmiths, focusing on linguistic excellence.
Other people are physical, relying on their facial expressions and large sweeping movements.
Still others are emotional, relying on big changes in emotion to get the job done.

Whatever your style, it's a good thing you're unique. And, your personality adds to the team; however, sometimes things can get into a rut.

Wordsmiths can become talking heads.
Physical players can become clowns.
Emotional players can become gimmicks.

It's important to work off your strengths, but to keep pushing them. If you're physical, keep it up. But, start adding other dimensions. Nothing is better than a physical player who can employ emotions and interesting words to their performance (think Chris Farley in the motivational speaker).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Captain Obvious

A common occurrence in improv is the following:

Joe starts doing a motion. (maybe he's pretending to flip burgers)
Patty comments on what he's doing. (she makes a comment like, "you're flipping burgers again.")

In improv, that seems like a pretty normal thing to do. Someone's miming something, might as well let everyone know what they're doing. Although, this isn't the right thing to do because it's not what normal people do when they're interacting, and it's bad drama.

Unless your name is Captain Obvious, you don't usually come into a room and point out exactly what's going on. How many times when you enter the kitchen, do you say, "looks like you're cooking?" Not too often. This bad habit of improv, let's call it "Captain Obvious," makes a pretty good gag (remember Rob Schneider's copy man on SNL.... "Joe, Joe-arino... makin' copies. The copy-meister...etc."), but a pretty lame start to a scene.

Instead, a better thing to do is to allow the movements you and your partner make to inform the scene---namely as to the environment, what sort of character your partner might be, etc. Pointing out the "obviousness" (don't know if that's a word, so it's quoted) doesn't move the scene along, except to nail down that in fact, that person is doing something... now what?