Thursday, 16 December 2010

Diamond Dance

The Diamond Dance is a great improv tool, not only for warming up but for stripping improv down to its barest essentials.
In a diamond dance, 4 people make a diamond formation and dance. (Usually to music, but I've done it with factory-floor robots and the same rules apply.) At any given time, all four people are facing in one of 4 directions. And in each direction, one player is in front. The player in front leads the dance and the other three follow – copying the leader exactly. When they turn, a new leader takes over.

It really mirrors the give and take four improvisers should use when on stage together and how when one player has focus, the others should be following him 100%. In diamond Dance, the following is a literal copying of him, but in a scene this is usually just listening. But listening with all of your power.

D. I. S. C. Over there.
Photo by Rajab, starfilm.org
In a diamond dance, when each of the followers is following 100%, is fantastic to watch. It's like a fully choreographed dance performance. The less people apply themselves to following, the more disjointed and uncompelling it becomes.

Another factor in making the result so unified is the smoothness when the focus changes. The smoother the transitions, the better it is to watch. If the new leader continues the motion of the previous one, it looks much more choreographed. Many new leaders feel compelled to immediately start something completely new and be "original," but in fact it is much more impressive and interesting when the same movements are continued. Obviously they do need to change somehow over time, but again it looks more impressive if they morph in keeping with what has already been set up. The same as in a scene. Continuing on the same path and building the relationships and story is more interesting than jumping from one thing to another in the name of "originality."

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Roxanne, don't you take off those real shoes

Roxanne (name changed to justify the title) is in a scene where she claims to be a stripper. She apprehensively begins to move stripperishly. She reaches down and takes off a shoe. A real, physical shoe. This is violating a core improv guideline: "only remove mimed items of clothing."

This scene is a clear example as to the reason for this guideline. Because with stripping (as with improv) it's all about building. To remove a mimed shoe and then a mimed blouse is heightening. To remove a real shoe but then a mimed blouse is the opposite. So unless you're prepared to remove more items of clothing on stage (which most of the time is not going to be a good idea) starting with a real shoe is going to lead to audience disappointment. Whereas removing a mimed shoe would mean the audience will enjoy the heightening of removing a mimed top and so the actor can "strip" in confidence.

Jochem prays for Anna to remove a shoe

Another old improv tenet that comes into play here is that it's better for your character be the best at anything they say they can do. This means do it with confidence. Ironically, it is especially true with something awkwardly sexual like stripping. Watching a character relish being the top of her game is great, watching an actor squirm is uncomfortable.

It's also true in real life. If you've ever found yourself in a strip club, you might know that it's tolerable when the girls seem to be in charge and enjoying it. But if you've ever seen a stripper who clearly doesn't want to be there, it's horrible. And they don't have the luxury of being able to mime.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Patterns

A lot of improv and storytelling in general has a lot to do with the setting up, continuing or building on, and completing or breaking of patterns. Most games found within a scene are a continuation or building up of a pattern. A satisfactory ending to a story is often the bringing of a pattern to a pleasing end or bringing it back to the start. Any surprise ending and the punchlines to many jokes are all breaking a pattern.

Humans are very adept at spotting patterns. We use it in our interpretation of speech and writing, and the recognition of objects and faces. Our personality and behaviour is a set of patterns we unconsciously adhere to. A (daily) routine is a set of patterns we perform regularly. When a routine is upset, the pattern is broken. After a period of confusion or chaos, a new pattern emerges. Even if patterns don't break, they usually evolve. The habits you had 5 years ago will probably have changed into new ones. Maybe they are completely new, but often they are toned down, exaggerated or changed another way.

We can exploit this feature in our characterisation. And use our innate pattern-matching ability to spot games, common traits and hidden links.

It is quite possible, I'm sure, to define improv entirely with reference to patterns. It would somewhat remove it from the practical realities of performing it but be a very useful intellectual and even educational endeavour. If I get round to doing it, you'll be the first to know.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

"A scene is what happens while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon, Mersey Beatlesports



"A scene is what happens while you're busy making other plans."
- John Lennon, Mersey Beatlesports

Wednesday, 1 December 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.