Scene Work

Sticks Author: Steve


Rehearsal tonight took the sticks to yet another of our suburban homesteads!  A fine food spread and small cans of soda that made Thom look like Shrek.

When we began this experiment (in September?) we wanted a chance to get our group of friends together to learn longform at our pace and without professional instruction.  Since we all have significant stage experience and plenty of shortform time, we weren’t exactly novices.  Still, tackling The Harold by jumping in the deep end is probably not what most people do.  Most of us in The Sticks have wives/husbands/sister wives/blowup dolls etc. to go home to (and in some cases rehearse with) and lots of stuff happening in our remote Connecticut lives.  Rehearsing every other week has to be enough for us.

And it really has been.  We feel like we have the structure of The Harold down and it’s really just time to work work work work work the scenes, the relationships, and the games.  While we’ve enjoyed running a few full Harolds, we decided to work exercises tonight and end on a mini La Ronde or two.  (By the way… many, many thanks to Kevin Mullaney’s Improv Resource Center forums and podcast.  Such an incredible help to us to hear about  exercises.)

We’ve got a few goals now for ourselves when it comes to scene work:

  1. Let them breathe.  Let the space become clearer, the relationships deeper and don’t worry about silence.
  2. Work to identify games.  Get away from one liners and move to patterns, heightening, etc.
  3. Think of them as fully structured rather than a quick interaction between two people.  Imagine them as scenes from a play.

To help with this, we used an exercise called “Understudy” that we saw on the IRC forums.  It was useful in at least two ways.  First, it forced us to concentrate on heightening – and not just heightening the character.  We were far more focused at actually heightening the action, the problem or… the game.  So, second, it was easily the best thing we’ve done so far to find games within scenes.

We next did something that we pulled from the IRC Podcast featuring Craig Cackowski. He called it “Scene Study”.  Ahead of time, Steve had written a scene name from an imagined play for two-person scenes.  It’s set up by explaining that everybody has spent a few weeks doing some intense scene study preparation from some modern classic plays.  Each duo is then given the scene that they supposedly studied and the play name and they’re off.  (Examples that Craig used were things like “the stakeout scene from the Spellman Incident” or “the hospital scene from A Rose For Miss Hannah.  Others that were created for our rehearsal were “the hiding from Nazis scene from Hitler’s Moustache” and “the cubicle scene from An Inside Job”.)

Scene Study was a great exercise in forcing everybody to go into the scene already imagining that it was full… that it had a beginning, middle and end rather than just a quick, random meeting of two people on stage.

From here we jumped in to a quick La Ronde.  All of the scene work we had done helped here tremendously, but we were also able to bring in many of our Harold instincts.  Connections were quick, scenes were solid.  We did two of these suckers and frigging loved it.

Rehearsal again in a couple of weeks.  What’s next?

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1 Comment

  1. Chris

     /  January 6, 2011

    I was beating myself up after the last two rehearsals (insert typical improv self-doubt wallowing).

    But I got my trust on last night. I threw myself to the mercy of my scene partners and had a blast. Thanks Steve for research.

    I was concerned that doing exercises focused on heightening and find the game would dilute the scene work we’d planned for later in the night. It did just the opposite. All the scene-studies clicked with richer scenes… maybe because we had just “found the funny” in the previous games?

    I second Steve’s thanks to Kevin Mullaney’s Improv Resource Center forums and podcast. Makes us feel connected to the “real” world … well the “real improv” world …you know what I mean

    Who else is outraged that Microsoft’s spell check dictionary does not include “improv”?!


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