Oscar-Winning Moments is essentially a short-form delivery system for Handles! It’s silly, unpredictable, and provides a great vehicle for trying out new dynamics in your scene work.
One player (often a member of an opposing team or the emcee) serves as the caller for the game. An original movie title traditionally serves as the ask-for which inspires the resulting scene. Players perform excerpts from this unique award-winning film and at regular intervals are interrupted by the caller who assumes the airs of a film critic. The caller announces “Freeze” and then explains why the next moment won accolades, pitching a playful handle in the process. Once this artistic feat has been witnessed, the caller dramatically whispers “Oscar” (ideally in a microphone) and the players return to the regular action of the movie. Generally three Oscar-worthy moments are featured before the scene culminates.
Players improvise excerpts from the original Western “A Bouquet of Bullets.” The action begins with Player A and B lying on the ground on a stake out…
Player A: “And you’re positive that this is where the cattle thieves are hiding?”
Player B: “I followed them here and saw it with my own eyes, Sheriff.”
Player A: “And they didn’t know that they were followed?”
Player B: “I did everything just like you showed me, Sheriff.”
Player A: “And you rounded up the rest of our posse and told them to meet us here?”
Player B: (pausing) “Well, I knew I forgot something Sheriff, and I just figured out what it was…”
The Sheriff throws the deputy a dirty look.
Caller: “Freeze. This next moment won the Oscar for the most intense whispered apology.”
Player A: “I gave you three measly jobs, deputy…”
Player B: (with increasing whispered intensity) “Look, I realize I’ve just gone and let you down, Sheriff, and I won’t pretend that you haven’t been like a parent to me. There’s nothing that you could say that could possibly make me feel any worse than I already do right now. I know you’ve put your trust in me. And I know this ain’t the first time I’ve let you down. I also know it probably won’t be the last time I let you down… But I’m trying, Sheriff, and I’ll keep trying as long as you keep letting me try. I am sorry that I can’t live up to your expectations…”
Caller: (dramatically) “Oscar!”
Player A has sat up with a startle.
Player A: “Look, there’s the ringleader coming out on the porch. I guess we’re going to have to take care of this ourselves. Now hand me my gun…”
Player B: “…About that…”
Leap into the scenic fire! This game rewards fearlessness, playfulness and joyful mischievousness. It’s also a great opportunity to flex your style muscles as an improviser and explore some dynamics and handles that are outside of your typical comfort zone.
Traps and Tips
1.) Commit. When played bravely you really don’t know what you’re going to get as an improviser in this scene. There’s more than a chance you may be pitched something a little peculiar or ill-formed, especially if the caller isn’t just walking through the paces. Take the risk to throw yourself fully at the challenge with a good faith effort to understand the caller’s intention. Sell the dynamic even (especially) if it’s a little odd or imprecise. Embracing strong emotions, character points of view and the scenic style can help greatly when the handle itself feels a little unreachable. The caller should ultimately have your back and can always edit the “Oscar moment” as a quick hit if need be. The audience will appreciate your commitment and good will if they see you giving your all even (especially) if it doesn’t quite land.
2.) Share. A little generosity goes a long way in this game. When played with joy and fearlessness there can be an unintended consequence of clutter as the handles are introduced. Make sure players are diligent and deliberate with focus in these moments and don’t just start randomly launching ideas into the scene: when the handles are enticing this can be an understandable temptation, but keep telling and sharing the story through the lens of the game. The caller can help in this regard by sharing the improv wealth and pitching various “moments” to specific characters – at least initially. This gives the team a clear launching point and will hopefully allow everyone an opportunity to have a chance in the hot seat. Using clear terms, such as “monologue,” “duet” or “group number” can also help to provide a clear expectation so that the team has the advantage of all starting on the same page.
3.) Discover. While it is good to have some potential handles in your pocket as the caller, avoid approaching the game with an inflexible agenda. Discovering unique handles that react to, frame and elevate the current action is the challenge and gift of the structure. Instead of having specific handles in mind, I find it helpful to have broad categories to guide me when I’m serving in the caller role. I offer some potentials in my handle post here, such as language, characterization and physicality. Using these or similar prompts to inspire your choices guarantees some variety while also keeping you open to the ebbs and flows of the story. And when the caller honors their instincts they are also more likely to utilize the inherent offers from their fellow improvisers in the scene.
4.) End big. I’ve found that the rule of threes tends to fit snugly with this game (unless you have an unexpected quick hit in the mix) so generally the scene ends as the third Oscar-winning moment culminates. It is useful to offer up a larger energy for this final dynamic. If you have access to a live musician or sound technician, challenges that incorporate music, dance or an “epic” style tend to land well. If the team has been struggling, it’s also a good time to pitch to strength so as to maximize the likelihood of a strong out. I’ll typically avoid calls of this ilk earlier in the scene so as to keep this option open even if I ultimately elect to go in a different direction. It can make the game a little wonky if you start with “the Oscar for the most unexpected show-stopping musical number” and then are unable to provide increasingly impressive dynamics to follow. Making the last call a moment that can eventually incorporate the team as a whole also makes sense.
I like the porousness of this short-form game and that the caller is emboldened to think outside the box. Other called games can tend to fall into repetitive patterns if you don’t mindfully avoid them. Enjoy the fact that there is room to experiment with new handles. Assume that some of these will live and die in that moment never to return to the stage again. Jump back up on the horse with joviality and let the audience relish these struggles alongside the successes!
Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Scott Cook
© 2021 David Charles/ImprovDr
Connected Concept: Handle