Questions From Facebook

Here’s some questions from facebook that we received on a recent post. Sorry it took me awhile to get these cool answers up!

Getting stuck in arguing scenes 

This is a fun one, because it makes me feel the need to clarify the difference between an argument and conflict.  An argument is between improvisers, and conflict is between characters.  Arguments are when we don't agree on the subject matter or someone hasn't responded how we wanted.  I think your question is regarding conflict, but I just thought it was a worthwhile clarification to make before I respond.

I personally love losing in improv, so I like to apologize and see where that goes.  It's improv, so everything is solvable in the blink of an eye if we want.  Sometimes it's literally about choosing your battles.  I don't completely try to avoid conflict.  If our characters disagree, I might see where that leads with always knowing I have a "parachute" of apologizing.  The biggest thing is owning the intent of your actions and being willing to fold or fight for them. People don't like losing, but it's those vulnerable moments that get such great reactions.  From what I'm understanding with some of the recent clowning workshops I've taken is that ownership of our words helps us become more present, so we have better ideas of when it's our turn to fail or our turn to win.  It comes down to identifying the paper tiger in the scene.  Am I the antagonist that should be easily defeated, or am I the hero?  All of this being considered, if you want out of an argument, just apologize and take ownership.  If they can't find their keys, find them for your partner don't help them look.  

One of our teachers, Chris Teregis, has also found success in owning the accusations.  It's resulted in some really fun scenes and helped fuel scenes with emotions.  Owning an accusation is the unnatural thing, so we naturally want to shut down accusations, large or small, which leads into an argument among improvisers, as opposed to a character owning something, possibly negative, and allowing the scene to progress with these new character traits.
Patient players tend not to argue while faster players can get frustrated because the other player isn't doing what they want.  Improv will always be frustrating to people trying to force scenes.

Lack of commitment/giving up during a scene

To me, this means a person has judged their choice and doesn't like it anymore.  It's usually a poor judgement. It may also be people thinking their scene has ended.  A little trick like creating a wider POV could help.  Instead of a trait, think of where you're from.  What kind of car does this person drive?   A lot of people misdiagnose a character trait for a game, and they can get stuck because there's no emotional depth.  I try to make larger character generalizations and let the details work themselves out.  The one thing I would ask myself if I felt stuck is, "How do I feel?"  I bet 9 times out of 10, there are no emotional stakes.  Once you create those, you'll see your scenes have a lot more legs.  

Another thing is if you're not having fun, you're the asshole.  Susan Messing pounded that into my head, and she's right.  We have the power to choose our commitment level, and it's unfair to gauge our commitment to our partner's idea off of how good we think it is.  The concept of noticing becomes something more useful if we notice judgement in our play.  It just means we have a sharp eye and need to turn that energy into a positive.  Improv in hindsight is committing to your partners "dumb idea" full boar and making it great.  Messing always described a scene with a pile of shit in it.  Embrace the shit and make shit angels instead of sitting back talking about how it smells.  

So much of improv is enjoying something we didn't think we would.  That's a big reason I have blind support.  Its more curious of seeing where it goes as opposed to wondering, "Is it going well?"  It's a hard hurdle to get over, but once you get to that point, it adds another layer of depth to your play, and you'll find yourself a lot more comfortable in scenes.  Especially scenes with "nothing" going on.  There's always something.  It's just a matter of taking the time to look in new places within scenes.

Lastly, more overall theory knowledge can help.  I fall back on a lot of sidekick tools, scene archetypes(absurd-abrsurd, absurd-straight, real, and alternate reality), heat and weight techniques, and some other stuff.  I recommend reading TJ and Dave's book and any blogs you can get your hands on from Miles Stroth, Brian James O'Connell, and (of course) Jill Bernard.  If you're looking for more rational views to help with confidence in your choices, look into some Keith Johnstone.  

Missed scene jumps and why

I would say first just get better at edits ;-) . This is a hard one, because it depends on what show I'm in.  If I'm doing a UCB style show or interview-based sets and we're mining for funny, I'll play faster looking for more of a heightening based edit.  If I'm running narrative, I tend to look for more flashback or informative tap outs. Harold is different and so on.  One thing to think of is you didn't miss the tap.  There's nothing wrong with holding on to a scene idea until later.  We don't see it often in Denver, because we don't see a lot of 10-13 person groups out here.  I always save ideas for later.  The other thing is maybe you're not missing jump scenes.  There's a lot of variables, and what happens is someone thinks they miss jump scenes so then they jump every time they have an idea and turn into a bulldoze.  Tap outs or jumps are hard to be great at so missing them is just fine.  More often than not, your partners will thank you for not jumping into their scene if your idea wasn't all the way there yet.

Holding onto my character while adapting to the story.

This always starts with POV.  If you build a character from an emotional POV, your character will have the same emotional and intellectual range as yourself.  So what, right?  Well, that range is able to emotionally process and proceed while improvising through the lens of your character.  A person that talks funny isn't POV.  A person that talks funny that's a lawyer does tons of stuff besides law right?  Lawyers go to the store too, so why not wherever your scene ends up taking your character? Trying to find your characters “give shits” will help. We all have things we care about that fuel us behind the scenes that we don’t talk about. That’s what I mean by emotional POV. Try to find some give shits!

The Death Stance: Two improvisers standing next to each other, half turned to the audience, talking.

The death stance (AKA talking heads) is, unfortunately, one of my favorite positions.  It's hard, and usually nothing happens and maybe no where is built.  If you come from a rule-based house, this is considered as wrong or breaking the rules.  I have seen a ton of talking head shows, and the ones that are done well always blow me away.  The reason is these shows were driven by emotion and character wants and about disagreements that were worked out.  One of my favorite shows was Bassprov, and it was literally two, sometimes three, people fishing.  That's it.  Some of the best sets I've ever seen.  TJ and Dave could even be considered a lot of talking heads but they are experts at defining where, relationship, stakes, and sticking to all the nouns they've developed.  So contrary to the name, I don't believe it's the death stance.  Now I do believe it has been the death of TONS OF SCENES, because it's hard.  Its easily the hardest type of scene to do.  If you're really looking for a challenge, layer that onto your next monoscene.  Most improvisors are taught that this is bad just because it's unsuccessful fairly often.  These scenes often lack content, stakes, or action because they're under the guise of being bored or literally doing nothing.  I like to take those moments of "nothing" and over-share something about my character and cause a human connection.  This would probably come from a secret gift or discovery I had made earlier in the scene and is always about that moment and how I feel towards the other person. I recently performed a set with Katie Matthews, another Grafenberg instructor, in which we were just two friends standing in a dentist's office.  We didn't move or really do anything for the whole 20 minutes besides talk.  It was the little discoveries and emotion that drove the scene forward and made it such an enjoyable set.   If I start to talk about what we were doing or what we're about to do, I get stuck and need to find a game real quick.  All of this can be avoided though if we just embrace the moment we're having with our partner on stage and use our words to describe it.  Suddenly a "death stance" can become so much more.

Welp that's my soap box for this round!  I hope this has helped with some of your questions and please reach out if there's something you'd like me to expand on in another blog.  I talked a lot about emotional POV and feel like it's an answer to a lot bigger issues so maybe I'll try to dig into how to infuse more emotions into our characters POV from the top so we can always be exploring while improvising.  Thanks for reading and being awesome!

Justin Franzen

Justin FranzenComment