Alternatively known as Stage Directions, They Said, They Said facilitates playful physicality by separating creative duties amongst the various team members. If you struggle with creating vibrant Stage Pictures, this game provides a powerful antidote to talking heads.
Two players (A and B) serve as the onstage characters while two offstage teammates (C and D) act as their respective directors. After each line of dialogue, the corresponding director narrates an accompanying action, usually in the form of “They said as they…” If a third character is needed and enters, an additional improviser can become their director counterpart or this role can be assumed by one of the existing offstage players.
Player A and B are siblings setting up a camp site, while their counterparts, C and D, position themselves on either side of the stage.
Player A: “This is, without question, the perfect spot!”
Player C: “They said as they excitedly slipped off their backpack.”
Player A joyfully removes their backpack and rests it on the ground.
Player B: “If I’m understanding the map correctly, the sun should rise towards those mountains…”
Player D: “They said as they gestured towards the horizon and sipped from their canteen.”
Player A: “Give me a swig of that!”
Player C: “They said as they collapsed onto a majestic rock…”
Player B: “It’s all yours!”
Player D: “They said as they tossed the canteen and felt the first drops of rain on their forearms…”
It can take a while to learn the requisite rhythm of this game, alternating between the actors and directors. Make sure you’re leaving sufficient room for each role to fully complete its function. Played gracefully, rich offers should be plentiful from both contributing camps.
Traps and Tips
1.) Actor traps. The sequencing takes a while to master so make sure you leave time between lines of dialogue for the directors to contribute – simply taking a breath usually does the trick. It’s particularly tempting to want to talk again immediately after your assigned director has provided stage business – often in an effort to verbally justify any new information – but doing so will typically shut out your onstage scene partner. Instead, explore the offered idea physically first and trust you can add a verbal justification later if it’s warranted. Furthermore, while you don’t want to craft a performance devoid of any initial physicality, it can make the director’s job needlessly difficult if your already introduce a great deal of movement with every utterance.
2.) Director traps. Endeavor to make your stage directions forward rather than backward looking. For example, “they said angrily” adds a quality to a spoken line that’s already been seen and so doesn’t really gift new information. The same holds true for just describing an action that your character counterpart has already completed. Using the fuller phrase, “They said as they…” usually propels you into a new action or activity to augment what’s currently in play. (Immediately using a verb in gerund form also works, such as “They said climbing… or hiding… or crouching…”) It’s also easy for gunshy directors to stall the momentum, so leap into the fray right after your assigned improviser has finished their sentence. Even if you have no clue what you’re going to say (which the audience loves to see) you’ll at least have the launching phrase “they said as they…” to buy you a second!
3.) Actor tips. Fully embrace offered stage directions. If you wear these choices lightly, or take on an air of commenting, the scene will rarely evolve into anything of particular interest. It’s likely that directions will become more unexpected or peculiar as the scene progresses – although this needn’t be the case. Seek to playfully justify any challenges while also retaining the integrity of your character and the scenic givens. By design, the characters are puppets to some degree, but don’t surrender your agency completely. And if you ever feel unsafe or unpleasantly uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to Speak Your Truth. You should also strive to lay a firm and grounded foundation quickly (your CROW or WWW) as it’s difficult to backfill these details elegantly once the scene has taken off.
4.) Director tips. While the game’s construction invites some degree of shivving and charting a curve of absurdity, stage directions can also more generously just serve and heighten the characters’ instincts. Don’t be afraid to elevate games already occurring in the scene rather than always inverting expectations or adding mischief. That being said, if you’re too kind or tentative you might not be fully exploiting the gift of providing significant physical or emotional actions. I advise starting small and somewhat obvious but with helpful specificity, as it’s easier to add mischief to a well-functioning scene than it is to remove the damage such moves have inflicted on a story now struggling to find its footing.
Separating improvisational responsibilities into verbal offers (characters) and physical offers (directors) reveals the potency of each component and permits players to unapologetically focus on one area at a time. This can be quite the boon if you typically struggle to equally contribute verbally and physically at the same time. I’ve also played this game as a two player tour de force where onstage players provide their own dialogue and then their partner’s stage directions (so after Player A has spoken, Player B narrates A’s movement as an aside, and then A returns the favor after each line of B’s dialogue). While the mechanics remain the same, the challenge is rather different as now players must multitask to the nth degree, quickly offering a stage direction and then dialigue from their own character’s perspective. As much fun as this can afford, I’ve personally found separating these functions usually enables stronger story telling and scene work.
Connected Concept: Stage Picture