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,
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


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