I get asked a lot by my students, “How do I find the “game” in a scene?”
It’s a great question. After my years of performing and teaching improv, I’ve been able to whittle it down into 3 easy steps.
Improvisation is something fun and wonderful we create together without planning. It is NOT about presenting the funniest idea or the biggest comedy concept. It’s about listening and connecting with your scene partner. Hence, I prefer to teach that we DISCOVER games together in scenes, reducing the pressure to build a scene based on one person’s idea or premise.
Discovering the game means to recognize the unique things that present themselves to you in a scene. It may be something said, a way someone moves, or an obvious “mistake.” Then, in those moments, you and your scene partner build upon those unique findings together. Discovering the game this way will put you in the vicinity of great ideas you can explore together rather than being pressured to bring a great idea to a scene.
Discovery is more important than invention.
Tempting as it may be, beware of trying to chase the God of Comedy by getting a quick laugh or slipping in a side comment. Doing this will almost always let you down. Instead, listen and accept what is actually happening in the moment. If you do all those essential things you learned in your first few improv classes: make bold choices, commit to your character’s point of view, give gifts, and BE PRESENT, you’ll discover the game. It’s right there waiting for you.
Here’s a breakdown to help you discover the “game” in your scenes:
1. RECOGNIZE THE OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY.
How do you recognize a game? How do you know what to look for? Remember that old cheesy song, “Things That Make You Go hmmm”? Look for moments of incongruity or silliness. The best games come from tiny moments of silliness. If you see something, say or do something about it. Listen to your gut and trust your partner’s reactions. Remember, you are in this together. CONSPIRE together. That’s half the fun.
2. ENTERTAIN YOURSELVES. (And you’ll entertain us!)
Once you discover the game, entertain each other with it! This will naturally heighten the game. Keep following those little associations and tiny developments. All games have rules. The rules elicit reactions! We should see these reactions played out by your character. You don’t need to invent. Just follow the rules as you discover them together and PLAY!
2A. HEIGHTEN YOUR INTENSITY.
Once you find yourselves in a game it can be difficult to know how to heighten the game. The most important thing is to extend that one fun thing you just discovered before you continue on with all those big ideas rushing to your brain. Repeat a small detail while finding variations on the pattern and heightening/building the intensity of the variations. Think of heightening as the “build-up” phase. Relish each level of intensity in this phase. Our tendency is to rush through it because we are concerned with making sense of the scene and telling a story. The key is to be engaged and keep following the rules of the game. Each level of heightening/building must have an effect on you, and that effect must be amplified by all scene partners.
3. RECOGNIZE WHEN THE GAME ENDS.
All good things should come to an end. Once you’ve fully entertained yourselves with that game… “move on”.
Now, be ready to discover the next game and pick it up when it presents itself.
Discovering and playing the game with passion the game with intensity is how I have the time of my life with groups like Swim Team and Killer Giraffe. Practicing these steps, while being on the same page as my teammates, takes the pressure off our shoulders and we end up with a great show, great games, and a happy audience.