Game Library: “Tag-Team Monologue”

Part wresting, part dramatic storytelling, Tag-Team Monologue combines the excitement of competitive sports with the esteemed theatrical tradition of standing onstage alone and speaking to an imaginary scene partner.

The Basics

The team performs a monologue from the unique perspective of an original character. One improviser begins the narrative and stands center stage with their remaining teammates waiting behind them in a line. At opportune moments, a waiting player tags the current speaker out (usually with a gentle tap on the shoulder or back) and picks up the story exactly where it left off. The team continues to tag each other out until the monologue finds an organic button.

Example

The monologue gains inspiration from the audience suggestion “Thanksgiving.” Player A steps into the spotlight to begin with their fellow teammates standing closely behind them.

Player A: “It was my first holiday season in my own apartment, and I was determined to prove to the rest of my family that I could succeed at adulting. I’d spent most of…”

Player B: (tagging in as A returns to the back line) “… November researching just how to cook the perfect turkey and fixings. Two weeks earlier I pre-ordered everything from the local…”

Player C: (tagging B out) “… farmer’s market. Needless to say, I was over the moon when the day before Thanksgiving several overflowing biodegradable grocery bags arrived on my new apartment’s doorstep. I rushed to get it all inside and im…”

Player D: (replacing C) “…mediately started to lay it all out on my kitchen counter…”

The Focus

Although the nature of the tags in this game are rarely the primary performance consideration, the narrative will struggle without strong and generous Takes as the speaking improviser is largely at the mercy of the teammates standing behind them.

Traps and Tips

1.) Find the character. Observe and listen closely when the first player establishes the character and launch as an ability to mimic and maintain these early offers provides the game with a solid foundation. The story should be told in first-person, so assuming facets of the same characterization greatly enhances this narrative style and voice. Mirroring verbal cadences, adopting a similar physical stance, and weaving memorable words or phrases back into the mix all give the game the aura of design. Be cautious of careless character inconsistencies as opposed to those that are offered knowingly to create tension or opportunities for growth.

2.) Find the moment. Stories that get lost in generalities and a nowhere time and place tend to struggle and result in less enticing narratives. As I’ve demonstrated in my example, a little preamble or contextualizing is common and perhaps even helpful for unifying the team in terms of a basic theme or focus. Player C is the first improviser to leap the story into a particular “now” – in this case, the day before Thanksgiving. Strive to get to this launching moment as soon as you can, and be wary of then slipping back jnto more generic timeless action or jumping quickly forward to other events that could also be fleshed out to craft an entire tale in their own right. When the story focuses on a smaller story arc of a few minutes or hours (rather than spanning multiple days or weeks), you’re more likely to chart an exciting journey.

3.) Find the rhythm. The tag feature of the game provides so much abandon and risk, and it’s great to build to some unpredictability and even a little narrative danger by tagging when the timing feels right instead of when you know the next contribution you’d like to personally make. Give the story and initial tellers sufficient space to creatively build a firm foundation. As I’ve noted numerous times throughout this library of games, story should take precedence over the game, especially initially. Once the team and audience have a strong sense of the narrative north star, then ramping up the pace of the tags will feel exciting. In case it doesn’t go without saying, players shouldn’t tag in a set order either but should also change this up as the story builds.

4.) Find the trust. There is something innately a little scary about standing center stage and performing a monologue with only the sparsest sense of your teammates’ presence behind you. The current speaker is completely at the whim of their fellow players in terms of the edits as there is no (gracious) way to give. The speaker may telescope to everyone in the theatre that they have nothing left to offer the story – a feeling that quickly becomes excruciating for all involved – but ultimately the responsibility and power to rescue such improvisers solely resides in the hands of the back line. Subsequently, focus takes should be timely, brave, and generous. Don’t fall into the well-worn shivving “bit” to let a speaker appear to squirm a little in the hot seat if the player is truly uncomfortable and in need of a lifeline.

In Performance

Audiences uniformly enjoy a simple and playful story told with energy and conviction. The tagging dynamic provides additional risk and whimsical staging possibilities, but don’t rely on this gimmick as an evasive tactic to reduce the preeminence of the storytelling challenge.

See my related Game Library entry on Tag-Team Song here for some additional pointers on specifically when and how to deploy the tagging device.

Cheers, David Charles.
www.improvdr.com
Join my Facebook group here.
Photo Credit: James Berkley
© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Take

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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