The mechanics of One-Voice Expert make it uniquely prone to Upstaging tendencies as a desire to forge a strong connection to your scene partner can easily result in closing yourself off from your audience if you’re not vigilant.
An expert is interviewed on a given subject by a teammate. While the expert has one voice, they have two (or more) heads and must sound out all of their answers in unison.
The topic at hand is “photography.” Player A serves as the host while B and C wrap an arm around each other’s waists to form one expert persona.
Player A: “Welcome back to Picture That! I’ve been trying to secure our next guest for many years now; I couldn’t be more excited to finally have you join me here with our studio audience today!”
Player B/C: (forming their words together) “Thaaank you, Graaace. I’m a biiiig faaaan of the show…”
Player A: “You’re too kind, Ellie. If I may call you that…?”
Player B/C: (sounding out their response) “Of course. If I caaaan call yoooou Grace!?”
Player A: “I want to dive right into your new beautiful collection, if I may…”
Player B/C: (together) “Please doooo. It’s beeeen a real laaaabor of love and I’m reeeeally proud of these photographs of eeeeveryday ciiitizens…”
Enjoy the inherent language struggles while also fighting to justify joyful slips and building a story and engaging relationship.
Traps and Tips
1.) Lead. If you’re not hyper aware, it’s easy for the multiple-headed expert to become so polite and deferring that every word becomes a painful exercise in belabored negotiation. Sometimes you just need to leap into the fray and strongly offer up an initial sound, word, or short phrase. If none of the expert heads are willing to initiate any choice, then it becomes awfully difficult to build up steam and content. Once you’ve established your connection, the goal is to resemble natural speech rhythms and cadences as best you can. Similarly, as the interviewer, don’t be afraid to steer the story when it’s needed. If the expert is struggling to create content, pitch a simpler question; if an answer is particularly opaque or circuitous, justify or reiterate its essence (or invite the expert to do so).
2.) Follow. While the individual expert voices should happily take the reins for a moment or two, the resulting dialogue shouldn’t clearly be the brainchild of one speaker for any length of time. The dynamic quickly feels wonky – and much less risky and exciting – when the audience can clearly see one player consistently leading the way. So just as you shouldn’t be too leery to take the focus for a few seconds, you should be equally as willing to immediately give the lead when you sense your partner wants it. In theory, these exchanges should become so smooth that leading and following become almost synonymous. As the host, be similarly aware that you don’t dominate as it’s easy to become comparatively voluminous without the expert’s speaking restriction. Endeavor to keep your guest as featured as possible.
3.) Commit. Verbal restriction games tend to make players neglect all the other scenic components that can help round out the performance in delightful ways. If you’re playing with two players as the expert, it’s typical for improvisers to use their outer arms as if they belonged to the cumulative expert. Find opportunities to support your character and story with bold gestures and physical offers. As the scene begins, it’s also understandable (and actually smart) to stand largely in profile toe-to-toe as this allows you to really see each other’s mouths which greatly assists in the task of figuring out the words and energy. Such a stance left unchecked, however, can shut out the audience. Cheating out not only improves visibility but also raises the chances of missteps which is a large part of the excitement.
4.) Shape. If you’re primarily using this game as a charm piece you can certainly get a few minutes of entertainment just out of the built in communicative struggle of the multi-headed expert. But, like most short-form handles, the scene can be much more than just the stated conceit. Shape a strong point of view for the expert and the host, explore the subtleties of this central relationship, and follow the potentials of the story threads as they emerge. Sure, the interviewer can just make their guest leap through some linguistic hoops, but when the gimmick also serves a well-crafted narrative, the ultimate payoff will prove so much more satisfying. If you find yourself blindly scrolling through “bits” you’re only scratching the surface of what this game can offer.
One-voice characters are tough, and I love and fear them in equal measure! Here, this persona is housed in an interview dynamic, but once you’re comfortable with the requisite techniques there’s no reason not to set them free into other scenarios too. If you seek control on the improv stage, one-voice work reminds you of the destructiveness of bulldozing and the vibrancy of spontaneously going with the flow.
Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2022 David Charles/ImprovDr
Connected Concept: Upstaging