When played with finesse there can be a captivating flow enabled by the short-form game Entrances and Exits as players joyfully nudge each other on and off the stage.
Usually played in a team of four, there are two fundamental rules that govern the traffic patterns of this game. The first rule is that there must always be two characters on stage at any given time, and the second rule is that there can only be two characters on stage at any given time. To keep this equilibrium all new entrances will necessitate quick and justified exits while any exiting character will require that a fellow player swiftly enters to take their place. The scene unfolds with players closely adhering to these conditions, shuffling through various character and relationship combinations as a result. As the stage must always be populated by two characters, the scene should also clearly begin in such a fashion so as to establish and honor the rules.
The scene begins with the suggestion of “tree house.” Players A and B begin onstage while their teammates C and D clearly wait to the side.
Player A: (putting down a crayon with an elaborate gesture) “And that concludes our tree house charter!”
Player B: “You have the neatest printing. I’m glad that you wrote it down.”
Player A: “You’re going to need to refer to me by my title now that I have been officially appointed as the tree house president.”
Player B: “I thought we were going to vote on that first…”
Player A: “Well, as the charter clearly indicates, in the event of a tie, the author of the charter, which in this case was me, will get to cast the deciding vote.”
Player B: “I don’t remember us talking about that!”
Player A: “I added it when you went to the toilet. I warned you about having too many juice boxes. So, anyway, clearly voting would merely be a formality at this point…”
Player C: (calling from offstage) “Everything okay up there kids? You’ve been awfully busy!”
Player B: (squirming) “I probably shouldn’t have had that last juice box…”
Player C: (calling) “I’m coming up!”
Player B: “I’ll be back in a second…”
Player A: “You can use the escape pole!”
As Player B “slides” down the escape pole, Player C mimes climbing up a ladder and through a hatch. There are now two players on stage once more. Player C has a bag of cookies.
Player C: “I thought you and your new friend might like a snack.”
Player A: “I thought we talked about trust and personal boundaries… But I will have a cookie…”
Be sure to give due attention to the staging practices, justifying all entrances and exits as well as providing interesting character combinations. Entrances and Exits shares many commonalities in terms of technical logistics with Key Word which I examined here. The first three tips discussed in this companion entry also strongly apply to the current offering.
Traps and Tips
1.) Clearly be in or out. It’s important to honor the central rules of Entrances and Exits and this is difficult to achieve if “offstage” players are not unequivocally offstage. If the audience becomes confused as to who is actually in the scene, then much of the charm of the game will fade. It’s okay to be an offstage voice as a third actor, but you need to be an offstage voice, remaining clearly in the wings to uphold the conceit. It’s a given that there will be fleeting moments in the transitions where the magical number of “two” is fudged for a second, but this shouldn’t become the norm. I’ve seen some companies encourage the audience to audibly indicate when the rules are broken with a grumble or boo. I’m torn about this conceit: while it increases audience engagement these interruptions can sap the drive and nuance of the scene. I’d rather that the team themselves quickly recognize, justify and adjust when they notice an infraction (perhaps with a gentle nudge from the host).
2.) Craft an exact environment. There is a lot to be gained from creating and sustaining a highly detailed environment. In addition to upping the level of challenge, knowing exactly what features are located both onstage and as destinations in the wings also adds specifics to the characters’ justifications. Is there a restroom located in the stage right wing and a parking garage stage left? In the tree house example, do you always use the pole to exit the house and the ladder to ascend or will other potentials also emerge: perhaps a makeshift window leads out onto a particularly robust tree branch or the roof of the house? The scene and dynamic can feel a little flat when characters just aimlessly wander in and out of the space. Make every entrance and exit physically precise and deliberate: don’t settle for the pedestrian. It’s also great to use the surprise of the cued stage directions to add to the emotion and attack of your characters.
3.) Consider all the possibilities. While you’ll want to prioritize the story first and the gimmick of the scene second, it’s helpful to keep in mind the different potential staging possibilities and look for opportunities to deploy them. There are actually only four basic choices in terms of organizing the comings and goings of the scene: a single player can leave the scene thereby causing another character to enter; a single player can enter the scene making another leave; both players can leave which would force both offstage players to cover them; or, finally, both offstage players can simultaneously enter with the inverse effect. This seemingly sparse range of alternatives magnifies considerably when you consider the who and how. The scene thrives with different character energies, and playfully exploring different physical ways of ingress and egress (climbing, crawling, running…) adds so much joy into the mix. Also remember that you can (should) use these staging prompts to serve the greater needs of the scene and your teammates.
4.) Change up the combinations. This advice echoes a similar comment I made about Key Word but it bears repeating here. Entrances and Exits generally involves a cast of four players each taking on one role each. A lot of the potential of the scene lies in getting different character combinations to the stage so that you can see all or most of these relationships (again, it’s not as many as you might think – it’s only six different pairings). Sticky feet, or an inability to leave the stage, can prove highly problematic in this format as it literally halves the potential character combinations if one character overstays their welcome. It’s possible that one character might emerge as central or the protagonist, but always be on the lookout for excuses to yield the stage to others. If you’ve been in two or three vignettes in a row, mathematically it will nearly always be your turn to leave.
In some ways, Entrances and Exits can feel like a condensed La Ronde with its core assumption of two-person vignettes. It can also provide a helpful strategy for moving focus in larger ensemble pieces. Be wary of diminishing these scenes into merely a staging gimmick; there is a lot of room in this format for grounded and interesting story and character work. I’ve been playing and coaching the game for nearly three decades now and am often struck by its resilience and ability to house a wide variety of tones and styles.
Connected Concept: Exits