TALK TO THE HAND
TALK TO THE HAND
“Raise your hand and give that character a voice. The “two” of you are going to have a little fun.”
I was directing an improvised show many years ago and there was only one person who hadn’t been on stage. I called her up and saw fear in her eyes. She’d never improvised a solo scene before. I had an idea from childhood for her.
I’ve got vivid memories of myself as a kid having conversations with my hand. The hand and I would plan crimes. We would go on adventures and we would fight about who would have the last piece of food (most often ending in a mess of lasagna and salad on the floor). I thought this rudimentary puppet play might be fun for the nervous improviser.
After some struggles with the absurdity of giving voice to her hand, she had a lot of fun and the audience was charmed. She (and her hand) created a fantastic break-up scene where the infidelity with the “other person” was the other hand of course.
How you use your hand as a puppet doesn’t matter much except that it should be comfortable. The thumb moving as a mouth is a good idea. I’ve also seen people use the pinky and index finger raised as ears.
Give the hand a voice that is different from your own. This is important because it helps the audience accept the ‘separateness’ of the characters. It also serves as a tool to bypass some of your internal censors.
Don’t be a ventriloquist. Just move the puppet hand and speak the voice you want the hand to have. It’s ok for the audience to see you move your lips. Just make sure that you are moving the hand puppet’s mouth and that your voice and the puppet voice is different.
MAINTAIN INDEPENDENCE FOR THE HAND CHARACTER from your own character.
Practice hand isolations. Sometimes you move around and the hand is still. Sometimes the hand is animated and you are stationary.
See if you can create a different rhythm for your hand than the one the rest of your body is moving at. Can you make a calm hand while the rest of you is nervous? Can you make an angry hand talking to a Buddhist calm head and body? Create independence for the hand character. Be careful not to move your hand character in sync with the separate “YOU” character when your hand should be still and listening.
As mentioned earlier, If you and your hand have to walk away from each other, (it happens), separate completely and jump back and forth to represent your hand and you standing across the room.
Use your eye contact to watch each other and indicate when the other is moving. (For example, You stand by the window and your hand is at the table. You stare across the room and look surprised as you let your eyes follow the imaginary hand get up from the table and walk over to the counter and take a gun from the cupboard. When you “jump back” to control the hand, it is in the new spot by the counter but the audience isn’t surprised because they followed the hand through your eyes as you watched it move.
The puppet hand tend to lose life when controlled by people who are too much in their own head. You see this deadened look when the actor speaks and the hand character gets floppy as it relaxes depressingly nose pointed down at the ground. Then, when the actor goes back to voicing the hand character, it magically pops up and comes back to life. Remember to keep a bit of your focus on maintaining the physical characteristics of the hand when it isn’t talking.
Having arguments with puppets is fun. As mentioned earlier, the emotion forces us into a more spontaneous state because of how it interferes with our internal control.
Practice little tricks like making a lot of emotional sounds before and during your speaking. It will make you seem more authentic and will allow you to stay out of your head much more.
Playfully have you or your hand cut the other off in mid sentence. (It can be hard when you are playing both characters but it will help with your spontaneity).
There are useful scenarios that help when you initially play with this exercise. Breakups are good as long as you don’t start with the conflict. Because the escalation of the emotion is sure to increase.
Therapy is great as long as the scene becomes about the two characters. We want them to play off of each other and not just talk about outside characters.
Interrogations can be good but explore how to vary the physical picture. We don’t normally imagine an interrogation with the characters sitting beside each other – which is the easiest configuration for you and your hand puppet.
Take care not to play too much on the gag that the hand and person are the same. For example a Hand that is playing a driving instructor telling the Actor to keep both of their hands on the wheel is funny but it can lead to a loop that delay’s the scene from moving forward. It’s not wrong, just be careful. (If the actor says, “I lost my arm in a farm accident”, they can move forward. Everyone is probably now connecting the loose arm with the armless man)
When people discover that other body parts can enter the scene, There’s a danger of over playing that gimmick and ignoring the relationship and story that already exists between you and your hand.