It’s a question most people don’t mind being asked in improv, its the one i dread. There is nothing wrong with being asked it as a lot of the improv that you get taught is based on this thesis and is the main structure of improvisation but its something that I never enjoy doing and I think its because of the many ways I have been taught it. The question is – who enjoys playing a character in improv that is a version of themselves?
There are many reasons why I don’t like being taught this or being directed to “be yourself” in an improv scene and here are just a few of the reasons why.
- Every time I have been trained in this topic, the trainer has always made us re-encact something that has happened to you with another improviser. I don’t like this because a lot of the time it feels like its a boring subject that you are playing out and you feel like you (well i feel) are constantly being judged about the way it was played and how real it was to you.
- I am always caught off guard by it – you play a game as a warm up game and you think ok great this is a nice way to warm up then BAM! you are told to make that a scene, which is usually a crappy story I have told about something that has happened at work or something.
- You are told to play to the truth of something that you do. Considering that I work in TV I always feel like I am humble bragging about my job which I really am not, its just that it is a big part of my life – that and writing a comedy blog just feels like you are promoting all the time and going “heyyyy look at me and all the names in can drop….” (i am really not like that at all)
So, i went into Liams lesson this week knowing that is was all about being yourself and was prepared to do the lesson i hate but yet again the topic was spun on its head which was good for me.
We started up with the warm up i am not the keenest on, stretch and share and i was prepared. EVERYTIME without fail when I have done this exercise it turns into scene work so i was ready to choose something that knew I could turn into a scene. Now, this is a badddddd thing to do as an improviser, but i don’t like this game and always become prepared for it now as i have been in this exercise where i have not been asked to re-enact other peoples stories but re-enact mine and i hate hate HATED it, so I thought no! Not anymore, I am going to be ready for anything! Luckily Liam didn’t turn this into scene work so my most dreaded game was skipped (hooray!)
We then did some more warm up games to develop on the “realness” in scenes. Two of us at a time would go up to the stage area and one of us would talk about something we liked and then there would be a conversation to see where the the common ground was with that partner. So for example, one person said that they owned rabbits and they loved having them as pets and the other person in the scene found the common ground by discussing that he has a farm and he regularly gets rabbits in the fields but finds them too cute to kill.
By finding the bigger boat in a scene meant that the scene could become more adaptable and easier for both the audience and the other improviser to push it out further and to create a scene that is easy for both members to direct and lead.
We then did this a few more times by breaking into pairs, when we did it in this style the conversations became a lot more colloqiual and quite joyous to do, they were less structured and more natural.
We then did the conversations in front of the audience again, however, this time we did the scenes where one is a crazy character and the other person had to act as naturally as they could. So for example, Caroline did a scene with Phil where she had just been bitten by a Vampire and Phil had to react how he would do if he was in that situation. Depending on what the scene was this could be quite hard to play.
So for example, the next game we played was all about extreme locations. The first one I did I was in a haunted house, which was something I found very easy to act truthful to myself as I am a right scaredy cat and hate anything scary so i acted to the truth, i screamed a lot, kicked at things and put my hands in my ears (I tend to do this a lot when I am freaked out – for example I hate noise in pitch black places – everytime I have been on the Saw Rollercoaster at Thorpe Park the first section i am going upside down with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears (not advised to you reader due to health and safety ).
However, the second scene i had to do was with Alan and we had to pretend we were on a Dragon – i found this one hard to play to. My mind was trapped in that niggly little place where I was trying to think how people would react to riding a dragon and not how I feel, I just couldn’t get into the frame of mind to do it as i couldn’t really associate with the dragon.
We then did this game again where we are in crazy locations however this time the reactions had to be heightened even more. There were some where the reactions and the emotions stayed in the same level and area; then there were others where the status and the reactions to what was happening changed. I liked the ones where the players status changed throughout the scene as it felt like something that you would see in an a real show and it could be extended into a longform show as there was a lot there to develop.
It was a fun lesson and once again learnt a lot, whilst playing “yourself” will never be a favourite of mine, seeing it taught in a completely different way was helpful and made me re-think playing characters similar to myself in scenes. However, I will always be that person that enjoys creating characters and playing the made up but hey, I am and have a very creative lifestyle so its who I am as a person so technically some people would say thats playing to the “real”.
Case Study – Karl Pilkington
When thinking about a case study for this weeks lesson there was only one name that came to mind and that was Karl Pilkington. The one thing I love about Karl is the fact that his opinions are so extremely random that it creates such great comedy and makes him naturally funny without him realising it.
If you are thinking about the boat concept that was taught this week, it really does relate to the way that Karl Pilkington is. He has an opinion about something that may seem very difficult to find a common ground with, however Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant time and time again seem to do it. Obviously to get to that “common ground” it meant a lot of talking and building on the topic at hand but it is a great way to look at finding that bigger boat.
So the next time you are in a scene and you think that you can’t relate to what is happen, take a step back, think of Karl Pilkington and realise that you can find that bigger boat with anything.