Friday, 29 July 2011

Should We Be Accountable?

I’m sure we have all been in a show where we were so fully invested and committed to our scene or character that we said something over the top offensive. Not intentionally or to create a reaction from the audience but rather just spitting something out that immediately after made you go “oops!” I try to live by the rule of, no regrets but even I have crossed the line on occasion. I won’t get into dirty details but trust me when I say I have said some pretty bad things. This is all coming up for me because at two separate shows recently something very “racy” was said. Now normally I wouldn’t have paid much attention to it but in these two cases the one who said the risky thing ended up apologizing for it after the show. One time forced by a host and another time on their own because they truly felt bad for what they said. What I want to look at here is, should we as improvisers be held accountable for what we say or do on stage?

Unlike Stand Up where the jokes are pre-meditated, practiced and executed, improv is literally us just saying what’s already there. As long as the thing we say isn’t intentional, or meant to be hateful (Unless a character calls for it) I don’t think we should ever apologize for our actions. In order for us to evoke honest laughter from an audience we need to be honest to them with our reactions. We also shouldn’t have to edit ourselves because that takes us out of the moment. If we are gonna play the Fool for the audience then you would think we could get away with anything and everything. In some cases it seems we can because of certain expectations set up by the Host of a show. They may let the crowd know that everything we do is coming from something in our own lives or experiences, people we’ve met or dealt with. Also that we will play every character with as much honesty as we can so if we do go somewhere racy it’s our character doing it not us. Also the whole idea of lowered expectations plays into this. If it’s set up that we may fail then racy mistakes will almost be expected.

I also wonder if by revisiting the incident, and saying sorry for it, the situation was actually made worse. (The apology forced by the Host was very goofy and not a genuine apology) In the heat of a scene the inappropriate statement or action may seem less offensive because it fits within the walls of that scene. Either way isn’t what we are trying to do is evoke emotion from the people watching us. It was Del Close who said we should try and actually kill our audience with laughter to bring them out of the comatose state. For us to do this we will need to take chances………… Now here is where I’m hung up. That last sentence makes it sound intentional, like we will purposefully try to be more risky in our improv. I don’t think its okay to do risky improv for the sake of doing risky improv. I think its okay to do truthful scenes that depending on what happens in them may end up being risky. Also I guess we need to just take ourselves seriously. For example if for whatever reason I end up playing a bigot I need to play that bigot honestly. Chances are I am gonna offend someone in doing so but we wouldn’t have a chance to go there if I steered clear of that character. We wouldn’t have had a chance to perhaps shed light on a dark subject if I didn’t fully dive in and do that bigot justice (That sounds funny).

So where is the fine line drawn between risky improv and honest improv. I’m sure the line blurs depending on many factors. I need to have no fear of prosecution when I offend someone. As soon as I have fear I will not be able to fully jump in. I am here to entertain, challenge and bring an audience into our show. I am accountable to the audience to play each character or scene as honest as I can. If they judge me then so be it. You will never make everyone happy, nor will you ever know what may offend certain people.  In the end hopefully all the other improvisers will support me and accept my decisions. So to answer the question: Should we be held accountable for our actions? We should be accountable for doing the best quality show, scenes, characters, as we can. We should not be punished if those happen to have unintentional mishaps that offend people in the process. In the end of it all those “mishaps” may actually evoke great conversations that would have otherwise never happened. The key may be to never try to offend but if it naturally happens don’t ever apologize for it. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Break Down The 4th Wall

We break down the fourth wall as soon as we step on stage. We get suggestions and do an audience warm up. There are games we play that are directly influenced by the audience. They yell “change” or “sounds like a song”. Most games are direct interactions with the audience. The audience warm up is a chance for the host to create a relationship with the people there to see the show and let them know how breaking the fourth wall works. A good host is almost trained to be a pick up artist. The smoother and the better spoken they are the easier it is for them to pick up the audience. I compare this to a first date. You have a very limited time to let the audience know that you can be trusted and are loyal to them. The host has to be genuine and not a slimy pick up artist or he will fail in his attempt to create a comfortable environment. What I am exploring right now is ways to take some of this onus off the host and put some on the other improvisers. Something that happened during a show I hosted that I really focused on the audience was the improvisers actually felt left out and not included. The audience really loved it though. So obviously there is a balance that needs to be found so everyone can be invested equally. 

Something the host and improvisers also need to do is give as much as they expect to get back from the audience. You can’t expect personal embarrassing stories from someone when you don’t reveal something about yourself first. This can be done in a subtle way by just being present on stage being honest and yourself. I am finding though that subtle isn’t always the best course of action. I am not one who thinks you need to treat your audience like children. There are a people who think you should treat the audience this way and preach it. That’s not what I’m saying. I guess what I’m saying is, just say it like it is. If you want the audience to open up to you and really invest in the show, then show them that you want to be open and that you are invested in them. Don’t just do a standard improv warm up, really take the time to introduce yourself to them and let them introduce themselves to you. The short form games can all be set up using personal information from the audience. We tried playing a fitting game based on what info we got from the audience. It was tricky but we as a group have a deep list of games so we pulled it off and it was awesome.

What was great when I focused on the audience was that they started doing the work for us. We did short form first half and a Harold in the second. Because we had been so focused on them they started breaking the fourth wall helping us along. This was a big lesson for me on how to get the audience more involved in our long form. Let them break the fourth wall rather then us doing it. This allows us to stay in our scenes and committed. We are all hyper aware on stage ( so we just need to extend this out towards the crowd. I am still playing with tools to give the audience in order to help them do this. The most important thing is them feeling supported and safe to come in. Help them understand they are another performer coming along for the same ride. It just felt very unnatural to break a scene to go out to the audience.. I am trying to find ways to keep the flow. If you think of the booing and cheering in a Melodrama perhaps this idea will make more sense. The audience is more involved and routing for their favorite characters in these plays. Use similar concepts to bring them in during the Harold.

One thing the theatre is going to start doing is warming up before the doors open. This will allow us to all cover a shift at Front of House and Concession and have us interact with our audience before the show starts. We will all be out there rather then hiding in the green room. If we are gonna break that fourth wall let’s see what happens if we never put it up in the first place. It will be important that we are not out there trying to interact with our audience (this would be so forced and unnatural) but rather just be there. Something we decided is that we all need to have something to do while we are out there. If we don’t then everything will seem forced and awkward to us and the audience. We will see how it goes as we implement it. This has been a very satisfying experiment so far and seems endless in fun possibilities.