We are one!
To celebrate our birthday we decided to invite a coach to do a workshop with us. After a year of focusing on our Wildcard narrative format and then the Armando, we’ve become a combination of plotty and pacey. We tend to do very fast, premise-focused scenes which, whilst lots of fun, aren’t always giving us the emotional stakes that make for great improv!
So we were keen to bring in someone who could teach us how to bring depth to our characters, add colour to our settings and help us to sloooooow down. Maria Peters was The One. Maria listened to what we wanted to develop, taught us new activities to build those skills, gave us honest and useful feedback and really hammered home the message that games, edits, voices and gags are the bells and whistles of improv. The real substance comes from why something is important to someone. It’s all about making it matter.
To help us bring meaning to our scenes, Maria got us to practice raising the stakes instead of immediately offering a solution, which will kill the scene.
You need the money for college?
Too bad that tuition fees are tripling tomorrow and you’re about to get fired.
Your dog’s sick?
I’ve decided that if this dog dies, we’ll take away all of your other pets.
Grandma’s dying wish is that you get this job?
I heard your ex-boyfriend, who cut the sleeves off all of your vintage jumpers when you broke up, might get it instead. Damn.
Raising the stakes is a great gift to give each other and makes the audience interested in how you’re going to deal with the challenge ahead.
However, too much meaning in a scene can feel over-engineered and exhausting. No one has deep and meaningfuls all of the time. Sometimes we really do need to buy a pint of milk or make a toastie or walk the dog. So we were also tasked with alternating when we talk about our relationship and when we talk about our surroundings. So much more can be revealed about how you feel about a situation through the way you engage very specifically with your environment rather than simply telling the audience. Saying ‘I’m nervous’ is a fast way of telling the audience how you feel but nervously asking your date if they want to share one of the three stale panettones in the coffee shop window whilst rubbing your sweaty palms on a napkin shows how you’re feeling to the audience without naming it and helps them to connect with your character.
We also thought about how to use silence and emotional noises to build scenes. In life we all make ‘hmmm’, ‘ahhh’ and ‘ow’ noises but so rarely use them in improv. Much can be said with a well-timed ‘harrumph’.
Finally, to help us slow down, Maria gave us activities to build our peripheral awareness, getting us to collectively decide when to do a swarm edit and all leave a scene without a concrete prompt. It helped us all feel connected to what was happening on stage and gave us a group responsibility for knowing where everyone was.
We’re now much more in-tune with what we’re doing, what we’re saying (and not saying), how we’re moving and why it’s important. After all, we are one.