Improv Games and Variations (not included in Rehearsals for Growth)

RfG Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 2, Winter/Spring 1996

One Improvises, the Other Doesn’t

This game, long in use in TheaterSports™, first has a scene established by obtaining a place, relationship, and/or object(s) from the audience as is usual in stage-improv. A playscript is also selected by the audience at random from a number of these available; next, a page is opened to a number called out by the audience. The first Player (who has the opening line of dialog in the scene) keeps the play script to read from throughout the scene; his/her dialog consists entirely of one playscript character’s successive lines, beginning on the chosen page, while the second Player (who doesn’t know which playscript has been chosen) improvises her/his own lines. Both players improvise movement and inflection to create the scene.

This more advanced game teaches players how to accept and justify the “blocks” occasioned by the scripted lines which invariably follow a logic tangential to the offers made by the second player. It is not permitted for the second player merely to act as though the first player is a senseless lunatic to be humored; even though the content may frequently be a nonsequitur in the context established to that point both players should make every attempt to allow the scene to develop meaningfully (and make one’s partner “look good”). Note also that the first (scripted) player accepts emotional offers even while the content of his responses is a block. This is the converse of what happens when people interacting in real life have an egocentric agenda, responding only superficially to the content of other persons yet not being in emotional alignment with them.

An Example

The following scene is based upon the offers (by the therapist) of a plumber and a housewife in the kitchen.

The playscript, randomly selected, is A Perfect Ganesh by Terence McNally, with the dialogue of Margaret beginning at the top of p. 32. The scene begins as Player B, the plumber, kneels, facing downstage, and mimes turning a wrench with great effort. Player A, the housewife, stands behind B, holding the script off to one side, and bends down so her lips are close to his ear:

A (softly, but with a tense inflection): Will you keep your voice down?

B (He stops turning the wrench, picks up a rag, stands up and speaks with B in a low voice, defensively): Hey, Lady, I’m trying not to wake your baby, but these fittings are rusted tight, see?

A (Sarcastically): Well its nice to know what your best friend really thinks of you. And your family.

B (Backs away, startled): I didn’t think.. I mean…(Thinks he recognizes her) Good God! Judy? From Elmsdale High School??

A (Nonchalantly, turning away and sitting down): Not especially.

B (He kneels in front of Judy, twisting the imaginary rag in his hands): I’m sorry, you know I was planning to marry you after we graduated, but then Dad got me a job at the Akron plant…

A (rolling her eyes up towards the ceiling, speaking contemptuously): Every time you say it, I say to myself, “O for someone who didn’t say ‘O for a muse of fire’ at the drop of a hat.”

B (Feebly, clearly ashamed of himself): Well, I was a bit of a snob in those days, always spouting poetry to impress people…

A (With finality, looking directly at him): Well that’s the difference between us. (She gets up from her seat and mimes gathering up his tools).

B (He follows her, pleading): Judy, I swear, its not too late for us– I mean, even though we’re both married, and all, I still feel this thing for you…

A (Taking the mimed tool-bag, she walks to the edge of the stage-area, and mimes opening a door to show him out): You’ve changed. Ever since you went to those lectures in Bridgeport. Nurturing your Inner Child! You know what I say? Stifle him! If we all nurtured our inner child, Katherine, this planet would come to a grinding halt while we all had a good cry.

B (Horrified): “Katherine?” You promised never to call me that! Oh, I should never have told you my secret about my inner girl-child–you’ve probably told half the town…(he squats down, then rolls up in a fetal position, moaning).

A (Shaking her head sadly, then beckoning off-stage through the “open door): “O for a muse of fire” is right! Bartender! One fiery muse, a decent analyst and an extra-dry gin martini. [BLACKOUT]

This is an example of exceptionally fine improvising; more typically, players “break character” or leave the stage reality when encountering a line which totally blocks them. It may appear that Player B has all the work, since A’s dialog is scripted while he (B) has to justify A’s unexpected “blocks” (for example, in Lines 19-21 and 33-37). However, A has to justify non-verbally in order to incorporate and accept B’s offers as well (as in Lines 12-13 and 44-46). As in improv generally, One Improvises, the Other Doesn’t challenges players to co-create a scene by adhering to the RfG principles of Accepting Offers, Attending To Your Partner, Giving Up Over-Control, and Making Your Partner Look Good.