“Speak the truth, but leave immediately after.”Slovenian Proverb
This is another term I’ve adopted that may not be in wide circulation (yet): Sticky Feet provides a vivid way of describing an improviser inclination to get stuck onstage. The joy of participation can prove so enticing that players find themselves pulled onto the stage only to discover that they are not particularly needed. And then they stay on stage… for a long time. This habit isn’t necessarily destructive – especially when compared to more egregious activities such as blocking or pimping – but left unaddressed, sticky feet can result in needless clutter, muddy focus, and declining scenic momentum.
Player A enters the scene to deliver a previously mentioned pizza.
One minute later, Player A remains loitering by the door. They “briefly” considered that an exit might be in order, but that felt like a hassle and the wall they are now leaning against is rather comfortable.
Two minutes later, Player A is still standing, largely unnoticed in the corner of the room, their purpose (like their pizza) long-since served. But they are enjoying observing their teammates, so there’s that.
Three minutes later…
Warning Signs You’re About to Get Stuck
1.) You entered without a clear objective. Characters (and the improvisers who inhabit them) who just sort of find themselves wandering into the action are prime contenders for sticky feet syndrome. If you don’t have an objective then you’re unlikely to know when it’s been achieved and that you can leave. This can operate at the character or player level: my character wants to squeeze out some extra overtime from my boss and finally succeeds or gives up; or as an improviser I want to add a helpful set element to the environment for my teammates. More times than not, when you’ve accomplished this goal you should probably leave. Without a goal in mind it becomes much easier to inadvertently become a non-contributing piece of the set yourself.
2.) You immediately got comfortable. Although I refer to this loitering tendency as sticky feet it often manifests itself in the form a sticky bum (to use my kiwi vernacular!) There is something about sitting down in an improv scene for any length of time that invariably prevents characters from moving or leaving when it’s their time. So I’d strongly advise that you avoid the temptation to get too settled in the first place, especially if your involvement in the scene is already a little marginal. If you’ve been seated for a while, get up; if you’ve been listlessly lying on the floor, get up; if you’ve been leaning on the door frame, maybe walk through it and get out! Frankly, if you’ve been inactive for so long that you’ve been able to get really comfortable, that’s highly suggestive that your scenic contributions have precipitously declined and that you probably won’t be missed.
3.) Your energy levels are low. Part of the risk of getting too complacent on stage is that, if you’re not cautious, your energy level will easily and steadily diminish. Presence without passion or commitment will typically take more from the scene that it gives. And, to make matters worse, as your energy decreases so too does the momentum required to facilitate a timely exit. The only truly effective antidote to this dilemma is unfaltering vigilance: if you find your attention or investment waning, grab the next opportunity for a retreat. Improv is difficult enough without having to rally the energies of our fellow teammates. As I’ve noted elsewhere, when you’re not really engaged you’re probably not particularly engaging either.
There are definitely worse things in improv than loitering a little too long, especially as this is often a side effect of basking in the creative joy and delight of the onstage chemistry. But there is a generous power in knowing when your job is done and not overstaying your welcome. And with that in mind…
Review my thoughts on Exits for some additional pointers on “Should I stay or should I go now…”
Connected Game: Relay Entrances and Exits