Also known as Touch to Talk, Contact demands creative staging choices to satisfy the central game premise. If you find yourself in a passive Talking Heads scene, this device will get you back into your whole body.
Every line of dialogue must be accompanied by the speaking player appropriately making physical contact with another on stage. When a physical connection becomes severed, the dialogue must immediately stop as well until a new form of contact becomes established.
Two dental office coworkers are at a work function, standing patiently at the lunch buffet line. They are awkwardly silent. A moment later, when they have finally made it to the front of the line, they both reach for the same plate and their hands touch.
Player A: “I’m sorry – after you of course!”
Player A hands B the plate and they both assess the meager remains of the lunch buffet before them. Player B leans back with exhaustion, momentarily resting their head on their co-worker’s shoulder.
Player B: “I knew I shouldn’t have taken that call from home. Shall we split the last piece of bacon?”
With surgical precision, Player A cuts the bacon in two, placing one half on each of their plates. In a flurry of overwhelming energy, Player C arrives, draping their arms over the shoulders of the two hungry workers.
Player C: ‘Back for seconds already? Leave some for the rest of us! But seriously, I’m excited for your demonstration…”
Player A and B shoot each other a panicked look while C absent-mindedly takes the half-piece of bacon off B’s plate and munches it. A second later, C has disappeared back into the hotel event room. Player A surreptitiously elbows B…
Player A: “I completely forgot all about that…”
Perhaps it’s somewhat unavoidable that players will tend to quickly break any silences with “panic” connections. As best you can, though, embrace energetic silences and allow them to build tension and interest. Earn each moment of unique contact and use this need for human connection to forge more dynamic staging and relationship choices. Rushed or half-hearted touches won’t do much for the scene or game.
Traps and Tips
Pedestrian physical justifications drain the scene of its playful creativity, so look out for these “solutions” that are essentially wimping ways to reduce the stakes by “cleverly” dismantling the primary obstacle.
1.) Unjustified contact. Without insightful justifications the scene quickly devolves into an odd and inexplicable dance of peculiar gestures. You don’t want every line to simply become a spoken rationale for the previous strange physical choice or there will be little room to actually generate fulfilling content. Don’t overlook emotional, subtextual, and situational details that helpfully frame and incorporate your contact moves – show rather than tell your reasoning. This strategy allows justifications to coexist alongside more traditional scenic choices and endowments, such as Player C’s smarmy supervisor’s arrival. It’s also fair game to create a point of contact with one player in order to facilitate talking to another: or put another way, your contact point and the intended recipient of your dialogue don’t have to be one and the same.
2.) Handsy contact. If you’re not careful the vast majority of contact initiations will become hand-centric as such moves are socially safer, less vulnerable, and more accessible. Such an approach is likely appropriate when you’re playing the game with younger improvisers where personal boundaries are particularly important. In well-established and high-functioning ensembles, on the other hand, a steady stream of handshakes, back pats, and finger prods will quickly sap the scene of its risk and charm (although issues of consent and decency should still clearly apply). In these cases, consider applying the following rule or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, veto any forms of hand contact altogether!
3.) Repeated contacts. A surefire strategy to encourage bolder physical choices consists of adding a “no repeats” rule. It’s tempting to parallel moves made by your teammates: they place their hands on yours, so now you place your hand on theirs. If you apply a “no repeats” condition, all previously used forms of contact are now burned and can’t be used again by anyone onstage. If I’m directing in Gorilla Theatre, I’ll often introduce this rule once the scene is up and running as it’s an unequivocal way to ramp up the challenge, but it’s also possible and fun to just make this feature part of the setup and premise right from the get-go. Much of the true fun begins when the most obvious and “normal” forms of physical connection have all been used!
4.) Passive contact. Another helpful best practice is to exclude passive contact as a way of enabling a player’s dialogue. In order to speak the pertinent player must initiate their own form of contact and cannot merely piggyback on a touch established by a teammate. In this way, C placing their arms over A and B’s shoulders only releases C to speak. If A wants to respond in the moment, they can’t use C’s connection to do so but must rather create their own move, perhaps by bluntly lifting and removing C’s hand (or, even better, trying to just use their own shoulder to execute this particular extraction).
5.) Sustained contact. Casually existing in the same prolonged state of physical connection serves as a final cheat worthy of discouraging and avoiding. Used sparingly a loitering handshake or epic hug provides a delightful opportunity for a character to complete a more significant speech act. If players spend the majority of the scene holding hands just so they can talk, however, then the spirit of the challenge has been discarded. Once a physical move has been made and utilized as a means to talk it’s generally helpful to now consider this physicality spent even if it continues as part of the scenic given circumstances. After all, not every physical choice needs to be prompted by a desire to speak.
This game can inspire really imaginative and unique staging, elevating a mundane relationship or premise into something quite new and wonderful (and, frankly, probably just a little odd too). Be sure to enjoy both the opportunities for novel physical connections and the power and dramatic potential of the silences when such connections are impractical or unnecessary.
Connected Concept: Talking Heads