Game Library: “Furniture”

Furniture affords an opportunity for focused physical play on the part of the titular role. As one player spends the scene quite literally in the hands of their teammates, it can also invite Pimping when not approached with attentiveness and care. Beware!

The Basics

One willing player volunteers to serve as the physical embodiment of all the props and furniture pieces needed for the scene. Other players carefully deploy their teammate as the scene unfolds, using and reusing featured stage props to help color and inform the story. The furniture performer may use their whole body to represent larger objects, or just a limb or similar for smaller items, especially when more than one object is currently in use. As is the case with stage combat methodologies, the furniture should primarily remain in control of their own choices and movement.

Example

Player A volunteers to serves as the “Furniture” and the location of an antique store is acquired from the audience. As the lights rise, Player B is standing behind what will become a counter.

Player B: (under their breath) “Another slow shift. Time to close up for the day.”

Player A uses their body to create a counter in front of B and offers up their hand to serve as a rag. Player B gently accepts this offer and begins to (carefully) dust the counter. Player C and D, a married couple, stand at the edge of the stage and C taps on an unseen door.

Player C: “I’m not sure if they’re still open, honey.”

Player D: “I think I can see someone in there.”

As Player B leaves the counter to move to the door, Player A drops their prior position and quickly moves to create this entranceway with their body. Player C is now gently tapping on Player A’s back.

Player C: “Is anyone there?”

Player B: “Yes, sorry, I’m coming.”

Player B fidgets to find their keys which become Player A’s hand which is then used to unlock A’s body/door that laboriously swings open.

Player D: “We’re so sorry if you were closing up, but this is our last day in town and we’ve been eyeing that beautiful grandfather clock in your window all week…”

Player B: “No problem at all.”

Player C: “Everyone here is just so pleasant and accommodating!”

Player B leads the couple over to the shop “window” as Player A quickly assumes the guise of the aforementioned clock, swinging their arm in a predictable rhythm before them.

Player B: “You certainly have excellent taste. You just don’t see this kind of craftmanship anymore…”

The Focus

There is much fun to be had from the playful interaction between the furniture performer and the other characters in the scene. Keep an eye on the stage geography, remembering where key items have been created and stowed, and don’t neglect to also create interesting relationships and a dynamic story. The furniture gimmick is just that and won’t carry the scene on its own.

Traps and Tips

1.) Keep the furniture safe. I still have a very visceral memory from one of the first times I watched this game over thirty years ago. The scene took place in an abattoir (or butchery) and the furniture actor took on the role of a hanging carcass. A playful actor came up and cut off one leg, which the furniture actor lifted up in response. After a moment of playful contemplation, the actor decided to cut off the second leg that was now holding all of the furniture actor’s weight. The second player bravely (?) then lifted up their second leg and thumped down onto the stage on their knees. A small part of me as an observer was impressed by this level of complete acceptance and commitment; a much larger part of me was deeply concerned that I had just watched an improviser terribly injure themselves. (Luckily, they had not.) The moral of the story: don’t put the furniture into jeopardy. Look to challenge and inspire the player assuming this role, but always keep their safety front of mind. They shouldn’t be faced with either maintaining the integrity of the scenic reality or preventing themselves from getting injured. This tension, in essence, is the crisis at the center of pimping.

2.) Don’t needlessly list. It’s important that scenes don’t exist in a nowhere land; subsequently, it’s helpful to get a promising location (or prop-heavy occupation) as the prompt. While players should strive to keep their furniture teammate suitably occupied, sometimes this intent can manifest itself in a proclivity to suddenly list all manner of objects within the space whether or not they are of any immediate use or interest. Such an approach rarely adds anything of value, as it just sends the furniture careening from one ill-defined pose to another. (There is a potential exception to this rule noted below.) Allow sufficient time for each new item to become fully realized and detailed. So much of the charm of the game is seeing how a human body might become that counter, or door, or clock, or purse… Throwing out too many objects, especially at the top of the scene, typically stifles the creation of nuance and the little embellishments that can then fuel the story needs of the scene. Does the grandfather clock’s pendulum swing erratically calling into question it’s accuracy? Is the door to the store overly cumbersome and decrepit in a way that reflects the store in general?

3.) Furniture should follow and lead. Traditionally this game tends to cast the furniture largely in a responsive role, waiting for other improvisers to declare or describe their needs before stepping in to creatively address these offers. The furniture, subsequently, becomes the exclusive target of the playful torture, very much at the whim of their scene partners. This isn’t necessarily problematic, especially if there is excellent rapport between the players and a clear sense that challenges are being pitched and received with graceful abandon. If endowments move into pimping territory, however, it can quickly feel a little icky and this discomfort can increase further if there are perceived power or status inequities between the performers. (Be extra careful not to actually push the furniture around the stage trying to get them to be one thing after another as well – rather change your line of focus and let them move freely of their own volition.) It’s really important that the furniture player is clearly excited and equipped to assume this role so that it doesn’t feel coercive in any way. It can delightfully even the scales if the furniture also clearly leads some (if not many) choices. They should feel empowered to just create a new item in the space that now others must utilize and justify, or breathe unexpected details or malfunctions into their prompted physical creations.

4.) Reuse and recycle. Avoid cluttering the location with a needlessly voluminous array of inconsequential objects. As the scene matures, however, there is a great deal to be mined from strategically returning to prior creations at opportune moments. If the couple finally elects to purchase the grandfather clock, do we now see this wheeled over to the counter, and then finally through the previously established front door with each sequential step requiring the furniture performer to reprise their earlier roles? There is by no means a perfect number of props for the scene, but once you start dancing into the double digits you are probaby reducing the likelihood that everything can be clearly remembered and reused (hence the trap of listing props randomly as the scene begins.) Returning to prior furniture pieces as the scene progresses prevents this clutter and has the added advantage of allowing the featured player to really lock into their physical choices and endowments while building upon any discovered games. So if you’re a “regular” character, don’t feel the need to make every line of dialogue about a new prop. Let these emerge and reappear as the story dictates.

In Performance

It can prove helpful to think of the furniture player as the celebrated “star” of the scene as opposed to the hapless victim. This player needn’t necessarily possess gymnastic abilities, but the game is certainly served by featuring someone who finds excitement in expressing themselves through movement. Make sure endowments balance safety, silliness and story, veering from anything that the furniture (or audience) might view as pimping or painful – as recalled above, you don’t want to figuratively or literally pull the legs out from under another improviser. If in doubt, apply the golden rule of improv which is not so much “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” but rather “do unto others as you know they would prefer to have done unto them.”

Cheers, David Charles.
www.improvdr.com
Join my Facebook group here.
Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Pimping

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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