Environment and Object Work Notes
These are notes from a Monday workshop a couple of weeks ago. We were doing various exercises to help improvisers build believable environments and objects in scenes. Here they are:
Passing the object
Everyone sat in a circle. One person mimes an object, and passes it on the next. The idea is that the objects don’t change too much as they go round the circle. If it’s a larger group you can add multiple objects from different points in the circle.
Encourage people to give objects width, thickness, weight. If you’re holding a pen there is usually a gap between your finger and thumb to hold the pen. A gun isn’t a finger pointing forwards, that’s an impression of a gun, a gun is heavy and is held. A phone isn’t a thumb stuck into the ear and a little finger sticking out, that’s an impression of a phone.
It’s a style choice, whether you are doing impressions of objects or making them real.
Name an environment, for instance an office.
First actor goes up and adds one object to the space. Giving it width and weight, and using it.
Next actor up uses that object, and adds a whole new object. For instance they use the photocopier and then add in a swivel chair.
Keep going with all the actors. Each time up they have to use all the objects that have been there before, and then add something new.
This is very helpful to stop people walking into objects that have been set by other improvisers. Encourage them to respect the space and other people’s objects, and be precise with where things are picked up and put down.
You can make someone else’s object real by using it, picking it up, leaning on it, walking around it.
Real Life Practice
Every time you do something with real objects in real life you can immediately step to the side and repeat the action in thin air. For instance you wash up a plate, and immediately put the plate down, step back from the sink, and repeat the motions in thin air.
This teaches people the ‘pop’ of our muscles as we pick up and put things down, the weight and width of things.
Naming The Object
I can’t believe I’d never thought of doing this until I saw Paul Foxcroft doing it in a show. He picked up a phone mid-scene and just said ‘phone’. It didn’t break reality and signalled to cast and audience clearly what the object was, and we laughed at the obviousness. It was really helpful and made sure that all objects he used were also used and incorporated by other people.
I’ve now started doing this in our shows and find it really helpful.
So we repeated the Environment Build above except this time we named each object out loud.
Being the Objects
A different style, also helpful and really really fun. This time when I named the environment the actors came on one by one, named an object out loud, and then became the objects. The last actor on then had to use all the objects, especially using them together. It’s very rewarding when an improviser on stage uses other people who are being objects.
Encourage improvisers to connect together when forming objects, they can be small bits of a greater whole. And encourage them to be obvious and not hesitate with entering.
For instance the offer of ‘bakery’ was given and one actor cam on stage as a bun, two actors built an oven around him, another actor became a plug, and another actor became an extractor fan. As the bun gently span around being cooked he gradually expanded. When the last actor opened the door of the over the bun burst out.
This style works really well in shows. Last Music Box two improvisers ran on stage at the start of a scene set in Tesco Online head office as computers, said they were computers, and were then able to voice the emails of the staff there.
This also lead to six people being a transformer in a workshop, moving seamlessly from truck to robot. Awesome work!
Lots of love,
Improv Classes and Shows