This exercise so clearly demonstrates the importance of Objectives that I use it in both my scripted and improvisational classrooms. Get Them To… pits characters against one another in their efforts to obtain their true – albeit random – desires.
Players work in groups of three. Prior to the exercise, each player is given a random objective or want from the coach or instructor. (Generally it works fine just to have the other two players hum while covering their ears and looking away so as not to hear their teammates’ prompts.) Once each player has their scenic need, a location is obtained that doesn’t needlessly hamper the characters. For example, if one character is fighting to have another sit on the floor, the scene shouldn’t be placed in a zero gravity locale! Players improvise a scene in this known environment in which they must actively strive to have another onstage character fulfill their secret want. If a character is clearly successful, they may simply utter “Thank you” once their goal has been met and then leave the action. A caller may prove necessary to quickly determine if more ambiguous actions adequately fit the bill. A time limit is provided (two minutes or so works well) and the scene continues until this time target has been reached or everyone has achieved their want. Players may deploy any tactic they see fit other than physically forcing fellow players to their will or putting others at the risk of harm.
Player A has been (privately) provided with the objective of getting another player to shake their hand in the course of the scene. The trio has been offered a supermarket as the initial prompt. Player A approaches B as the scene begins.
Player A: “I’m terribly sorry that you’ve had such a bad experience shopping with us today.”
Player B: “I really have come to expect much better service from this establishment.”
Player C: (assuming the role of a child, to Player B) “You said we were only going to be a minute. Can we go home now?”
Player B: “Just a moment sweetie.”
Player A: (opening a mimed door) “Why don’t you step into my office. I’m the manager, Ms. Feliciano, and it’d be my pleasure to help resolve this.”
Player A extends their hand…
Players should fight strategically to obtain their provided objective. The exercise thrives when players deploy a wide range of tactics. It can be tempting to discuss possible strategies prior to seeing the exercise in action, but allow improvisers to discover the various ways to “win” in realized moves rather than discussed theory.
Traps and Tips
1.) Assigning the objectives… I have a well-worn list of possible objectives that I use (I’m wary to share it here for fear my students will read them!) Generally, it’s helpful to provide a variety of objective types – perhaps a physical need (someone needs to give you a drink of water), a verbal need (someone needs to thank you for a job well done), and a curve ball or less likely need (someone needs to provide you with directions to the nearest gas or petrol station.) In many ways, it doesn’t really matter what the objectives are so long as they need another player to complete them. For this reason, you wouldn’t want to assign a goal of “you need to sing a song” or similar as that objective can be satisfied without the aid of another character. One of the lovely lessons of this game is that seemingly random needs can actually inspire dynamic choices and action when we actively require something from our scene partners.
2.) Encouraging the play… If the players (characters) stop fighting for their desires in the scene or lose interest in the pursuit, the audience will very quickly follow suit. There is certainly no one “correct” way to play the game – characters may aggressively charge towards their need from the first moment of the scene, adopt a much more stealthy approach and bide their time, or assume any variety of tactics between these extremes. However, if players give up or relentlessly repeat the same unsuccessful tactic again and again and again, the resulting scene will quickly fizzle into lethargic stagnation. Especially with novice players, it may prove helpful to sidecoach or nudge them into new choices and actions. Mundane or dull repetitive tactics are unlikely to capture the audience’s imagination: this is another important lesson that transcends the particular site of this game.
3.) Enjoying the risk… As the fear sinks in that successful players are able to leave the scene – thereby reducing the likelihood that remaining players can achieve their goals – it can become common for scenes to become blocking parties as no-one wants to inadvertently release another from the action. Savor the delightful risk of embracing others’ ideas. It’s important that players practice good improv etiquette, honoring the realities and choices of their partners, but players needn’t succumb to actions that are not in their own best interest. If Player B senses that Player A is angling for a handshake, it is well within the spirit of the game for them to find socially acceptable alternatives and excuses for avoiding this gesture at all costs. But, it is much more entertaining for everyone involved if these evasions do not consist of blatant blocks or denials. Justify your choices and rebukes in ways that still sustain the energy and reality of the scene: “I’m sorry, I’d love to shake your hand but I’m recovering from a terrible cold…” Just as is the case in real life, characters have no obligation to fulfill their partner’s wants, but they do need to accept the world in which these choices are emerging – this would be a third critical discovery from the game.
4.) Unpacking the strategies. The audience can garner such delight in these scenes as they are “in the know” and can see the hidden maneuvers that might not be readily apparent to those within the action. I’ve found it helpful to take a moment after each scene to examine what was experienced. On occasion all three players might end the scene with their objectives met, but it’s much more common for the majority to remain unsatisfied as the time limit is reached. It’s important to note that it is similarly common for characters not to ultimately obtain their desires in a theatrical action and that this, in no way, diminishes the power and purpose of pursuing strong objectives. It can prove insightful to ask the onstage players what they believed their partners were fighting for, and to invite the audience to celebrate particularly noteworthy tactics. As you cycle through multiple scenes, players tend to build a greater awareness as to what might be motivating others’ actions, usually so that they can thwart them and increase their own odds of success! This heightened awareness of what others are doing is yet another great take away from the exercise.
I love the learning curve that this exercise typically provides. What works in one scenic iteration will almost invariably prove unsuccessful in the next as players take on this new knowledge and suspicion. Tactics are ever-evolving and won’t translate from one situation to another wholesale: players must continue to work at the top of their intelligence and not just mimic what may have worked before. It’s also revealing that even the most random of objectives – someone needs to offer you a seat – can result in breathtakingly dynamic and engaging scene work. Characters, then, that self-select desires that are more organically and intrinsically linked to the dramatic arc – someone needs to pay for your family’s dishonor – are even better equipped to chart energized and provocative paths.
Connected Concept: Objective