Improvisation can imply inventiveness, but while this performed mode of creativity facilitates discovery, players should not overlook what they naturally bring to the event. Great work and characterization can begin by simply being You and recognizing the truths that others are embodying as well. If you’ve done any Meisner work, You Look… evokes some of his practices.
I like the feel of mulling through the space between each round. This keeps everyone’s energy up and helps maintain a sense of presence.
As players are randomly walking through the space they strive to make strong and sincere eye contact with others in their immediate orbit. At a caller or instructor’s signal, improvisers quickly pair up with their closest neighbor. Players are given twenty or thirty seconds to more deeply observe and assess each other’s energy or mood. When the caller announces, “Share,” one player then the other offers a simple reflection on the emotional truth they are receiving. Let this sit for a moment, and then repeat the process several times so that players work with different random partners.
Player A: “You look… like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. ‘
Player B: “You look… well-rested and alert, and a little mischievous.”
The mulling continues with players actively seeking a greater awareness of the energies present in the space. On the caller’s request players form new pairs and take another moment to read each other. One participant from each group raises their hand and becomes Player A with the other serving as Player B. Based on their observation, Player A now assigns a relationship or role to their partner. Player B then provides the first line of a scene that accepts this character endowment and reflects the current emotional state of Player A. A series of one-line scenes follows with players wandering and shuffling scene partners between each new exchange. (Consider repeating the dynamic until everyone has been an A and a B at least once.)
Player A: “You look… like you’re my over-protective older sibling.”
Player B: (beginning a scene) “I can tell you’re still a little mad with me. I had to tell Dad – I was worried about you…”
More mulling, observing, and partnering with players self-assigning themselves as A and B. While players should still carefully assess each other prior to the launch, the exercise now becomes more scenic. Player A delivers a first line of dialogue that endows the relationship based on B’s climate; B completes the process by providing dialogue that provides a “what” determined by A’s perceived energy. Players needn’t explicitly say “You look…,” but this tone should continue. Scenes can then be given room to develop, or the process can be become public with random pairs exploring this grounded form of initiating in front of the whole group.
Player A: “Okay, roomie, I know you’re frustrated that I didn’t get to the dishes last night. I’m sorry…”
Player B: “You say you’re sorry and yet you can’t even get through your own apology with a straight face.”
In a nutshell, the focus is your partner and what they are truly feeling.
Traps and Tips
1.) Seek a truth. Take a second to really soak up what your partner is feeling in this particular moment. There’s no substitution for this honest moment of connection that is a full-bodied version of active listening. Concentrate on what’s lurking – probably subconsciously – under the surface. Don’t worry about being “right” – often our emotions are complex and may resist a simple summary. It is crucial, however, that you are earnest in your assessment. You’ll also want to avoid commenting on someone’s appearance rather than their demeanor. “You look… beautiful,” for example is less helpful than “You look… ready to take on the world.” The former choice is also a little creepy.
2.) Empty your pockets. As the exercise takes on a more scenic quality it can prove tempting to enter the experience with a loosely formed idea already in your pocket: “I’d really like my next scene to be about a dating couple…” I’m an advocate for generally hitting the stage with the seed of something ready to go, especially if it’s a simple energizing choice such as an activity, point of view, or physical essence. In this situation, however, planting such seeds will invariably prevent you from being receptive to the choice that is already organically growing. So, empty your pockets as best you can. The same holds true when you are being observed: don’t try to mask your present state of mind with something “more interesting.”
3.) Keep checking in. As described, this exercise might feel purely like a grounded way to launch a relationship and scene. It certainly is this, but it’s also a great strategy to deploy throughout the dramatic arc too. You’ll want to pay extra attention to your partner in that first exchange: both A and B should resolutely make their first choice a statement about their scene partner’s aura. But as the resulting narratives develop, it’s good form to maintain this heightened awareness. If you find yourself inadvertently disconnecting, by all means utilize another “You look…” This exercise can also promote a more vulnerable style of play that might feel unsettling to some less accustomed to working in this way, so also be sure to allow time to check in with your ensemble afterwards.
I’m hard pressed to imagine a performance situation where acknowledging the actual feelings on stage – your own, your partners’, and perhaps even the audience’s – won’t elevate the honesty, connection, and depth of the work.
Cheers, David Charles.
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Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo
© 2023 David Charles/ImprovDr
Connected Concept: You