Tuesday, October 7

Deconstructing (pt. 2): Better To Give Than Receive (actually, both are great)

(Continuing from pt 1.)

One of the liberating things about this opening (and the form that follows) is that it is a free pass at endowing yourself and everyone else with stuff to play.

Normally, openings tend to interpreted pretty loosely. This is by design. You want to surprise the audience and yourself. You take bits and pieces and themes from the opening and then explore, riff, whatever off them. Part of the magic of improv is the discoveries that happen during a show. It is something that the audience and performers get to share at the same time. They aren't sure who you're going to use the opening and neither are you.

This form, because you are drawing so directly from the opening, makes that harder. Everything is played much closer. (I'm going to discuss the difficulty and freedom this causes in a later post.) But because things are played closer it does allow you to do something which is semi-frowned on in most improv... but can also be so so fun.

Pimping. (In improv, for those few readers who don't know, pimping is that act of forcing your scene partner to do something. The classic example is handing them a 'book' and saying, "Read this poem out loud." You have now forced your partner into making up a poem on the spot.)

Now, this is true pimping. It is more endowing. Because you know that if you mention a one legged French ballet dancer who sells knifes door to door in the opening someone on the backline is going to play the one legged French ballet dancer who sells knifes door to door, it can be quite fun. Once I realized this, it took some of the pressure off the opening for me. I knew whatever I said was going to be something for someone else to put on. Of course this heightens the fact that you don't want to explore anything to deeply in the opening. If you paint to main details about something/someone in the opening, it gives them nothing to explore later. If you describe the whole 'game' of a character in the opening, there will be nothing to be discovered when we finally see that character. (And if you spend too much time on one thing, you'll not have enough time to get out other things for other people to play.) Again it is such a gentle balance.

Not unique to this form but perhaps heightened by it, is the "I Want That!" syndrome. When on the backline during the opening, you hear something that appeals to you strongly, you suddenly think "Oh god. I want to play that!" You of course have to keep listening but you jam it into your back pocket. Now in most openings, I jam a handful of things into my pockets and am all set to bring it up whenever I need to. But because the ideas from The Gossip opening can be so strong I find myself being, well, selfish. I want to jump out with the one thing that most appeals to me as quickly as I can... before anyone else can. This is good (because you are excited about the gifts that are being given to you) but so dangerous. Besides it just being greedy and not so supportive, it can also screw the pacing of the whole piece. If there is one idea that is clearly so fun and so good, you probably want to save it for a few scenes in. The audience probably keyed in on that idea too. It is probably strongest in their mind right after the opening and they want and expect to see it. If you go straight to it, you are just giving them exactly what they expect. But if you wait, it leaves the from of the audience's mind and becomes exciting when it finally does show up. One of those keys to comedy is to get the audience to expect and anticipate something and then not give it to them until they don't expect it. Giving them that moment of "Oh yes! I remember that!" is so much better than "Oh yes. I knew that was next."

But something else I realized is that you need to take care of yourself. Because the characters in the opening end up (just by the nature of it all) being the center of the world (although they might not be the focus), they will (most likely) come back in the body of the piece. And if you don't give yourself something you want to play, you are screwing yourself. This is hard because you are trying to NOT play game in the opening, a character game might not get developed at all. So, especially early in the opening, giving you something strong to grab on to is just watching out for yourself. But of course, you don't want to play it strongly during the opening. You want to leave something to explore later on. An example from my previous post is the touching thing. It gave me a strong character trait. When I was called off the backline and put into a flash back scene of having my boss/lover over for dinner with my wife, I immediately started touching both of them. I knew exactly who I was and what I was thinking and what I was doing.

I tend to be pretty shy about endowing myself. I'm more comfortable supporting others with moves. Heck,one of my problems is playing game so hard and straight that there is too little discovery. I think I'm getting better. With this form (especially the opening, either in it or on the backline) I feel like I am being set free.