Selfless Side Support enables the unique storytelling required for From an Object’s Point of View where the ensemble elevates a prop to the role of star.
A real or imaginary prop is provided by the audience. This item holds the place of the protagonist for the scene that follows with the players facilitating its journey through brief vignettes and side support. If the scene were filmed, it’s helpful to think of the prop as the camera’s eye moving from moment to moment, with the resulting dramatic arc tracing its movements, struggles and contributions.
A teddy bear serves as the star. The scene begins with a young child clinging onto the prop as their family crowds into an Uber.
Player A: (to the bear) “Now I know you’re nervous taking your first big trip in an airplane, but mummy says there’s nothing to worry about.”
Player B: (as a parent) “Alright Snuggly, hold on tight to my little girl there. We’re running late!”
The driver has finished packing up the car and everyone takes their seats.
Player C: “It was gate 64, right? Let’s hope we don’t hit traffic.”
They are now all in the car. Player A sings with the teddy while B and C can be seen negotiating the directions in the background.
The car pulls into a sneaky spot in the terminal.
Player B: “We’re going to have to leap out here and carry our own bags, sweetie, as this isn’t a proper drop off spot…”
A little flustered, Player A leaves the teddy on the back seat as she and player B grab their luggage and dart off into the terminal. Player C has already pulled away before they notice their unexpected passenger in the rear view mirror…
Player C: “Oh, hey, little fella. I didn’t see you there. Did you get separated from your human?”
Player C suddenly slams on the brakes as a clearly distraught pedestrian has tried to flag them down. Player D has already whipped open the backseat door before C can react.
Player D: (absent-mindedly) “Move over buddy, I’ve gotta get out of this place.”
Player C: (a bit thrown) “I’m sorry, but you’ve got to officially book me. I’m on my way to another passenger. “
Player D: (to the teddy) “You don’t mind sharing do you? You’ve got kind, sad eyes…”
Don’t overwhelm your star with a crowded stage or assault of offers. Make sure they have time to “respond” and be effected as, in many ways, they should actually serve as a surrogate for the audience’s own journey. If you forget them or relegate them to the background for too long they will cease to serve as a viable character so keep them strongly as the focus.
Traps and Tips
1.) Keep the object central. The conceit of this frame is tricky and will likely require some workshopping and tinkering to find the approach that best serves you and your venue. If the object becomes too incidental – a pen just sitting in someone’s pocket that is largely irrelevant to the action – the results will quickly resemble other character-based scene work. Part of the challenge and finesse of the piece is finding ways to make the object’s presence central, if not pivotal. Just as you would for any other predetermined protagonist, offer endowments and next steps that push the object forward and into dynamic circumstances. Yes, much like a thematic ensemble movie, in the process of following the star we’ll probably also learn of the trials and tribulations of other characters in its orbit, but this should ideally remain a secondary goal. By the end of a strong game we should care most about the object’s fate. Will our teddy bear ever make it back to its little girl or find a new happy home?
2.) Keep the object moving. One of the major benefits of acquiring a smaller object (a costume or stage prop in traditional theatre terms) is that it can easily pass from one character or location to the next. A large piece of furniture – a refrigerator, car or wardrobe – can work but tends to restrict the action to one location or necessitates leaping the story forward in time to justify new interactions with other scene partners. This is a fine use of the central idea, often resembling a more long-form aesthetic, but it doesn’t allow for more spontaneous discovered pass-offs which is one of my favorite features of the game. Performing the scene in true uninterrupted real time is an admirable goal but can similarly lower the stakes, so look for opportunities to edit between the most consequential story beats. Our trip to the airport, for example, was consciously condensed and edited.
3.) Keep the object evolving. This may be pushing the limits of the game a little, but just as we’d want a human character to change during and because of their journey, the same holds true for our nonhuman star. For this reason, acquiring an object that has (or could have) some emotional significance will set you up for greater adventures than an ordinary or mundane prop unless everyone commits to generous weighty endowments quickly – the disposable pen is actually the only reminder of an absent parent. As the game requires rapidly shifting scene partners there should be numerous opportunities to change up the object’s current given circumstances and, therefore, hopefully it’s own perceived emotional truth. Anthropomorphic endowments – ascribing human attributes – provide a huge help to this end.
4.) Keep changing the object’s co-star. Again, it’s possible to construct a successful arc for the object while keeping the same human companion by its side, but generally assuming a La Ronde feel (see here) helps greatly and prevents you from getting stuck in one relationship or scenario. Shuffle partners regularly. As is the case with La Ronde, the default player to leave is the character that has already had the most stage time. In this particular case, the leaving player shouldn’t take the hero prop with them but rather help engineer an exchange that keeps the item encountering new scene partners and potentials. In our above example, the teddy started with the child, Player A, then passed into the possession of the Uber driver, Player C, and so is now likely to leave with the distraught rider, Player D. By all means find opportune moments to break an established pattern, but a somewhat predictable approach, at least initially, guarantees that teammates aren’t working at cross purposes. If the prop inadvertently gets stuck with the same partner or in the same location time and again, it drastically reduces the scope of their journey.
To reiterate, it’s a fine alternative for the teddy to continue with Player A through check in, security, the boarding gate, and onto the plane, meeting an array of other people and perhaps objects along the way: this would serve as a strong example of the companion approach described above. This path allows the prop to almost serve as a doppelganger for a character, such as the young girl, who might not otherwise have an easy or dynamic way to reveal their subtext. When the object quickly changes hands, though, the resulting scene can have a more epic feel that requires some fast-thinking and faster-doing on the part of the team in their efforts to craft an interesting adventure for the object star.
Connected Concept: Side Support