Reality Workshop Notes
This is one of my new favourite exercises. I seem to always start a blog like that, which I suppose makes sense because if they weren’t my current favourites they wouldn’t make it onto the blog.
So last night’s Monday impro class was on reality. The idea being that having the mantra “it’s real, it’s real, it’s real” in improvisation and treating everything on stage as if it’s real, and believing that it’s real, is helpful to improvisers for a few reasons:
1. If you believe it’s real, the audience are more likely to believe it. In fact the audience aren’t really going to suspend their disbelief unless you do first.
2. If you are in the real moment you don’t have to ‘act’ or ‘perform’ as much as you will respond naturally and spontaneously. If you really believe you are in a pub having a quiet drink and a masked gun man walks in and shouts you won’t have to act shocked, you just will be.
3. Believing it’s real quite often takes care of the narrative. We found that the natural realistic reaction often provided the next step in the narrative, and really only a couple of narrative beats/tilts from the director were needed each scene. For instance when someone kicked off in a coffee shop the owner phoned the police, a good narrative move and also very real.
4. Treating everything like it’s real makes the performer pay more attention to the other actors and listen more, as we need to know everything about them.
5. It stops performers going too weird too soon. If you are creating a reality together it will stop the random self destructive offers or gags that get laughs at the expense of the established reality.
Also treating like it’s real doesn’t have to mean boring. However boring the audience in the first scene is sometimes a good mantra to have as a performer (Keith Johnstone writes about this). But you don’t have to base all scenes in a kitchen to be real, you can still find the reality in the situation of acting two aliens on planet Xarg constructing an inter galactic death ray. As Sanford Meisner said it’s about “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”.
I found that starting the workshop with a large amount of trust exercises (the chair game) was really helpful as it made the performers respectful of each others offers.
Then the major reality exercise:
1. Volunteer performer goes on stage alone.
2. They explain to the class a place they routinely go to every day/week, showing us where things are on the stage (furniture) and explaining who they other people are in the scene (names, character traits, what they do).
3. Director asks them further questions and clarifies, and puts out items of furniture on stage. In this first case it was a coffee shop the actor went to most days.
4. Director then casts people from the rest of the group to be in the coffee shop, eg workers, dog in the corner, people sat around on lap tops.
5. Actor then comes into their real world and we play it straight, real, without adding any story. It’s just the normal every day life.
6. Director corrects if people are taking focus away from the protagonist, or if they are over acting or over storytelling. We’re looking for something that wouldn’t look out of place in the real world.
7. Next day in the coffee shop. Director then whispers a ’tilt’ to one of the actors. In this case one of the coffee shop workers was going to ask the actor out on a date. This made a lovely scene, where because they were all treating it like it was real it had all the cuteness and awkwardness you’d usually find in this situation.
8. Repeat for further scenes.
With everyone believing it was real only a couple of narrative beats/tilts were needed to generate long captivating pieces.
Well done all.