Game and skill practice
Years ago when I watched long form after long form I found myself annoyed with the abrupt “cuts” and “edits” between scenes. I wasn’t drawn to longform style but I developed some alternatives regardless. I wanted transition that were more cinematic, and less aggressive. I looked at film and Television editing hoping to create something with more poetry and elegance.
Yesterday at the school I introduced a “fading out” technique where one character controls what the audience hears as well as the tempo of the scene. The group connected with the ideas and found few memorable moments of inspiration for Long and Short improvisation styles with this game and transition called TWO TABLES.
GAME: TWO TABLES
BENEFITS: Awareness, Control, Narrative, Directing, Tempo,
# PEOPLE: 4 – 7 (Ideal 4-5)
GOAL: Shift control in a cinematic style between two tables of guests
- Two tables at a restaurant with a waiter. People can start at the tables or come in as the scene progresses. (Don’t wait too long to come on) The tables are directly across from each other, ideally on the two sides of the stage. The waiter is always there.
Step by Step:
- The closer you are to the waiter, the louder you can be.
- When the waiter approaches a table, the voices of the people at that table grow louder
- When the waiter walks away from a table, the voices of the people become quieter.
- If the waiter stands between the two tables, the voices at both tables are equally loud.
- The waiter must aim to be as unobtrusive (un-noticed) as possible even though the waiter is responsible for the focus of the scene.
- If you are at a table where the people should not be heard DO NOT cease activity. The people who are silent still talk without sound (moving their lips) and they slow down physically. THEY MOVE IN A STYLIZED SLOW MOTION. (Really helps with the focus)
- At Stage Right is a table with two friends, Paul and Kash meeting for drinks. Oshow is the waiter on their side of the restaurant, taking their orders.
- At the other table on Stage Left, Cindy comes in. She’s an older woman. She sees the waiter. In slow motion she moves her mouth to say something to get the waiter’s attention. (she’s on the opposite side of the room so she is completely silent but active in slow motion.)
- Oshow crosses the room to seat her. As Oshow gets further away, Paul and Kash become slower with movement while voices fade out until we can’t hear them at (their mouths are still moving as if they are talking).
- Cindy’s voice fades in (becomes louder) as Oshow approaches her. She is welcomed by the waiter who takes her jacket and seats her at her regular table. SHE TAKES THE SEAT THAT FACES THE MIDDLE OF THE STAGE AND THE OTHER TWO GUESTS. This allows her to see where Oshow is on the stage so she can control her own volume and movement and help her partner better when the partner will be sitting with their back to the waiter.
- Cindy is waiting for her daughter (who we understand hasn’t visited her in a long time)
- In the progression of the scene, we discover in a phone call that Cindy’s daughter has stood her up again. We also see the drinking friends getting more obnoxious – burping and being loud (Verbally loud when the waiter is near and VISUALLY EXPRESSIVE BUT SILENT when the waiter is attending to Cindy.)
- Sometime the waiter stands in the middle of the room and we hear the sad phone conversation at the same time, we hear burping and aggressive talk from the other table.
- When Cindy finally asks the other table to please be quiet, all hell breaks loose. Kash tells her to mind her business. Oshow tries to get them both to back down. Oshow moves to the men’s table to get them under control BUT— PAUL walks across the room PAST THE WAITER – where his words fade away as he enters Cindy’s space further away from the waiter on Stage Left.
- Oshow has had enough and tells Kash he has to leave.
- At the other side we see animated movement and mouths moving (no sound)
- Oshow walks over to Stage Left to protect the old woman from Paul as Kash is alone on Stage Right swearing but fading out his sound as the waiter departs.
- When Oshow is in range of Cindy and Paul, we hear laughter and kind words as Paul offers her one of his cigars. The old woman is in a better mood.
- Kash walks pass them getting louder as he passes the waiter.
- Paul dismisses Kash who leaves angrily. Paul sits with the old woman.
- Oshow goes to the other table to clean up and the lights fade on the scene and the slow motion happy movements of Paul and the old woman happily smoking a cigar.
- The waiter can move in front or behind the tables (taking care that audiences sightlines aren’t impaired by their position on stage.
- When the waiter moves upstage (behind the tables), they might become more difficult to see, but that’s not a problem for improvisers who are sensitive and sharing control. The performer who can still see the waiter’s place on stage leads their table partner in volume and movement (In most situations, that other customer has their back to the waiter and simply can’t see, so they have to give control to the person who can)
- Waiters are NOT ALWAYS TALKING TO GUESTS… Do the LEAST you possibly can do as a waiter. Fill glasses of water without disturbing conversations. Clean up or fold napkins in a corner of your restaurant as you listen (without looking) to what’s going on.
- The waiter is directing tempo, pace and allows us to hear content. If you allow us to hear one couple for 2 seconds and then stay on the other side of the room for 5 minutes, we probably won’t be satisfied. Maybe you open a bottle of wine in the middle of the two tables. Maybe you stop to tie your shoelaces. Find variety and try not to look awkward… otherwise the audience will be staring at you all the time.
- GUESTS- be willing to jump forward in your conversation and to add content in the middle of sentences as opposed to just starting a new sentence when the waiter crosses to you. (Fading into “…(quiet words… and then) ….the dumpster behind the building and I thought he was dead.” is better than starting each time with a direct sentence like “So, What do you want to eat””?
- It’s a restaurant but there’s no reason to talk about food and the service for the entire scene
- Because the scene is in a talky reality, make the substance of the scene about the people present and move towards altering each other emotionally.
- You don’t necessarily have to ever interact with the other table. Don’t force it. BUT… if someone pulls out a gun on one side of the restaurant and shoots… there’s a good chance you are going to hear it. Turn and react.
- Improvisers can be poor listeners EVEN IF THEY ARE BEING QUIET. Don’t lose your awareness of the other table when you are moving in slow motion.
IMPORTANT: Practice the technique of volume and speed control. Work on the technical elements otherwise the strength of the exercise is lost.
This technique can also be a useful element in Long forms where you want to conduct focus and create variety in your presentation to start the show or accentuate elements of two groups “at the same time” (or bring the two groups together.)
Let me know what you discover.