Tuesday 30 November 2010

Monologues (pt 3): What a monologue can do

I'm sure this list is not conclusive, but it sure shows the range and power of monologues.

  • Move Forward: advance the story.
    • To start or end the story.
    • Tell or further the story; by saying what comes next or moving the action to a different place and time.
    • Can also be used to move on other stories that are happening in parallel, for example by telling what's happening to another character outside the scene. ("At that same time, in her small bedroom 3 miles away, Jeanette sighed because she somehow knew she would never get Jack back" But we don't (yet) go to see that scene.)

  • Expand: give more information about the characters, relationships, objects or environment. Can also tell us events related or tangential to the story without forwarding it. This is usually a form of narration.
    • Add description and details.
      • For objects and environment, this usually sets the scene or creates an atmosphere: "The library is old. A thin layer of dust lies on the wood and leather covers belong to another era." "Outside, a police siren wails and then fades into the night."
    • Tell us history or back-story.
    • Inform us of the effects of an action. ("The glass fell from the window and narrowly missed an old lady below who swore at a passing taxi driver who went home and shouted at his wife.")
    • In rare instances, tell us the future of something or someone (usually as an aside). ("Six weeks later, I found that same teapot broken on the kitchen floor. The spout had smashed to smithereens." "That was the last time she said, 'I love you' to me." The latter could count as furthering the story, depending n context.)
    • Perhaps rarer, in improv, are details from outside the scene. Often to illustrate what is happening, metaphorically. ("Somewhere across town, a tree in the middle of the park fell over.")

  • Dig Deeper: explain things from within the mind of one of the characters.
    • Give inner thoughts: add depth, layers, point of view, wants, desires, phobias, motivation (explain why a character is doing what he or she is doing).
    • Tell a secret: explain something one character knows that the other doesn't.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Monologues (pt 2)

So let's look at our 3 types of monologue in more detail:

Outside the Scene
This is where the actor (as a narrator or character not in the scene) begins, interrupts or ends the scene delivering information to the audience. I can see two main types:

  • Pure Narration – continuing the story or adding details direct to the audience
  • Meta-monologue – where a character narrates or adds information as a character giving a monologue from outside the scene. (examples include where the story is read from a book or a ghostly voice laments the action that is going on now.)

Inside the Scene
This is where a character in the scene has a monologue. It usually involves one characters taking focus and speaking for longer than normal, totally (or minimally) uninterrupted by the other character(s). They are delivered either partly or directly to the audience. There are two main types based on who the monologue is directed at.

  • Monologue is delivered to the other character(s). There are two types, that I can see:
    • Expected: delivering a speech, lecture or pep talk to a crowd, team, class, jury, wedding guests, boxer, child, etc. Basically in an environment or situation where a speech is expected and the norm is for little interaction with the speaker.
    • Unexpected: where one character in a conversation "goes off on one" and keeps talking, perhaps as a rant, usually revealing what the character thinks or feels or some information the other character didn't know before.
  • Monologue is delivered to the audience. The character tells us, the audience, his or her inner thoughts or emotions, or a secret the other character doesn't know. It can be as short as a sentence, and then it's called an aside.

Solo Scene
This is where the whole scene is a monologue. Usually there is just one actor. (Although others can appear to heighten the monologue or be background, perhaps representing the listeners, but have no (or hardly any) lines. Once these background actors to do more than murmur, it starts to become a scene.) Solo Scenes are nearly always delivered to the audience. And then, in most cases, the audience represents the implied second character, the listening group or the character's own reflection. I count three types of Solo Scene:

  • A character telling something to one or more persons. e.g. giving a speech, pep talk, straight-to-camera piece such as a dating video.
  • As one side of scene or conversation. e.g. being interviewed (where we don't hear the interviewer), on the phone, conversation over garden fence.
  • As a person speaking aloud to themselves, often to a mirror. e.g. preparing for a meeting, rehearsing a part in a play, giving self a pep-talk in the morning, etc.

I don't claim this is exhaustive, but it seems to cover most bases.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Monologues (pt 1)

I've been giving a lot of thought to monologues lately, so expect a few more musings and lists such as these. As ever, I'd love to hear your views, disagreements, questions.

Types of monologue:
  • Outside the scene (direct to audience by a narrator or characters not in the scene)
  • Inside the scene (where characters in the scene take focus and speak for longer than normal (usually uninterrupted))
  • Solo Scene where the whole scene is a monologue.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Keeping it Real

Johnny starts a scene in a collection around the motif of "rock." He puts a mimed guitar around his neck, tunes it and them plays some notes with haunting feedback. He provides the noises himself. The audience is in awe. Charlene enters and says, "Why are you playing that invisible guitar?"

Actually this mime isn't so great.
Look how thin that guitar is. 
The audience laughs. It's a classic standup-style gag. Set it up and break it. Funny, but very destructive to the scene. Johnny has trouble continuing with the scene because Charlene blocked his clear offer of his character playing a real guitar. And his character has gone from being a rock guitar god to a delusional crazy person. What's more, Charlene now doesn't know what to do after her initial gag. The guideline here is: Treat mimed objects as real. Otherwise we are reminding the audience this is all fake.

And whilst the audience laughs, I think it's with a little regret. Certainly any of them who has had some improv training will feel that. The audience will probably feel a little cheated. As if Johnny roped them into his world with his great commitment, miming, and sound effects only to have it thrown back in their face. Stupid you for believing that was real. But if we reinforce the reality of these objects, the audience can be brought in further, their wonder used to fuel great a story and, on the way, we can tell better, less disappointing and destructive jokes.

Thursday 11 November 2010

What is Improvised Comedy?

It's fair to say, if you are reading this blog, you probably have an idea what impro is. Maybe you call it improv, I know I do about half the time. But whilst you probably know what it is, it is instructive to have people define it. You can learn a lot about people's approach and passion to something by their definition of it.

Often it's easier to define impro by what it isn't. It isn't scripted theatre and it isn't stand-up comedy. It isn't pantomime and it isn't avant garde socio-political monologue. But it does combine elements from all of those.
Jochem Meijer as Yeus, God of Improv by Rick vd Meiden
When telling an audience what it is, I say it's "the noble art of making stuff up on stage." But to a more scientific audience, such as yourselves, I would say it is "a form of comedy theatre using simple techniques to create new scenes based on little or no initial information." And now it doesn't sound fun at all. So let's get a bit more artsy, "a system of theatre using listening and positive play techniques to build scenes and stories using a combined imagination." But quite frankly, once you are an advanced improviser, who has absorbed so many of the general improv guidelines and for whom the core rules of listening and agreeing are habitual, you could describe it as "dicking around on stage." The problem is that for a tight group of advanced improvisers, dicking around on stage is like watching wonderful theatre. Lesser performers can't just dick around on stage because it just looks like dicking around on stage, and nobody wants to watch that for an hour unless you already really, really like the performers.

So if I had to give one definition out of all of these it could be "The noble art of dicking about on stage to build stories through simple listening and positive play techniques" But I'd like to go with something simpler, that I'm sure has been used before:

Stories from a collective imagination.