This is a devilishly challenging scenic game and, subsequently, I tend to use it more as a way of developing awareness and skills than as a performance frame in its own right. Many Objects requires players to more consciously pay heed to their Space Object work and encourages creating robust mimed environments in the process.
A location provides a helpful launching point. In the scene that follows, every line of dialogue can only occur after the speaking player has mimed a new prop.
A weekly family meeting sets the stage for the scene. Player A assumes the role of a parent and, after a few moments of eating, stands with their glass and a spoon in their hand.
Player A: (clinking their spoon on the glass) “If I could have everyone’s attention for just one moment, as we welcome Seth as a new addition to the family…”
Player B: (squirming a little while pulling their napkin off their lap and patting their lips) “Okay, I thought we were all in agreement that we weren’t going to put my fiancé through any awkward speeches…”
Player C has discreetly excused themselves from the table and now returned with a wrapped box.
Player C: (presenting the box) “You have to forgive your parents one little tradition.”
Player A has acquired a video camera that they are now directing at the young couple.
Player A: (filming) “Don’t mind me – just recording this moment for posterity…”
Player D (Seth) accepts the gift and retrieves his glasses out of his shirt pocket.
Player D: “This is really too kind of you…!”
I’d caution against becoming too much of a stickler for the rules, but look out for clever fear-based strategies designed to undermine the central premise of the game. For example, producing a box of tissues and then pulling one out after another to enable new speech acts is a bit of a cheat, albeit a rather delightful one if it’s found by accident rather than imposed as a work-around solution.
Traps and Tips
1.) Avoid making your dialogue about your props. Faced with the pressure to come up with and justify a litany of props it’s easy to feel obliged to then use your dialogue to just explain away your creation. Perhaps a little of this is unavoidable, and the arrival of more opaque objects such as the parents’ wrapped gift might warrant a little contextualizing; but if every line serves as a description of your physical choice you’ll struggle to craft nuanced relationships and stories. Allow your activity to frame and enrich your dialogue rather than restrain or define it. Talking about your props usually results in laborious run-on sentences too, as players realize they’ve just used their permissible sentence to describe their object so then try to jam on an additional thought or two that’ll better serve the needs of the story.
2.) Avoid going back to the same prop well time and again. Another less-than-helpful tendency consists of almost exclusively using similar or parallel props to enable communication. When Player A begins by introducing a glass at the family table, it’s extremely likely that everyone has that same prop at their disposal. Everyone raising their own glass and toasting in unison could be a lovely organic discovery, but this is quite different in tone and playfulness than now each character touching their own glass in a perfunctory fashion just so they can speak. The scene benefits greatly from at least a tacit agreement that new props need to generally be new to everyone and not just a bland replication. It’s also problematic if a great deal of time passes between your mimed creation and your next line of dialogue: strictly speaking, our first speaker created a glass and spoon, but they shouldn’t “bank” the second item as an excuse to speak much later in the story.
3.) Avoid considering others’ creations as your own. Just as would be the case in any other scene, watching the bowl of mashed potatoes move from hand to hand around the table adds a lovely level of collaboration and world building. Feel free to continue such best practices in this format, but when you reuse someone else’s creation this generally doesn’t release you to speak. For this reason, Seth doesn’t get to talk just because he accepted the previously established gift and so he mimes eye glasses instead to allow a new line of dialogue. Once the gift is opened, however, the contents are a new creation in their own right. Again, I wouldn’t stop the scene for this type of “infraction,” but it probably is worth at least recognizing missed opportunities after the fact during your postmortem.
4.) Avoid getting stuck at the proverbial dinner table. It’s a good and understandable strategy to at least initially begin the scene manifesting mimed props within obvious reach. In our dinner example, using glassware, tableware, decorations and foodstuffs are all great first moves that get the scene (bread) rolling while also effectively defining the major features of the where. Much of the devious fun of the game emerges though when you step away from the run-of-the-mill objects and let your creativity run free. These moves tend to also explode the frame of the scene by more imaginatively defining the greater environment and given circumstances. What other furniture pieces are in the dining room? What props can be rustled up from the nearby rooms or hallways? Are unexpected items stowed in a character’s pocket or purse?
5.) Avoid hurried or poorly-defined props. When your focus is on getting to speak any way you can, it’s foreseeable that your space object work will become rather sloppy. You can view this game solely as a language restriction game – which it certainly is in part – but when you really savor the opportunity to make detailed props, furniture and costume pieces (all of which are fair translations of the titular conceit) you’ll find the onstage action so much more enticing. If you’ve not stumbled into my prior discussion on good space object techniques, go here for a refresher. Yet another layer of finesse to seek is not only creating a wide array of unique and specific items but then to keep as many of them alive and relevant as possible as the scene races forward.
I would love to see more scene work infused by the general staging principles encouraged in Many Objects. Even if you relax the defining rules, this level of commitment to environment building, and the resulting de-emphasis on language, truly holds the potential to lay groundwork for highly imaginative play.
Connected Concept: Space Objects