Here’s the second installment of the ImprovDr “Game Library” as I match up exercises with the concept of the week. Accepting is such a critical and pervasive underlying improv concept that I actually had a hard time narrowing down my choice for this entry. I’ve decided to offer up a game that almost consists of nothing but accepting at its most immediate and unbridled. It’s time to explore That’s Right Experts.
Two players, often seated, obtain a simple factual statement from the audience before the scene begins. As the expert scene starts, one player offers up this factoid, and then in quick succession both “experts” accept and extend upon the prior choice of their teammate. Players continue to “Yes and” each other as they discuss and extrapolate on the fact at hand, generally pursuing a curve of absurdity until their expertise arrives at an unexpected, but wholly justified, conclusion.
The “experts” obtain the suggestion that modern opera began in Ancient Greece.
Player A: “Well we all know what we’re here to discuss today, because frankly it’s been all over the news: you guessed it, folks are talking about how modern opera got it’s start in Ancient Greece.”
Player B: “That’s right Melanie! It was over 2500 years ago that the Greeks gathered in their huge outdoor theatres to hear the stories of the day.”
Player A: “You’re so right, these amphitheaters were so large that the actors really had to project in order to be heard all the way in the back.”
Player B: “That’s right, cause even the poor Grecians in the cheap seats needed to be able to hear all that poetry or they’d get restless and threaten to riot.”
Player A: “You couldn’t be more right, because these Grecian operas were actually designed to lull the masses into peaceful oblivion.”
Player B: “You’re right there, and that’s why the Grecians were known for bringing pillows and their night clothes to the performances…”
There is not a lot of room to hide in this scene as an improviser, and even as I just improvised the snippet above, I had to remind myself to fully accept the prior offer before adding a new element or tangent. A gentle curve of absurdity is key. You don’t want to leap from opera in Ancient Greece to smashing guitars in rock and roll solos in a few steps, although this might be a lovely place to end up by the end of the game. The fun is the journey. Avoid trying to force a particular outcome rather than allowing it to unfold for the players and audience simultaneously.
Traps and Tips
1.) Use and enjoy the titular refrain. While it certainly doesn’t need to be verbatim (as I’ve modeled above) there is a simple delight in echoing some version of “That’s Right” during the build of the expert scene. On a simple level, it can buy you a few seconds to process what your partner has just said, while on another it adds a playful energy to the rising action if the agreement and accepting heighten and become more and more passionate with each exchange. Don’t under-estimate the true joy of just watching fellow improvisers revel in the process with each other.
2.) Small steps are key. I know of few performance games that so inherently demand small and related steps. If you start to race to a perceived ending or desired conclusion, you’ve almost lost the battle before it has begun. The game really requires you to stay firmly in the moment, connected to your partner, looking for some simple potential in their prior offer. I’ve explored Reiterate/Repeat in a prior entry, and this approach can certainly be helpful as well to make sure that you have fully embraced the previous choice by paraphrasing some element of it before adding your own obviously unique twist or addition.
3.) Use what you know and sell what you don’t know. Especially in the first expert exchanges, it can be helpful to lay down some basic “facts” that are as close to the truth as your personal knowledge base can afford! In many ways, this provides the balance or routine before the unexpected connections and departures ensue. Remember that even if you’re way off in an early assertion, the audience loves it when we’re brave and take the risk to say something specific. This is also a key element of selling the expert frame of the format. If you equivocate too much with evasive vagueness, you’re also not providing your partner with details that they can recycle and re-frame.
4.) Pairs work well. While you could certainly have a larger panel of experts, or perhaps deploy an additional teammate to facilitate as a host, there is something about the rhythm and danger of just having two experts alternating lines back and forth that is bracing and exciting. Obviously adjust the game to suit your needs, but if you’re looking to increase the panel it might be wise to at least establish a default speaking order so that the ball doesn’t get dropped after each offer. This is part of the dynamism of just having two experts: there is no doubt where the focus is at any given moment.
5.) Remain physically engaged. I’ve mainly experienced this game with the experts seated beside each other, but I don’t think that it has to occur in this particular staging, although keeping the focus contained certainly assists the players in maintaining their connection and pace. While the dialogue is key, look for opportunities to engage strong points of view, character mannerisms and relationship foibles. Similarly, even if the scene starts in chairs, there’s no reason that the crescendo of “That’s right” needs to keep you in those chairs as the scene draws to a close.
I’ll confess that this game, for all the right reasons, still scares me a little, and while it’s been in my improv repertory for decades, it’s definitely not a format I see or play with great frequency. This brings me back to my earlier comment that this is really an elegant exercise with few bells or whistles that allows very few places to hide. If you’re not accepting fully and with abandon, and listening deeply to your partner, it can be hard for the narrative to unfold with ease. Give it a try and let me know how it goes! For those of us playing via the internet, I think this is a format that can work well in that medium as well.
Cheers, David Charles.
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Connected Concept: Accepting