Today I’m cleaning up my office. I know you’re probably thinking, “Well, gosh, Sonnjea, there’s a fascinating topic that’s clearly all about improv. Please. Tell us more.”
To which I reply, “Sarcasm doesn’t work in improv, peeps. Don’t make me tell you again.”
Here’s the thing. When I was busy with writing and rehearsals for Sketchy People, I started using my office as a dumping ground. Since I work at home, it’s easy for that to happen anyway – clothes I don’t feel like folding get tossed on the sofa, paper work piles up on the coffee table and work I am busily not doing accumulates on my desk. Add to that all the props and clothes and just general junk that seemed to multiply for the show and that I needed to find a home for, and you have the makings of an episode of Hoarders.
The worse it gets, the less able I am to work in there (I’m currently working on a laptop in my dining room, snarfing up a box of Cheez-It’s, if you must know). The clutter just gets to me.
And it occurred to me that improv scenes are kind of the same way. Wait, hold on – you know I can justify this. Pffft. This one’s not even a stretch for me, kids.
When there is too much going on in a scene, it makes it harder and harder for the players to get the scene going. That’s because if there’s just a shitload of random information, it’s too hard to filter through it and know what to react to and what should matter. It’s a much better situation to gradually layer information so that each person in the scene has a chance to truly listen to it, and then react logically and appropriately. Then everybody’s information comes out in manageable doses, like brick after brick in the building of a scene. Instead of, you know, a big dumptruck of building materials hurled in the general direction of a building site.
It’s also important to give information in small soundbite-sized morsels to help you avoid driving an agenda. Yes, you must label each other and add information. But you don’t need to do it in a War and Peace way. Think in terms of Tweets, maybe Facebook posts (in terms of length, I mean; not in terms of sarcasm or vagueness). Your partner can’t possibly remember everything you say and all the information you add if you ramble on and on and on and… Give them one or two small bits of information and then SHUT UP. Give ’em a chance to listen and respond with their own one or two bits of information. Then it’ll be your turn again.
If your strength happens to be adding information (guilty as charged), you may be laboring under the delusion that somehow that means your information is all that and a bag o’ chips. Whatever. Get over it. Your information, no matter how brilliant, is useless if it’s heaped up in a pile of other brilliant information that nobody can sort through in a single lifetime. Remember, dialog is only ONE way of adding information (and it’s the most overused way, fyi). You can add information by having a huge emotional reaction, discovering something onstage, changing the stage picture, doing some new spacework, kissing and/or slapping your partner, grunting, etc.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go clean my office. If you hear grunting, you’ll know why.