Few dynamics more fully manifest the import of Complementary Actions than endowing games, and Gibberish Job Mime stands as a helpful example that clearly makes this point. This iteration primarily functions as warm-up or skills-building exercise, but it’s closely related to games like Occupation Endowments if you’re looking for a version more suited to public performance.
Players work simultaneously in pairs scattered throughout the workshop space and pre-determine who will assume the role of Player A and Player B. Player A will go first and is instructed to privately select an occupation that they must endow onto Player B so that by the end of the short vignette B will ideally understand their intended role. In the scene that follows, Player A must only use complementary actions as interactive clues, all-the-while using Gibberish and physical choices to communicate. Player B should respond in English (or the language you are working in) throughout the exploration as they endeavor to ascertain their identity in relation to Player A. If they feel they have a strong sense of the “solution” they should test their theory in a pointed line of dialogue: “Well, as your doctor, I think you’re going to need some significant bed rest for a full recovery.” If they are, indeed, successful, Player A can signal as such and button the scene. If their assumption is incorrect or incomplete, Player A should continue to offer scenic clues. Once successful or a time limit has been reached, players exchanges roles.
Without indicating their secret choice to their partner, Player A decides upon the occupation of waiter as their endowment. Player B stands to the side as A begins by standing patiently and checking their watch.
Player B: (entering) “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting.”
Player A: (slightly irritated) “Dashka bellah tahkackney…”
Player B: “Of course.”
Player A enters the space with confidence and gestures to a chair.
Player B: “That would be great.”
Player A sits, and unfolds a mimed “menu”
Player A: (inquiring) “Lea shatahly kanoogzy?”
Player B: “You’re right. That magazine is terribly old. Let me get you another one…”
The critical rule and focus for Gibberish Job Mime is that the endower (Player A in the example above) cannot become or embody the desired occupation as this would serve as a parallel action thereby showing the endowee (Player B) what they should do. Only complementary actions can be deployed as these create more complex relationships between the two characters. In this manner, in our efforts to help Player B understand that they are a waiter we could act as a customer, a food critic, a head chef, a restaurant manager, a busser…, or if you really want to make it challenging, a devoted spouse helping them de-stress after a long shift. You can essentially be anything other than another waiter.
Traps and Tips
1.) Challenge each other. It’s more than appropriate when first approaching this dynamic to select broad job categories, such as doctor or professor, but as players become comfortable encourage more complex or specific choices, such as a phlebotomist or high school substitute math teacher. This not only makes the exercise more demanding by requiring more thoughtful complements and endowments, but typically increases the fun and risk as well. It’s fine if the endowee doesn’t ultimately get the exact intended nuance, as long as all involved were sharpening their skills in the process.
2.) Avoid empty language. When performing in the endower position (Player A) there can be a tendency to nervously fill empty space with nonsensical Gibberish rather than carefully using this language substitute to convey a definitive intent. It can quickly feel overwhelming as Player B if you’re faced with an unbroken wall of sound. Instead, strive to use small bite-sized Gibberish phrases and then allow your partner sufficient space to return the “improv ball” so you can get a stronger sense of what they are and are not understanding. Ultimately, it’s not your Gibberish alone that will help them, but rather your inflection, body language, subtext, gestures, staging and use of the environment.
3.) Avoid empty responses. There is a similar trap in the endowee (or Player B) position. Although this player is using their own language, the fear of misunderstanding A’s Gibberish can make them stall and wimp as opposed to bravely play along. Avoid asking questions, “What is that you’re holding?” in lieu of making assumptions, “Sure, I’d love an ice cream.” Remember that the conceit is that both characters are having a conversation: they just happen to be doing so in two completely different languages! Don’t let each scene degrade into a blatant guessing game or you’ll quickly lose interest. This is particularly problematic if Player B essentially just names a list of possible occupations. It’s generally more helpful to hold off on doing this explicitly until you feel you have a strong sense of the intention.
4.) Break it down. While players are focusing on the product of correctly solving the mystery of the occupation, they shouldn’t lose sight of the equally important (if not more so) process of creating a scene and story. Once Player A has selected a suitable hidden occupation and their initial complementary relationship, they should bring Player B into their world gradually and lovingly. Fully utilize core improv principles such as CROW to construct your narrative. Where are these two characters likely to meet or need each other? Are you inside or outside? Are there any significant props or furniture pieces that Player B will need to conduct their profession? What is the history or relationship between the two players? Is either character wearing anything in particular that defines them? If you try to answer all of these questions at once you’ll undoubtedly overwhelm the scene and your partner. Rather, make one foundational choice, let them respond, and then weave their reaction into a next step.
In addition to sharpening Gibberish, endowing, justifications and non-verbal communication skills, Gibberish Job Mime serves as an excellent reminder to focus on the process of creation. Yes, the stated intent of the exercise is to communicate an unknown profession to your scene partner, but scenes are often wildly joyful, entertaining and successful in spite of the outcome (hence my encouragement not to diminish the challenge once you understand the underlying principles). Encourage players to make sure they are not slipping into parallel actions (they want “B” to serve as a mechanic, so they also become a mechanic). Pantomiming or “teaching” components of the intended job is similarly problematic (“A” grabs a drill and models putting it in their mouth to show “B” that they should now be a dentist). Exploring the power and fun of complementary actions can often prove quite liberating as players unlock the myriad of ways they can create and communicate relationships on stage.
Connected Concept: Complementary Action