Chicago Improv Summer: Ok, this is scary




photo by aphasiafilms via Flickr

Day 2 of my Improv Olympic summer intensive focused on interactive monologues and character wants and needs. Today went by so very fast, so I know it was a good one.

A Scene is Like a Road Trip

In the morning, we spent almost the entire time doing what are called "interactive monologues." In this case, three people sit on stage in chairs facing the audience. They're lined up in a single row, and are supposed to begin a conversation with a non-existent person based on an audience suggestions which are different for each speaker. There's no chosen order to speak, so the first person starts whenever, and the second one begins when it feels right. The second speaker's one-sided conversation is inspired by the audience suggestion and the first speaker. The same is true of the third who is inspired by both prior speakers and his own audience suggestion.

Then our fearless teacher Jessica has the three speakers turn to face each other, continuing their disparate conversations but this time interacting directly with the other speakers on the stage as if they were involved in a direct conversation. Everyone thinks they are talking to the people on the stage, but we all interpret the words a bit differently based on our own personal conversations.

Here's an example. I was given the term "Rocket" to build my conversation. I made the conversation be between me, a night club promoter, convincing people to come in and see the headlining band, "Rockit!" The club was in the Sahara Desert for some reason. Later, when the three speakers turned in to face each other, another woman was having her conversation about her baby and said something to me about how she didn't want her kid to die. I explained that I was saying the band, Rockit, was "KILLER."

I'm not doing the exercise justice, but it was amazing to see how a group of people talking about very different things could 1) use themes from others' conversations to enhance their own and 2) talk directly to each other without quite talking to each other. On some level, we were all talking about the same thing.

Jessica also passed on a great advice from a talented improver named Joe Bill. It's about exploring the nooks and crannies of a scene but making sure you somehow stick to the underlying plot line. His take was this: A scene is like a road trip. You need to leave the road occasionally for gas, food, etc. But you have to remember where you were going and eventually get back on the road.

Good advice.

The second game we played was a twist on a more common one. The common version has you focus on your pet peeves with "I hate X because..." Instead we played "I love X because..."

Show. Don't Tell.



The final game was mos def the illest! The setup was two people who each has a want/need/desire to be fulfilled by the other. The trick is they can't just tell the other person what they want. Their characters need to communicate it be creating a relationship and showing the other, such that person two figures it out and gives it to them... or chooses not to.



Two people got on stage reached to pull a piece of paper from a cup. They would then turn those papers over to Jessica who sent the to the bathroom. She clued the rest of the class/audience in on what their secret wants were, then brought the two players back out. The matchups of secret wants was hilarious at times. In one case, person A wanted to be talked out of suicide and person B wanted someone to confide in him.

In my own case, I wanted a hug and my partner, Leanne, wanted to know the meaning of life. Each pair was given a location as well. Ours was a weight room.

This exercise was the height of my improv experience so far. I felt very lost within the scene, having a hard time balancing my attention between listening to Leanne and figuring out what relationship we had that could make her want to hug me. By the end she was expressing complete sympathy and we had moved really close to each other. I put on one of the saddest faces ever, with Jessica saying it was a high moment in HER improv experience, but I didn't get the hug. I also wasn't really sure I knew what Leanne wanted.

When the scene was over, the entire audience was pretty amazed because we both had essentially gotten what we needed, if not in a literal way, a very close approximation. I got an emotional hug from Leanne who did everything except wrap her arms around me. And in talking with her, she got from me some deeper understanding of the universe and energy. I had, apparently, come quite close to satisfying her need as well.

Watching and being a part of this game honestly scared the hell out of me because it shouldn't work. We demonstrated that humans communicate with one another on a subconscious level, to say the least. What we can't put into precise words, we put into body language, emotion and indirect words. Somehow, we are able to connect with others in a way that builds mutual understanding. If this had happened one or two times, I would have thought it was neat, but it happened seven times with different needs and different people.

This work is so inspiring.