There are a few improv forms floating around under the name of Bus Stop so this might not be the dynamic you are expecting! In this version, players work patiently together to build and recognize the Game of the Scene.
A simple bus stop is constructed, perhaps with a few chairs forming a bench or similar. A team of four to six players work together. One at a time they enter – in silence – and start to wait for the bus. As each new character arrives, players should pay particular attention to the choices and assumptions of their teammates and seek to gently mirror and build on any evolving dynamics. By the end of the silent scene, all the onstage characters should simultaneously leave the stage at the same time and for the same reason thereby bringing the scene (and the discovered game or games) to a climactic end.
Player A is the first to enter. They mime that they are bundled up to escape the cooler weather, and after glancing down the street, place themselves in the middle of the petite bus bench. They have a self-conscious air as they sit and wait…
Player B is the next to enter after a few moments of silence. They too adjust their jacket acknowledging the coolness of the day, and as A did before them, glance to see if the bus is coming (but this time in the opposite direction). They look at the bench and Player A casually moves aside a little to make room. After a moment’s hesitation Player B sits and they both wait while avoiding eye contact or any interaction…
Player C enters…
There is an innate beauty to this dynamic when players cede control to the group and playfully follow each other’s whims and cues. Avoid over-thinking, over-planning and over-manipulation. Often the subtlest of choices will result in the most revelatory of journeys when it is given air and attention. While the game occurs in silence, simple utterances (sighs, grunts, coughs…) are certainly in the spirit of the exercise.
Traps and Tips
1.) Accidents should happen. There can be a tendency when we are improvising or teaching the craft to encourage obvious “choices” or “moves;” while Bus Stop requires specificity the game will generally suffer if players try to pointedly pitch or force a game. Rather, the scene flourishes when players engage in simple and honest behavior trusting that something of interest will emerge of its own accord. It’s often the innocuous and inadvertent gesture or reaction that unlocks the scene’s potential and launching point. Player C could enter being chased by a swarm of killer bees, but this doesn’t really honor anything that has come before. Instead of “solving” the riddle of the scene, enjoy the process of discovery. Player A and B have already offered several potentials in their seemingly mundane behavior, in addition to the smaller gestural or emotional moments that don’t easily translate into the written word.
2.) It’s about others. When you release yourself of the pressure of having to individually “fix” the scene you open yourself up to the manifold possibilities exuded by your teammates. Move your focus onto them and their actions. What has someone else done that triggers your interest or imagination? What inspiration are others offering and exploring that you can elevate and join? There are few improv exercises that teach so clearly the gift of releasing personal agendas in lieu of supporting the flow and momentum of the ensemble. Enjoy this individual lack of responsibility. The task isn’t one player figuring out a solution or motivation and then dragging everyone else along but rather everyone finding a common path forward together that can ultimately result in a mass exodus. If you enter the stage having determined how you want to justify the requisite exit ahead of time, the resulting experiment will retain little cogency.
3.) Silence is golden. Silent improv can prove discomforting to many but it truly provides a helpful frame as you don’t have to worry about the words of the scene or constructing witty or interesting dialogue. The small gestures – a turned head, an awkward smile, a nervous cough – all become the language of the scene. Make sure you are looking for and actively exploiting these subtle gifts. Be wary of anxiously pushing the scene forward too quickly. Entrances should be patiently staggered so as to give your teammates sufficient time to find their rhythms and energies: the more players there are on stage, the more likely it is for something beautiful but understated to go unnoticed. Keep this in mind as well as you are waiting offstage for your entrance as inattentiveness will easily trample the embers of the game already in progress.
4.) Parallels reign supreme. I’ve confessed elsewhere that I tend to prefer complementary actions in my own work but Bus Stop resolutely invites a parallel approach and attitude. If players think and offer up different as opposed to elevate and heighten same the scene is likely to stall in its efforts to find a collective climax and unified exit. Gently replicating and mirroring the choices of your fellow players will likely elevate existing choices and keep them in the mix. Needless cleverness or originality will usually have the opposite effect. Don’t be afraid of the obvious: if the three players before you have all agreed upon a certain behavior, attitude or staging choice, then you have been provided a helpful path to follow. If they were a little cold, be a little cold too but in your own way. There’s no need to venture into brave new territory and, in fact, such an attitude will likely result in everybody ending up lost!
To return to the example above, Player C has been gifted many possibilities that could become the game of the scene with a little attention and heightening: the frosty weather, the way that prior characters have checked the time, or looked in different directions for the bus, or sat squished on the bench, or avoided eye contact, or the dozens of even more nuanced quirks or peccadillos that can’t help but emerge in embodied performance. What’s critical in this scene (and arguably more generally) is that games most readily and robustly develop when we play by the rules and parameters others have offered. One player alone can’t ordain a desired rationale for making everyone leave the bus stop together.
Connected Concept: Game of the Scene