“Improv was doomed with a semantics crisis from the start.” Thus begins a relatively recent Splitsider article about the game of the scene, which is a great intro into the discussion if you have no idea what I’m talking about.
When this article came out, the definition of “game” in this context seemed academic and boring. All of my teachers at i.O. had been on Side 1, so I took that definition for granted — that game is a fancy word for any pattern that makes your scene more fun. End of story.
This winter, though, I wanted a taste of the other side of this idea — that the Game is a single pattern of unusual behavior at the core of a scene. So I enrolled in a workshop with the UCB’s Kevin Mullaney.
I’m coming up on my eighth and final week of this class, and I have to say that the Game* isn’t working for me. I think it’s because of that subjective word in the UCB definition of Game: “unusual.”
My framework is so different from my class’s and my teacher’s. What would be unusual in my world — casual sex, drugs and excess drinking, disdain for religion — is par for the course in theirs. And what is normal in my world — a family vacation to a Holocaust museum** — is crazy in theirs. That’s no different than other improv classes I’ve taken in the city, and it hasn’t been much of an issue in the past. But in this class, the worldview difference has a major effect on me.
For instance, two classmates played a priest and a parishioner. Every single thing in that scene set off my “THIS IS UNUSUAL” radar. In this scene, the parishioner asked the priest, “What do you do for fun?” And the priest said he prayed and repented for fun. I thought that was funny and sad, since that would be unusual in my world. But for the rest of the class, that was another regular thing, like a pirate saying he battens down the hatches for fun.
I have been around a lot of priests. Yes, they preach and pray, but they also write, cook, play soccer with their kids, vacation on the beach, watch Downton Abbey, and pull goofy pranks on each other. Some of them are wonderful leaders; others, not so much. But they’re people, not prayer robots.
I’m sure when I’m endowed as, say, a hooker who’s about to be murdered,*** my rendering of that character is at least as two-dimensional as my classmates’ portrayal of church people.
Yesterday, I jumped in for a little while at wheatonIMPROV‘s annual 12 Hour improv marathon, and something didn’t feel right. I found myself analyzing instead of playing hard. When I was playing, I was mostly talking and not moving much. I’ve worked hard to break those habits, but this class on the Game has me defaulting back to that nonsense. I’m done with that.
The class was by no means a loss:
- Doing the Game badly myself has given me a better appreciation for others who do it well. It really is fun to watch when it’s done well.
- Hump Night, the variety show where my class performed, gave me some ideas for how Open Source could grow.
- Seeing/being in about a bazillion static scenes has made me realize how much I crave physically embodied playing. It showed me what I don’t want so I can better chase after what I do want.
To help me break out of my own head again, I’ve enrolled in another physical theater class at Paola Colletto’s school. I’m done with improv that doesn’t leave me out of breath and sore the next day.
*game is to Game as god is to God.
**Seriously? Nobody else’s family did this? Just mine?
***I think the quality of my play might be inversely proportional to my perceived likelihood that I’m going to be endowed as a dead hooker.