Perspectives would certainly rank amongst my favorite narrative games. If you’re familiar with Narrative Collage the premise is very similar but the mechanics are less tech dependent. This version allows players to self-edit and generally speak in an established order while Narrative Collage places this function in the hands of the technician who can raise the lights on any character at whim. The game also benefits from a slightly more luxurious pace: it can easily fill seven or eight minutes given the chance.
A unifying event or scenario is obtained where a group of characters might congregate or share a moment of significance. Four players form a line in front of the audience, with each one stepping forward when it’s their turn. The first player (typically positioned stage right) is the first to speak and begins a narration from the point of view of a unique character of their making. After perhaps a couple of sentences they step back and the next player in the sequence continues the storytelling process, offering the beginning of a new arc from their own character’s perspective. Once all four characters have established their personae, the sequence continues through multiple rotations until eventually all four characters and stories meet in a culminating moment in time inspired by the initial suggestion.
The players form a line and are inspired by the audience suggestion of “first car”.
Player A: (stepping forward) “It’d been a quiet day on the lot. Sometimes you just don’t get much interest even though these cars certainly can sell themselves given the chance! I had settled in at my desk with my newspaper and a cup of joe when I saw someone out by the new models. Here was my chance…”
Player B steps forward as “A” returns to the line.
Player B: (with a burst of energy) “Finally 16! I thought the day would never come. I’d worked all year to get my grades up ’cause (in a mocking voice) ‘that was the deal!’ The weekend couldn’t get here soon enough: the old lady was taking me car shopping!!!”
Player C has stepped forward as “B” retreats.
Player C: “I’ll be perfectly honest, I didn’t think she’d do it. Kelly has never been a particularly focused student so I thought I was safe making the deal. All our way to the car dealership I just couldn’t believe this was actually happening. My heart was racing – what had I done? But a deal is a deal…”
Player D is now downstage.
Player D: “It was a brutally hot day. And here I was, sitting out in the sun again with my siblings all around me. This wasn’t the life I was expecting, just to sit and wait and wait and wait. I longed to feel the rush of the open road.”
Player A: “This older lady was nearly hyperventilating by the newer models as I made my way causally up to my marks. It’s never a good idea to come on too strong…”
The joy of this game is watching four very different characters and narratives develop and eventually merge at the established event or location. Active listening is particularly important, as is the ability to shelf and reuse ideas planted in the early rounds of the narrative. (Advice in my earlier callback post here is particularly on point for this particular scene so this might be worth a quick look.)
Traps and Tips
1.) Dynamic character casting choices are key. Generally players cast themselves in the moment as the game unfolds. A team member may nominate themselves to go first if they have a strong launching point in mind by placing themselves in the stage right position. It’s important to listen closely to the intent and energies of the characters as they are established so that you don’t inadvertently miss an opportunity to have a critical voice present, carelessly duplicate a character’s energy or function, or weave the characters too closely together right from the beginning. I’m a fan of taking a calculated risk in the third of fourth position once you have a sense that the fundamental roles are well covered. An unexpected, ambiguous or curveball choice here can add some interest and risk to the game – perhaps a character that has no immediately clear connection to the anticipated arc, or as modeled above, it can be fun to give voice to an inanimate object whose identity may not be instantly apparent. Once you’ve discovered the joy of this type of outlier choice, you need to be cautious that your Perspective scenes don’t become populated solely by these types of voices as it can be a challenge to move the story along in a helpful manner from only marginal or peculiar positions, hence my advice to hold off on this type of casting until later in the mix when you can assess what voice might be missing or needed. Such a patient approach also allows the clear creation of the routine or “norm” for the audience before you break it.
2.) Explore different starting points. Players should aim to have all their characters present in the same narrative moment to close the scene – from the example above, perhaps they all all speeding down the highway together with Kelly at the wheel. While it’s expected that the stories will unify and merge for the climactic event, narratives can and should start from different moments in the preceding timeline. One narrator might begin weeks before the fateful moment, while another starts earlier that morning, and a third is narrating from just minutes before everyone collides. This variety increases the likelihood that you’ll establish interesting character backstories and given circumstances that can provide color and interest for the story further down the road. To some degree you can apply this same strategy to location although you might want to be wary of having a character that starts their journey so far away that they spend the whole story arc merely justifying their travels. Thinking too much of the ending as you’re beginning the game will needlessly diffuse the risk and joy of the storytelling challenge.
3.) Vary your narrative arcs and rhythms. Depending on your given performance parameters I’ve found that the game usually thrives with five or six rotations through the team as this allows sufficient time to establish, build and connect the various characters. It’s typical to maintain the speaking order as this optimizes the flow and focus exchanges especially if you’re playing in a setting where theatre lights are unavailable to do this for you. In addition to exploring contrasting starting points and arcs as players move towards the climax, also consider dynamic rhythms in terms of your narrative lengths and styles. The game can feel a little plodding if every narration is three or four sentences apiece, and especially as the rising action builds it’s dynamic to have some quick one-liners or responses thrown into the mix. It can also become exciting to break the narrative order with deliberateness if and when an appropriate story telling opportunity arises. If everyone is speeding down the highway, for example, it’s foreseeable that the scene might culminate in a cascade of overlapping voices and screams which is very much in the spirit of the structure.
4.) Strategically utilize endowments and callbacks. As characters may exist in slightly different moments initially in each others’ timelines, players should take extra care when it comes to making and receiving endowments. There can also be fruitful tensions between how characters perceive each other as opposed to their inner perceptions, so while the mother might think she was successfully hiding her anxiousness throughout the day others could paint her as a complete nervous wreck. Or the car dealer might believe that they are suave and able to subtly manipulate potential buyers while this is not the persona they actually present to the world. It’s also helpful not to rush bringing all the characters together as this allows more leisurely shelving and reincorporating of scenic elements. It is particularly effective and rewarding when characters are able to callback little details that others established when the storylines weren’t yet connected. Does the car dealer have terrible stale coffee breath? Is the car on the lot overheating after being in the sun so long?
While the narratives in Perspectives are generally in the past tense, it can be a fun finesse for these to shift into the present as the stories connect and culminate, giving that final moment a little more urgency and dynamism. I’ve found that most improvisers find the central conceit of this game quite accessible and enjoyable, and it’s a great way to really build and feature teamwork.
Connected Concept: Callback