On Friday, my improv group practiced with Ben Rodgers as our coach. Ben is the newest member of Shitty Jobs, and we were excited to learn his secrets on fast play. I thought I’d go over some of the exercises we did, if anyone else is interested.
BE MORE SPECIFIC: One of the first exercises we practiced were brief 3 line scenes. One person initiated. The second person responded. Then the initiator responded, clarifying the game of the scene. Immediately afterwards, Ben asked us to do the scene over again and be more specific.
This time the scene would play out with more proper nouns. “Thanks for meeting me here at this Chilli’s in Little Rock.”
“No problem, Dad. I wouldn’t miss your birthday.”
Afterwards Ben asked us to do the same scene a third time, and be even more specific.
“Being specific doesn’t mean just saying your burger’s from Carl’s Jr. Try to give your character a philosophy and fill out the universe they live in.”
During the third interpretation of the scene, Ben would interject “Why?” - whenever a character said something unusual. He prompted us to justify our characters’ actions right up top and keep adding details.
“The more specific you are, the more you’ll have to play with in the scene.”
HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT JEFF?: The next exercise we practiced started with two people. The first person would talk about a third character not yet in the scene, asking what their deal was. “Have you heard about Jeff? He’s been carrying around bunnies everywhere he goes.”
The second person would then justify that weird behavior. “Oh yeah. Jeff’s going through a bad divorce. Word has it, the only thing he got in the settlement were those rabbits. That’s all he has left of Judy.”
A third person would now enter the scene as Jeff, and proceed to play the game of “newly divorced guy with bunnies.” Once we’d hit this game a few times, the first person would step out of the scene and the second character would endow them a weird trait.
“Karen is probably jerking off in the bathroom. She jerks off everywhere!”
Now it’s Jeff’s turn to justify the strange behavior. “You haven’t heard? Karen’s an exhibitionist. She only jerks off in public places where she can get caught.”
The first person, Karen, would now enter the scene and play her character game. Then, the last person would step out of the scene, leaving Karen and Jeff to repeat giving a gift and justifying it.
“How much easier was it to walk into a scene, knowing who your character was and how to play their game?” Ben Rodgers said. “Entering a scene with a point-of-view is important if you want to play fast scenes.”
AS A FORMER STUNTMAN: The last exercise we performed began with two people sitting and having a conversation. No characters. No game. Just us being ourselves and talking about everyday stuff.
“Now when I point at you, I want you to say ‘As a former stuntman…’ and continue the conversation,” Ben instructed.
In the middle of a discussion about cereal, Ben Rodgers would point at you and suddenly you’d say “As a former stuntman” and proceed: “breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Especially when you gotta be on set at 4 in the AM!”
No matter what you were talking about, when Ben pointed at you, you were a former stuntman. You had to immediately tie this perspective into the conversation.
He then asked the second person in the scene to start saying “That is no different than when NASA faked the moon landing.” Holy smokes!
This was a really fun exercise. The point was to train that improv muscle of having a strong point-of-view that colors the way your character sees the world. Also resting the game.
“It’s not enough to just be weird. You should be weird in a specific way.”
The main lessons I took away from our practice:
* Enter a scene with a strong point-of-view, and use a philosophy to support it.
* The sooner you know how to play your game, the sooner you can start tagging.
* Give each other gifts, and justify them.
* Be specific - with details and with the world you’re playing in.
To put these lessons to the test, we performed two La Rondes - one at the top of practice and one in the last ten minutes. There was a marked improvement in our second La Ronde after drilling these exercises.
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