As a comparatively user-friendly structure that focuses on intertwining relationships, La Ronde is an accessible Long-Form that works well as a stand-alone event, launching point for a larger piece, or as one element woven into a more complex hybrid performance.
La Ronde consists of a series of two-character vignettes that eventually reconnect to form a complete circle of duos. The sequence begins with two players, A and B, who establish their relationship and improvise a short scene. As this moment reaches its culmination, Player C initiates a new scene which B joins. While Player B retains the same character, we will now see them in a new relationship with C. This scene continues until a new scene is started by Player D that now incorporates Player C. This process continues through the company, with everyone (except Player A) ultimately getting two vignettes back-to-back. The cycle reaches completion when the last new player – H perhaps – joins a new scene initiated by the original Player, A.
Player A and B craft a scene in a restaurant as old college friends. B has been working up the courage to quit a high paying job to form a fledging design company of their own. Player A shows support, but as someone who has struggled to settle into any one job for nearly a decade, advises against doing anything too rash.
Player C establishes themselves as B’s romantic partner and B joins them in a car as the couple drive to a mutual friend’s baby shower. Peppered throughout the conversation, C drops multiple hints about being ready for a next phase in their life as a couple, especially since they are now so well established and secure financially. B evades – not against this new addition but rather unsure if this is the right time. B has not shared the potential of quitting their job yet. The couple arrives at the party before any definitive resolution can be reached.
Player D creates a children’s playground and endows C as their sibling. As D watches their children play they share how much they are glad they took the leap and committed to parenthood. C is the older sibling and increasingly feels jealous of the unfolding scene. Player D remarks that they just bought a house in a new neighborhood with better schools. Player C confesses feeling unsure about what might be next…
There is a lot to mine from this elegant structure but it’s particularly well-fitted to exploring multi-faceted characters and relationships, as well as pacing story arcs over the course of a longer trajectory. If you’re playing the structure in it’s simplest form (one rotation through the players) then characters will only appear twice – so keep this in mind in terms of making sure characters hit the stage with strong perspectives and desires or you might get to the end of your scene without feeling like you’ve accomplished or experienced much of note.
Traps and Tips
1.) Transitions. There are a few ways you can approach the transitions between the scenes. If your company excels at tag-outs, this edit is a common strategy with new players tagging out the player who has been onstage the longest and then initiating a new premise. It can be a nice finesse to include verbal or physical freeze tag conventions – repeating the prior line in a different and loaded way, or justifying your partner’s old pose in a new light – but this is by no means standard or necessary. It can be enough to tag or wave out the superfluous player and just confidently launch into the next step. A second approach that can work well in more theatrical venues is for the incoming player to create their new location in a different area of the stage in soft focus. This physical offer invites the staying character to wrap up their current scene so that they can simply turn and enter the established awaiting world. This can take a little practice in terms of the style and logistics, but has the added advantage that it encourages more robust locations and staging, and gives the new player a little more literal and figurative space to get a specific idea up and running for their partner to join. A third option consists of keeping one location consistent for the whole exploration and facilitating new combinations merely through entrances and exits. This replicates the central dynamic of Here Comes the Bus (which I explore here) where the whole scene occurs in real time at one bus stop.
2.) Relationships. Most wisdoms in regards to “stranger danger” and the like apply here. While it’s possible to explore one set of acquaintances or characters that are only tangentially connected, making relationships of this ilk the bread and butter of the form won’t set you up for success. The game can certainly have a lovely “slice of life” feeling, and doesn’t need to have overtly dramatic or “cliff hanger” plot points to thrive, but populating the world with virtual strangers results in a lot of heavy lifting just to make sense of why these two characters are sharing a scene. Relationships that share common histories increase the stakes, emotional intensity and narrative potentials. With only two scenes each (in the base model) it’s helpful for characters to know some of what their partner is going through so that they can make helpful assumptions and additions. This format also provides a wonderful opportunity to see a character in two contrasting settings, so embrace the chance to embody opposites and contradictions. If you’re a player entering the stream later in the series, it’s wise to keep in mind patterns and avoid replicating what types of relationships have already been amply seen – lovers, siblings, co-workers, neighbors, friends – as this also encourages variety and rich new dynamics.
3.) Material. When you are the new character entering La Ronde it can prove very tempting to immediately jump onto the “deal” that your partner already has going or to be the character that they just mentioned. Neither approach is “wrong” by any means; however, this can start to quickly narrow the focus and story potentials of the piece which can prove problematic in the long run, especially if your intent is to explore multiple rounds or use this as a launching point for a lengthier performance. I advise that while you should certainly honor what your partner has already established, it’s often extremely helpful for you to be a little “selfish” in the Mick Napier “taking care of yourself to ultimately help your partner” kind of way. Player C could start their vignette by talking about B’s intent to quit their job, but this often has the unfortunate result of leaving C with very little of their own to explore when they have their second scene. Instead, it’s often helpful to complicate your scene partner’s choice in a more tangential way (wanting children raises the stakes of quitting a stable job) rather than repeating the prior dynamic or plot point. Allowing multiple equally interesting story threads to emerge also opens up the possibility for later scenes to forward previously (or yet-to-be) encountered characters’ journeys in novel ways: perhaps Player G is Player A’s current boss who needs to downsize the company.
4.) Time. Generally La Ronde works well when characters are all moving forward on the same timeline, so if the first scene happens around lunchtime, the second may be later that afternoon, and the third could be at the end of the workday. It’s certainly possible to incorporate flashbacks or more significant time jumps, but these have a tendency to confuse the company and audience alike if they’re not explicitly clear and understood. All it takes is for one character to inadvertently puncture this reality by referencing something that doesn’t gel with the current timeline and the whole story can be thrown into chaos. There is plenty of room to explore and grow while just gently moving through a day or two of action. If this is your approach it’s useful to also think of this as a contained environment. I like the concept of a family of characters that coexist in one smaller part of a city or town to maximize the likelihood that they all regularly move in each others’ circles. If you’re using this as a first act, it can also be helpful to establish a future event on the not-too-distant horizon so that everyone can easily reference a common moment: “I can’t believe it’s the prom in just three more days…”
5.) Applications. I’ve found that eight (or so) players works well in this form as this allows ample variety without the likelihood of too much confusion as everyone strives to recall names and details. Player A is a little uniquely tricky in this regard if you’re playing the basic model, as considerable time (easily fifteen to twenty minutes) can pass between their two vignettes and there is some pressure for them to find something resembling a button. If you’re looking for a more lengthy structure, you can easily expand La Ronde. Characters can move through more than one rotation – retaining their original sequence or shuffling it up so now Player A meets Player D in the second round, for example. All going well, after one or two rounds you’ll now have a bank of well-developed relationships and story potentials. These characters can then populate more free-form scenes edited at will or through another pre-determined system. If you’ve clearly established a major future event this can also serve as a great all-play to close out the performance: the event in question can also make for a great initiating audience suggestion.
In addition to providing a lovely stand-alone form, La Ronde is a great way to meet and develop a host of characters; subsequently, I’ve incorporated modified versions into several of my original dramaturgical long-forms. If you are newer to performing long-form, or have primarily trained in more thematic or porous modes, La Ronde provides a manageable frame for exploring a more linear or narrative style of play.
Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr
Connected Concept: Long-Form