During a class in Germany, I noticed an improviser consistently avoiding interaction with her partners. She told me she had been given that note before, but was uncertain how to address the issue.
This often ignored, but common improvisation problem can damage scenes especially when it becomes a performer’s fall-back tendency.
Lack of interaction means that performers tend to focus on superficial ideas and on characters outside of the scene. Avoiding interaction kills stories.
I remembered the scene in Star Wars where Luke, Han, Chewbacca and Princess Leia were in a trash compactor. As the walls were moving in, threatening to crush them, they interacted intensely, creating one of the most memorable scenes of the film.
My guess was that if I could create those collapsing walls on the improviser, we might make some impact on the problem.
It worked. The game pushed them to interact emotionally. It became a fun game and a simple technique anyone could use in any scene anytime.
GAME: Collapsing Walls
- Create interaction in relationships.
- Heighten the tension in the scene.
- Move forward in the story.
- Physically interact and justify later.
- Being aware of your partner.
# PEOPLE: Best as duos (2)
GOAL: During the scene, the distance between partners must remain the same or collapse. (get closer to each other). Partners can NEVER increase the distance from one another once the scene starts.
- One or two people start a scene (If ONE starts alone, the second will enter eventually)
- The performers can move around the stage during the scene but never increase the distance from each other. (Imagine the performers tied to each other by a length of rope. The rope can shrink but once it does, it can never get longer)
- If characters get closer to each other, the new closer distance is maintained.
EXAMPLE: Jonah and Tilda are at home getting the baby ready for sleep. Tilda is beside the baby and Jonah is on the other side of the room. They are talking about going to a movie and getting a babysitter. Jonah goes to the window at the front of the stage while Tilda carries the baby to the back of the stage (trying to maintain the distance they started with) and starts changing diapers.
(They get a bit closer when Jonah steps forward to turn on a lamp. Now they maintain that distance.)
In this story, they find themselves arguing. Tilda walks to Jonah to give him the baby. (collapsing the space further)
(They are almost touching and must maintain that distance)
Tilda walks away but Jonah must stay close and follows her as the scene continues so the distance from each other is maintained.
***Remember, they don’t have to stand still. They can move around the stage but they always have to be aware that the distance between them never increases. (It’s a bit of a dance as they share control and try to maintain their space without appearing artificial.)
Eventually (in this example) they are in contact and have no distance between them. One kisses the other, apologizes and says they would rather stay home and get closer.
TEACHING TIPS: This game forces awareness. If the players ignore the collapsing space between them, LET THEM KNOW! ( Don’t be extremely rigid. No need to pull out a measuring tape. )
As improvisers learn the game you might eventually have to tell them to play more. (It was wonderful to watch one person who forgot they were playing the game, walk on stage and go right over and hug the other player. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!!” The rest of the scene was an extended embrace and a reveal that he was moving away.
Don’t talk about being close or far away. Deal with the relationship.
- Someone off-stage can change the movement by yelling “COLLAPSE” or “EXPAND”. If they yell EXPAND the imaginary walls move out (and can never get closer). Be careful about this variation. The main purpose of the game is for improvisers to interact. If they’re only going back and forth like yo yo’s, then it becomes a “hoop” game encouraging stupid behaviour.
- With THREE or more people, the performers can secretly choose someone as a partner. Everyone responds as they would in the original version. Maintain distance and once it collapses, you can’t make the distance greater. Be flexible with the chaos that this version might cause. This might create interesting group dynamics (Parents standing very close to each other with their teenage son moving at a distance trying to keep space between them.)
IMPORTANT: At some point, performers tend to become uncomfortable with distance and start cheating to be further away from each other. Don’t let them. The tension they feel is great for the audience and the story.
The story doesn’t HAVE TO start with two people (like any scene) but once the second person enters, the other person shouldn’t run to the furthest point in the room. Whatever distance exists when the performers enter on stage is the starting distance they will play with.