Stand, Sit, Kneel, Lie is a short-form game that assumes a four-person team but it can easily be adapted to three people with Stand, Sit, Lie, or you can play the more generic version, Levels, where the precise postures aren’t stipulated beforehand. This game tends to become playfully farcical as improvisers quickly shift positions, but it’s core tenants also provide a good workshop exercise for encouraging more dynamic staging, especially if your company has a tendency to just stand in lines and talk. As a very physical conceit, this format is probably not user-friendly (or safe) for players with mobility limitations or concerns.
A scene is explored in which (when all four characters are onstage) one player must be standing, one sitting, another kneeling, and the last player lying down. Any and all changes in posture must be justified with improvisers also immediately shifting their positions so that no two players satisfy the same staging requirement at any given time.
Player A and B begin a scene inspired by the suggestion of a subway platform. As the lights rise Player A is lying on the subway bench while B is pacing beside them.
Player B: “I can’t believe we’re going to have to wait another 30 minutes to catch the last train. This is all your fault!”
Player A: (briefly looking up) “How many times can I apologize? I thought I left my ID at the bar.”
Player B: “It was in your pocket the whole time! Who doesn’t check their pocket before walking 2 miles back to a bar?”
Player A: “Well, we both know the answer to that now, don’t we…”
Player C slowly walks into the scene carrying a large bag of groceries.
Player B: (pushing A’s feet aside and sitting by them on the bench) “I have my big interview tomorrow morning, and now I’m not going to be back to our apartment before midnight…”
Player C looks around for somewhere to sit but A and B are on the only bench.
Player A: (looking up, whispering) “Maybe we should offer them a seat?”
Player B: (snarking) “You’re the one taking up the bench…”
Something has rolled out of C’s grocery bag (an orange?) and they bend down (now kneeling) to gather it.
Player C: (half to themselves) “I’m so clumsy…”
Player B: (leaping back to their feet instinctively) “Can I help you…?
Player C: “You’re too kind. Actually I could use a hand getting up. I find it easier on the way down than the way back up again…”
Player B offers their arm as A now sits up on the bench…
This is clearly a justification game but it’s also a “get yourself into trouble” game as well. If you are too timid with your staging choices (or largely remain static throughout the scene) you’re missing the challenge and a lot of the merriment!
Traps and Tips
1.) Avoid “in between” positions. Much of the visual joy and success of this game relies on clear and distinct physicalities. If the audience is unclear whether or not a character is sitting or kneeling – especially in the later phases of the scene when everyone is probably onstage – the dynamic can quickly lose its charm and effectiveness. It’s helpful to move quickly to an extreme version of your chosen posture and then adjust and justify as needed. A lot of the fun, in fact, is seeing two or more players both fall to the floor (or any of the four positions) in an effort to balance the stage picture only to have them realize that it now needs to be adjusted once more. This good-natured squirming is part of the game’s contract, but if there are protracted periods of time when no-one can figure out which postures are present, the scene will lose precision and steam.
2.) Establish a detailed world. Clearly placed set pieces and props (both literal and imagined) are your friend in this game. If you have chairs, blocks or set pieces at your disposal, it’s helpful to get some of these into the playing space before the scene begins so that you can increase your staging options. Props and set pieces are also great ways to justify or inspire quick staging adjustments. As the scene becomes more populated it’s challenging to have every new pose verbally justified without a lot of chaos and over-talking. If players can walk to the train track’s edge, or drink from a fountain, or wrestle for their purchase from a vending machine, there are now more toys in the improv playground to exploit and unspoken physical motivations for moving around have increased.
3.) Patiently pace the climax. While it’s part of the contract of the game to have all four players on stage for a reasonable period of time so that all four poses can be embodied and exchanged simultaneously, there’s no need to rush to this moment. It’s helpful to see smaller clusters initially so that the audience can learn and warm up to the conceit and so that the players can establish their relationships and given circumstances. It’s generally challenging to get much content of note out when the staging gimmick is firing on all cylinders. Skillfully transforming the stage picture while honoring the four distinct positions at ever-increasing speeds serves as a delightful culmination, but if you’ve not laid the groundwork for a story as well this equally important element will likely evaporate quickly. The physical finesses are made all the sweeter if they are serving a robust story arc at the same time.
4.) Leave room (and poses) for others. It can be tricky for new characters to enter these scenes especially if the more ambulant poses are already spoken for, so be aware if a fellow player is waiting in the wings. They can certainly just walk in thereby assuming the standing position and forcing a shift, but this may clutter their entrance if they have a strong gift in mind so it can also be nice earlier in the game to vacate this pose ahead of time. (Later in the scene, seeing novel entrances necessitated by the only available posture adds a great challenge!) In this regard also be extra cognizant to leave vocal room for new characters to establish their points of view. Being mindful to share the task of initiating changes and responding to them is another helpful approach in terms of balance. Lastly, be wary of hanging on to one posture for a long period of time: I have seen this work on occasion as a torture or shivving ploy, but more often than not it just limits the possible permutations if one player is the only one who ever gets to lie down (or sit, or stand, or kneel.) After a few beats of this the scene can just start to feel stuck.
The Levels version of this game mentioned above merely replaces the explicit four poses with the challenge that no two players can assume the same height at any given moment. This is generally most easily assessed by head heights, but it can make for less seamless transitions as players have to over scrutinize their stature at any given moment. I prefer Stand, Sit, Kneel, Lie for this reason as there’s less room for confusion and consequently more room for abandon. The three-person version is also workable but definitely misses something from a mathematical perspective as there are noticeably fewer possible posture permutations with only three options.
Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr
Connected Concept: Levels