Tag Archives for in the moment
At rehearsal last night I was called sexist. Not just by one person, but by most of the cast all at the same time. This was particularly hurting as I consider myself a fairly rabid feminist, more so than most women apparently, or least according to the few women who’ve known me well.
I was about to start a two person scene, and my female scene partner asked the rest of the cast for a relationship. Asking for a relationship is a classic ask for in Sydney, but has always seemed odd to me. What they’re really asking for is a social relationship. There are lots of other types and aspects of relationship aside from the social relationship, but this seems to be the one we prefer to get. My guess is that by getting a social relationship (e.g. boss and worker, therapist and client, mother and daughter), there is an implied interpersonal relationship and status.
Interpersonal relationships (often referred to in improv classes as “the five relationships”) define the degree of intimacy, openness or vulnerability between two people. And the more open and vulnerable people are to each other, the stronger the emotion, the potentially higher the stakes, and the more engaging the scene. I guess players learn subconsciously that getting “a relationship between two people” more often leads to better scenes, because you no longer have to find the interpersonal relationship at the top of the scene. And of course the more you reduce scene metapragmatics, the better.
The relationship suggested last night was “a lawyer and another guy who is the criminal”. At this point I cut in and said something along the lines of “we’ll make the criminal a girl, because…” and motioned toward my scene partner. I didn’t point at her, but I did a kind of introductory sweeping motion with my hand. At this point everyone yelled out “how sexist”, with the director even saying “what, only a man can be a lawyer?!”
So let me go through my thought process. When I’m about to improvise, often my prefrontal cortex is either turned off or sitting at idle, I’m almost as present as I am while improvising. Another of my scene partners recently joked about this to an audience, the fact that when I get a suggestion for a scene, it’s not uncommon for my subconscious to kick in and start visualising the scene in my head, at which point I have to consciously notice it and stop it from doing so, at which point it starts another scene, and so on until I actually start the scene for real. I usually need an ask for, the second before I start improvising, otherwise I’ve done a bunch of scenes in my head already before we get anywhere. This isn’t me thinking, it’s me being too present at the wrong time.
Not thinking isn’t a good argument though, because you could say that without my filters and judgement, I’ve said what I really know to be true deep down, and so I actually am sexist.
What actually happened was that I heard the first few words “a lawyer”, and I straight away started seeing a lawyer in a scene in my head. By the time I heard “and another guy”, I’d already become the lawyer, and therefore I assigned the other guy to my scene partner, all without consciously choosing to do so. And before I even spoke, I’d weighed up that choice and figured that my scene partner would have more fun playing that character anyway. So that’s when I said “we’ll make the criminal a girl…” without thinking.
Now I don’t usually play high status characters, and a lawyer more often than not conjures up high status, although obviously they don’t have to be. I don’t usually play high status partly because I’m more of a low status kind of guy personally, so that’s my wheelhouse. The fact that this didn’t affect my decision is significant, because if I was consciously assigning characters to each of us, my gut would probably have given my scene partner the lawyer, and I’d have taken the criminal.
In the end I initiated that we were brother and sister criminals, which just seemed to come out in reaction to the sexist claim, but in the end was a much better choice anyway. Mum turned up mid-scene, and she was the lawyer, so suck on that sexist conspiracists!
The brain is an amazing thing, and while we still don’t know exactly how it works, the most popular theories implicate an amazing amount of subconscious input into what eventually becomes part of our conscious. And as improvisors, the more present we are, the more we draw upon the subconscious to add dynamics and depth to our scenes. You can never really tell where everything we improvise comes from, there are clues and some things seem more obvious than others, but you never really and truly know.
For more information on how improvisation works and how to improve your play, come and do one of my Sydney based courses or workshops through Ground Zero Improv, or just wait for my upcoming book.
Oh, and I’m not sexist.
Musical hot spot is an improv warm up game, which used to to also be performed on stage an iO in Chicago. The version we use in Australia a botched version of the original, which supposedly gets you in the moment, out of your head and in a good happy mood. The problem is that not only doesn’t it work, but it can also have a negative affect and actually get people into their heads.
The game starts with everyone in a circle. Either a word suggestion is given as an offer, or someone just thinks of a song, but one person then jumps into the middle and starts singing and dancing to a song. Everyone in the circle then sings and dances along. If you don’t know the song, you still commit to singing and dancing by either copying or doing your own thing, but the point is to support the person in the middle. When anyone in the circle is reminded of a different song by one of the words being already sung, then they jump into the middle singing and dancing to the new song. The previous person in the middle rejoins the circle and the circle now sings and dances along with the new person in the middle. And so on ad infinitum, or often ad tedium. There’s also a bunch of other notes given about supporting the person in the middle etc but basically that’s the game.
I remember being in a musical hot spot many years ago which was like an audition for Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Bette Midler impersonators. I didn’t know most of the songs, and I hated the ones I did. In fact I thought we’d invented punk so we didn’t have to listen to crap like that. It was not a fun warm up, in fact I hated it, especially since I had to spend the whole game pretending that I was enjoying myself, and it just served to make me even more pissed off and in my head.
The problem is that the game assumes that everyone likes all styles of music, particularly pop music. Don’t get me wrong, I love music, in fact my passion for music usually exceeds most people I’ve improvised with, and the styles of music I like are definitely more wide and varied than most people. It’s just that the songs chosen in musical hot spot are usually popular crap that reflect the average age group and interests of those playing the game, regardless whether anyone likes or even knows them.
Of course people can always jump in the middle and sing a song they do know and like, and I guess it encourages prople to keep jumping into the middle. But what generally happens then is that the people who picked all the crappy pop songs then rarely support the obscure ones because they’re not use to doing so, and the person with the exception can end up being externalised from the group because they don’t seem to be working with the group’s choices.
The Australian version of Musical hot spot is a bad improv warm up game. It assumes people have a certain popular and mundane musical taste, rewarding those who do, and punishing those who don’t. You can’t fake being in the moment, and there is no place in improv for warm up games which encourage you to do so.