Combining three disparate elements, In A, With A, While A… has somewhat of an improvised “madlibs” feel. It requires hearty justification and a tendency towards Showing as the scene culminates with all three audience ask-fors visually in play.
The audience fills in the required blanks providing an in a… [location] with a… [prop or occupation] while a… [situation unfolds]. By the end of the resulting scene, all three of these unrelated ideas should playfully coexist on the stage.
The audience provides “in a… submarine, with an… Elvis impersonator, while an… intervention takes place.” The scene begins with two naval officers in the command room.
Player A: “Nothing peculiar to report from the night shift, Captain. It’s been plain sailing since we entered the artic circle.”
Player B: (clearly a little preoccupied) “Thank you for your excellent and thorough work, as always, Lieutenant.”
Player A: “Permission to speak freely, Captain?”
Player B: (slumping melancholically in their chair) “Of course, Lieutenant Wienstein. We’ve known each other for nearly a decade now.”
Player A: “It’s just the crew and I, well, we’ve all noticed you’ve seemed a little out of sorts…”
Player B: “Permission to speak freely, Lieutenant?”
Player A: “Of course…”
Player B: “I just didn’t expect to be spending my fiftieth birthday out here in the artic circle…”
Player A: (feigning surprise) “Today is your fiftieth birthday, Captain…?”
Several other crew members, one dressed conspicuously in an Elvis costume, quietly slink into the room behind B’s back…
Player B: “I know it’s silly, and I shouldn’t be expecting a big deal or anything…”
Earn each suggestion rather than rushing them clumsily to the stage. Developing a coherent story in spite of the randomness of your incongruous ingredients elevates the scene beyond a mere party game.
Traps and Tips
1.) Pursue the logic. In less able hands it’s possible that the three required pieces of the puzzle will just inexplicably “show up.” On rare occasions a charm offensive can sell such an attitude but generally you, the scene, and the audience will be better served by a more patient and deliberate approach. If you can creatively justify or create the need for the peculiar scenic addition beforehand this tends to enable a stronger story arc rather than just throwing in the ingredients to the scenic stew without any sense of a recipe. There’s a fine line between foreboding or gently justifying a new piece of the puzzle and robbing it of any dramatic impact: this is where the concept of showing serves better than telling or telescoping the needed item so that it has no power when it predictably arrives.
2.) Consider the order. There is no explicit rule or expectation that the three suggestions will hit the stage in the order of their elicitation. Whether by design or happenstance, however, this order usually works in your favor. If you don’t start with the location, it can be challenging to effectively move the scene there within a timely fashion, especially if such a move requires a major reset of the stage. So while I’m generally all about not succumbing to the pressure of immediately or obviously using an audience suggestion, quickly establishing the location in this particular game strikes me as a worthwhile exception to such a stylistic rule. The object or occupation, as it’s generally portable, makes for a strong second addition as your story can be focused on why this offer is present rather than solving the less interesting mechanics of how to move it to a later locale. And the event, especially if it’s innately climactic in nature, can prove challenging to sustain for the duration of the whole scene in an interesting fashion, but will usually provide a great spike of energy to go out on.
3.) Share the work. It’s good collaborative form not to place the burden of assembling all of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle on the shoulders of one player (either self-selected in a manner reminiscent of a bulldozer or fearfully put in the hot seat by the rest of a panicking team.) Most scenes benefit from patient entrances rather than an “everyone all at once” launch. If the first imitators establish the basic premise and probably the location, other teammates are well positioned to introduce and hopefully justify the remaining aspects. There is also a calmness and ability to assess the greater whole of the scene that accompanies a generously waiting stance in the wings. And if you find you’re not physically needed as the scene wraps up, that selflessness is an awesome gift for your fellow players too.
4.) Enjoy the contradictions. The inspiring suggestions shouldn’t clearly connect so the scene will invariably move into unfamiliar and probably quirky territory. Commenting on the oddness of it all, or standing cynically or critically apart from the action, will do little to aid your teammates in crossing the obscure finishing line. Such choices are likely to deflate any building momentum as they essentially and unkindly “name the game.” Commit. The more you emotionally invest in the bizarre scenic circumstances, the more delightful the emerging process becomes and the more likely that finally embodying the three elements with gusto will craft an ending worth celebrating. It doesn’t take much to poke thwarting holes in the reality of the topsy-turvy world; bravely shore up any scenic inconsistencies instead.
This format can work as an expositional exercise, starting with everything in play only to then develop the rationale for their coexistence. However, through the lens of showing, this variation tends to minimize the potential for action in favor of a more intellectual and cerebral telling energy. For this reason alone, I strongly prefer the approach described above.
Connected Concept: Showing