Structurally similar to the more ubiquitous La Ronde (discussed here), Here Comes the Bus is a called long-form game or exercise that prioritizes the examination of Relationships between an array of characters living and working in a small town or city.
A simple bus stop is constructed with a few chairs or similar that can serve as a bench. Improvisers are generally preassigned an order although it can also work well with actors entering at will. In either case characters are not predetermined but merely who will enter the space next. The scene begins with Player A onstage waiting for the bus. They are soon joined by Player B and a vignette occurs that explores how these two characters know each other and what is happening in their worlds on this particular day. When an outside caller feels that sufficient time has been given to establish a clear dynamic they announce “Here comes the bus,” at which point the character that has been on stage the longest – in this case, Player A – boards the bus and leaves the stage. The remaining character portrayed by Player B is shortly joined by a new actor, Player C, enabling a new relationship to be explored. Each subsequent vignette is edited by the same device of the arriving bus until all players have had an opportunity to wait at the bus stop. As is the case with La Ronde games, the pattern typically ends with Player A returning – perhaps on the bus – and having their second (and the final) scene with the last remaining player.
Player A sits on the bus bench meticulously shelling and eating a bag of pistachios. After several beats, Player B, with a bookbag thrown over their shoulder, arrives at the bus stop and lurks nearby gently nodding to the tempo of the song playing through their ear buds. Another moment passes until B looks over and recognizes A…
Player B: “Mr. Sadeh? You don’t usually take this bus!”
Player A: (a little out of sorts) “Good morning, Johnny. My car’s in the shop.”
Player B looks away for a moment considering their next tact.
Player B: “I really will get you that paper before the weekend. I’ve had some stuff happening at home.”
Player A: (he’s heard that before) “Well, the deadline was last Friday, so there will be a grade deduction…”
Player B: “I was really hoping that you could do me a solid on that…”
Player A: “Johnny, as you know It’s my policy to treat all my students…”
Player B: “I wouldn’t usually ask for special treatment. It’s my grandma…”
Eventually the caller announces the arrival of the bus and Mr. Sadeh gets on board while a recalcitrant Johnny remains. A few moments later, Player C enters…
While La Ronde might jump around in time and location, Here Comes the Bus is a little more contained and tends to function in “real” time; that is, the time on the players’ watches matches that on the watches of the audience. Stories that incorporate numerous characters will typically emerge without much coaxing so don’t overly manipulate connections but rather trust that they will present themselves when the time is right. Lean into character and relationship as this will benefit both the greater arc and the individual players in the short-term.
Traps and Tips
1.) Think small town. Here Comes the Bus works well when it feels like we are meeting an interconnected village of characters that bump into each other with some regularity. The scene doesn’t need to be set in a small town per se, but if you opt for a larger metropolis it’s worth considering focusing on a neighborhood or community gathering point. The bus stop might sit beside the local mall, or outside a sprawling apartment complex, for example. If players have to spend too much of their precious scenic time justifying why they are there in the first place you might find that the bus keeps arriving before much of value has been established and explored.
2.) Think established relationships. Similarly, players should avoid having to spend too much time figuring out how they know (or could know) their scene partner. As is the case with the related form, La Ronde, strangers are particularly problematic and tend to sap the potential of the vignettes. Players save themselves a lot of needless stress when they launch the scenes with a strong and unapologetic endowment freed from the concerns of being “wrong.” Player A may not have intended to be a teacher or Player B’s teacher more specifically, but once this has been offered the scene now has sufficient raw fuel to find some heat.
3.) Think contrasting relationships. One of the built-in delights of this format is that you get to see characters (with the exception of Player A) in two back-to-back scenes. This configuration inherently invites some fun use of contrasts that can complicate characters in unique ways. Player B is first seen at a status disadvantage with his teacher. It can prove insightful to adjust this arrangement with his subsequent scene partner whether that is heightening it further (C is a domineering parent), inverting it (C is a subordinate peer), or equalizing it (C arrives as a best friend.) It can feel like a missed opportunity when we only get to see one facet or energy from a character in both of their scenes, so keep this in mind as new characters enter the fray.
4.) Think engaging energies. A built-in trap of this game is the rather static titular location that essentially invites characters to just sit on the bus bench and chat. Be mindful not to just fall into this obvious orientation but rather explore a variety of staging and relationship dynamics. Entering mindfully with a prop, activity, or strong emotion can bring promise to a scene that might otherwise remain tepid. If more gentle hues are dominating in a way that is flatlining the story arc, take the risk of embodying a character that is having the worst (or best) day of their life. Even with a generous caller, scenes won’t often have enough time to slowly build up to something of “interest” from absolute stasis so enter ready to play with a gift in your pocket.
A thought for the caller or facilitator: while it’s nice to give each vignette roughly equal time, be on the lookout for opportunities to pleasantly surprise the players and audience. If you’re scrolling through a larger group, in particular, it can start to feel a little predictably ponderous if scenes remain too uniform in length and it’s nice to give a scene with dynamite attack a quicker out before it fades, or allow a riveting tension a little extra room to boil. You can also easily replace the caller’s announcement with an appropriate sound effect if you’re looking for a more polished edit mechanism.
Many of my thoughts regarding La Ronde squarely apply to this game as well so take a glance at that entry here for further insights especially in terms of how to handle plot, generate apt material, and expand the device into a longer format.
Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr
Connected Concept: Relationship