“WHY DID YOU CREATE ME?”
That was my first line on stage to my partner at the show on Saturday at the Loose Moose Theatre. My partner’s eyes popped open. He wasn’t “expecting” that offer.
Isn’t that how improvisation should be? A little surprising? A little unexpected?
Shouldn’t we occasionally be knocked over by our partner’s offers to shake us out of our sleepy expectations?
Tepid starts to scenes can be OK. But we don’t want that to be our predictable beginning. In the middle of a frantic, crazy show, it’s a relief to feel the pace chill a little. Fear, on the other hand, drives many of us to permanent safe places of protection when the audience has paid to see us leap from great heights onto tiny targets surrounded by alligators and spiked traps.
When your partners have shifted into safety mode, it can be a great gift from you to start an avalanche of narrative possibilities at the start of the scene.
How can you do that and when is it too much?
I come from a theatre that has a backstage filled with costumes, wigs, props and puppets.
I often go backstage and put together a physical character that engages me. (Don’t put on stupid costumes and glasses that you don’t feel good about and won’t inspire your partner.).
When a visually different character enters a scene, the audience is already thrown into a different state as they take in this new… “creature”. As a performer, there’s no need to do anything weird or crazy. Relax. You’ve already earned the audience’s attention.
Your partner takes in this initial visual impulse as well and the scene begins hopefully with a great impulse for them.
What are the PROs and CONs of this?
Some people will say, It’s controlling, It’s too weird, It’s “unfair” to your partner. I would say – YES – it can be all over those but it doesn’t have to be. It can be inspiring, fun and exciting.
ANY offer can be used as a controlling device on stage if we won’t let go of the scene’s direction. Once the offer is initiated, we have to allow space for our partner to respond and re-direct the control. That’s only fair.
One time, I dressed in tattered clothes and beard and thought this is a troll who lives under bridges. When I stepped on stage, I watched my partner watch me and saw a shift in her demeanor. I waited. Sure enough she defined what she wanted.
“Father?” she asked “Have you bought me a present?”
It was great. She threw my expectations out the window and later said my image immediately inspired her to become a spoiled princess. It was a fun scene.
IF YOU MAKE A BIG OFFER – BE WILLING TO THROW AWAY ALL EXPECTATIONS AND FOLLOW WHERE YOUR PARTNER FINDS INSPIRATION.
You aren’t the avalanche. Your idea is the first rumble of ice breaking away. Together you create explosions and Tsunamis and avalanches. TOGETHER.
Do all that you can to hand control back to your partner when you’ve made big offers.
Another explosive start to scenes involves initiating great ethical dilemmas. Because this is often a verbal opening, it’s wise to begin with an action before asking a question with moral implications (like “why did you create me?)
- How long will it take to erase my memory?
- Where will we bury the body mother?
- Now that you’ve caught me, what wish can I grant you?
STAY CONNECTED to your partner. Some of these beginnings can be too much for some people. If you drop a massive offer (verbal or physical) in front of your partner, be ready to pick up the pieces when you see their initial surprise turn to fear or uncertainty.
Your choices onstage have a double edge. They can inspire or cause paralyzing fear. You’ll know how far you can “push” some partners but you always have to be ready when you’ve overestimated their ability to play with the offer you are giving.
Don’t allow your partners to sleep walk through shows. Shock them back into the present. Cause an avalanche of ideas for them. If they don’t return to the present, they will be washed away by the possibilities that they ignored. Remain curious. Push the boundaries.
– Alan Watts