Monday 15 April 2013

Talking about someone outside the scene

A general guideline in improv is to not spend a great deal of time talking about someone outside the scene. This is again one of those great guidelines to reinforce when people are learning when the tendency will often be to talk about stuff happening elsewhere.
“Oh, I wish Jack was here. Jack’s great. He’s got that funny hat and always has a joke. He’d make it fun.”
Obviously, this is clearly a call for Jack to come on and save the scene, which is usually what will happen. But while the description is happening, it’s not so interesting because Jack’s not there. If the actors had talked more about their relationship it would not only be more engaging but also we’d have no need for Jack.

Improv does best with the “show, don’t tell” principle, so talking about Jack is not as interesting as having Jack there.

Jack not needed here.
There are always exceptions. Sometimes you wish to endow characters who aren’t there or follow up a storyline we know we won’t see again. Then we can permit a little talking about characters. And then there are the times when talking about another character is done to illustrate the relationship on stage. Such as two siblings talking about which of them loves their mother more. Although both are mentioning their mother a lot, it’s really about their one-upmanship not the mother. Similar situations are two friends one of whom stole the other’s girl- or boyfriend; two X-factor finalists who both lost out to a rival; two employees with very differing opinions of their boss.

It becomes clearer to explain if you substitute the person for an object. Take the two friends one of whom stole the other’s girl. If it wasn’t a girl, but a car that was stolen, the scene could proceed very much on the same lines. But even then, it would be better if the car was there because the actors could use the physicality of the car to help them find and express their emotions.

So if we make it something more abstract then I think it is even clearer. If what was stolen was leadership of the book club, for example, then we see the function this third person. And although the emotions attached to the object might be slightly different, the scene is still about betrayal and possibly rivalry. And in this version, it makes it clear the scene could be seen as being about status.

So in short, there are times when discussing someone outside the scene is fine. As long as it doesn’t become simply a long description of this other person and their antics, and remains ultimately about the relationship between characters there on stage.

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