Circle of Expectation Workshop Notes

Circle of Expectation

These are from the Monday night ‘Being Obvious’ workshop from a few weeks ago.

I seem to be specialising at the moment in taking basic Keith Johnstone exercises and then expanding them and modifying them. At some point I’ll tell him and he’ll be like “WHATTTTTT??? HOW DARE YOU! YOU MUST DIE STEVE ROE, YOU MUST DIE!” I’m sure he wouldn’t be like that.

So being obvious and circle of expectation.

In a nutshell ‘being creative’ in improvisation is not usually a very good creative strategy. When people try to be creative and original they end up putting in offers from a list of thought up creative ideas that actually turn out to be boring, distracting or blocking. When we’re trying to hard to be creative the act of building up on each others offers and building a greater whole can full apart.

So often being obvious can actually be more helpful, as it builds up on other people’s ideas and allows the improviser to be a proper human on stage.

Also for every offer that an improviser puts on, or every suggestion an audience gives, there is a ‘circle of expectation’ from the audience of what might happen from that offer or suggestion. It’s not just a one track story, or pre-planned ideas, more a circle of possible things that might happen. Being obvious means allowing yourself to be in this circle and inhabiting this world so that everything is being discovered with the audience. Trying too hard to be creative can lead to be jumping outside of this circle, abandoning the gifts they had, and desperately clutching at straws.

For instance:

“Please can we get a location?”
“A bar”
“Hey look, I’m standing on a long metal bar. Please come and stand on my bar with me.”
“Hello, I hope you don’t mind but I’ve brought my pole”
“Sure, put it on my BAR! Ha ha ha ha”

Please just shut up and get off the stage, please. The people above are trying to be creative, but it’s just idiotic, and nobody wants to act with them. The audience wanted to see a bar. It could have been a Wild West Bar, a Chicago Gangster Bar, a Charles Dickens novel bar, an American diner bar. There could have been policemen walking into the bar looking for a mob boss. There could have been a love affair between burger flipper and waitress. There could have been an orphan boy cleaning glasses out back. But instead the actors gave the audience two idiots balancing on a metal pole, the scene has lasted about a minute, one person laughed because they felt sorry for them and two people clapped once using one hand. It actually saddens me.

Teaching circle of expectation is really fun:

1. Get a massive circle of paper, I sellotape loads together so it covers a large chunk of floor.

2. Explain that the group is going to make up a story together.

3. Explain that the current circle of expectation is infinite, as it’s made up of everyone’s whole life experiences, all the media and education we’ve absorbed, our subconcious, the collective sub concious, everything.

4. Ask for a location.

5. The location immediately creates a circle of expectation. So draw and actual circle encompassing all the paper, and write the location.

6. Ask people to be obvious and name what they see at this location. Asking people to imagine is not helpful, asking people to see is better.

7. Write down all the offers within a smaller circle. For each bunch of offers draw concentric circles as the circle of expectation shrinks.

8. Ask helpful questions like When is it? Where exactly are we? What room are we in?

9. If it hasn’t happened already put some characters in – who is there? Who are they? What do they look like? What are they doing?

10. Now go back and expand things. I call it zooming in. Let’s zoom in on this character, what is there name. Etc Etc.

11. Zoom in on more things and connections happen already. The group can’t help but tell stories.

12. When a story presents itself ask questions like ‘What is the most obvious thing to happen?’ etc. Get people to reincorporate details. If something happens it’s because of this other thing that has already been said. If someone meets a character it’s someone who has already popped up.

This always produces such colourful scenes. If some people aren’t saying anything don’t point them out directly but mention to the group that if you aren’t saying much it’s because you’re putting too much pressure on each individual offer. Not every offer has to be ground breaking or move the story together. If you aren’t saying much just take it easy, and add a small detail to each offer. If a door gets mentioned, say what colour it is, if a sandwich gets mentioned, say what’s in it.

After a couple of rounds on paper you can then stand up as a group and play without writing it down, with the group remembering offers to reincorporate.

You can then play in pairs, with one person being obvious and the other asking helpful questions and encouraging.

You can then play solo, playing both roles out loud.

You can then play solo, just being obvious, and before you know it everyone is able to make up whole stories on the spot.

Well done!

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