Character improvisation exercises
We started the lesson with the clap exercise to work on our focus and concentration, as our brief warm up, before delving into a new improvisation game that none of us had done before. The activity was a spotlight exercise which shows brief moments of conversation when the spotlight is put on them; our game was set in a ‘restaurant’ and consisted of several tables of various couples who are each given a different scenario to carry out. We had to continue our conversations in mime or extremely quietly underneath the rest of the activity happening, and only when Erica calls out our designated number do we increase the volume and play out our conversation to the audience. The first pair I was in was with Jack and we were given the scenario that we were two twins who had been split at birth and were meeting for the first time; while Emma and James were a couple who one of which was having an affair with the others spouse and they both know, and finally Hannah and Lou were two sisters who were meeting up as they were hoping to go into business together and needed to discuss ideas. It was a really interesting exercise as despite there being so many other scenes happening around you, for some reason you become so absorbed in your own scene that you forget that there are other people also playing out their own scenes. We made an observation as a group that the scenes we were playing out ended up being very naturalistic and genuine as we didn’t feel the pressure to over do it or exaggerate our movements, especially when going back and fourth between miming and bringing the scenes to life when spotlighted. Also, I think for some of us it took the pressure of having to act, as it were, or come up with funny lunch lines, as you simply carried on with whatever part of the conversation you were at when doing it silently underneath the other action. We did several rounds of this and switched partners and even introduced new characters such as a waiter and another table of couples so we could all be a part of the scene. The second round featured Harry and James (who were given the characters of a father and a son and the was coming out to his father as gay) Josh and Lou (which I contributed the idea for, a guy and girl going on a blind date which their mutual friends set them up on, but they didn’t realise they had in fact been out before). I felt that josh didn’t quite understand the exercise as he mainly stopped the action in the moments where he wasn’t under spotlight and so every time it was his go he just carried on from where he left off on the last time her was spotlighted. On this occasion it meant that the scenes that were played out were quite heightened and not as naturalistic as the others, perhaps as they felt the need to play to the audience rather than just living in the moment. Being in the position where I was in the audience was really interesting as you could observe how each actor in the class reacted to the exercise and what kind of traits it brought out in their acting, and how on the most part it really made people relax. The next round I was in, I was partnered with Leah and we were given the situation of a mother telling her daughter that her and her father were divorcing. I felt that leah and I responded well to the exercise and it can out as very naturalistic and initiated a genuinely recognisable bond between our characters. I actually got really into the emotion of the situation and as the character I started to cry genuine tears when leah broke the news. This showed to me how, as an actor, if you truly live in the moment it can really help bring the emotion to life and make the reactions feel more genuine and real. Every time we did the exercise I felt more relaxed and like the atmosphere and other scenes happening around me only helped me feel more comfortable in the scene – thus was even more so when we were all on stage at once even though we were mostly absorbed in our bubbles, we also started to play of the other couples in the ‘restaurant’ and as a group reacted if the universal tension created in the room. I even made the conscious decision to interact with Hannah (who who was sitting on another table) on my entrance as if my character new her, because I felt that it would create a more realistic atmosphere as in real life one would interact with other people around them.
In the second half of the lesson we moved to EO44 and we took part in another short improvisation game, focusing on creating genuine realistic characters and not just over the top generic stereotypes. We played the game where we each have to write a character or type of person written on a piece of paper and then in turn picked one, and played this character in the scene. The scene chosen was a party, and the aim of the activity was to simply enter the room one by one and interact with the other characters as if at a party, until Erica could guess who is who. The first one I picked was ‘a lady in her late 20s who is a sugar daddy who’s husband has just left her and so she now has no money’, so I made an effort to walk to take on the persona of someone who thinks they own the space but is quite a diva and spent lots of their time trying to figure out who was the richest in the room and then sucking up to them. One of the biggest challenges was not creating a stereotype that is too over the top, and also not to simply indicate who we were by just saying it. Hannah had picked out the character that I wrote and so I managed to suss out who she was fairly quickly. She played an under cover spy for the MI5, and portrayed this by acting in a very sketchy way and constantly observing other people’s behaviour.
We talked about how naturally this was a hard character type to have to do naturalistically as in real life a spy would be doing their ultimate best to blend in to a crowd and to not be noticed, and therefore their behaviour wouldn’t actually be of this nature – so Han could only portray her character ‘naturalistically’ to some extent and had to use qualities of the stereotype. On the second round I was given the persona of a ‘right wing political follower who has to let every know, and a vegan activist ‘ – I found it difficult to do both these together, as usually the two idea conflict quite a lot, however I feel I managed to show this character by owning the space and talking to the other characters lots in an attempt to make sure their opinions were heard. I even decided to stand on one of the chairs and silence everyone to draw attention to me and then made an announcement for everyone to vote for the particular party I was supporting. I found the fact I couldn’t actually say the words ‘right wing’ difficult as well as the fact that I personally don’t have the best knowledge on politics and so found it difficult to make clear references to my characters political views. However it turned out that I did have one opportunity to give some of my character traits away when Emma (who was playing an Australian Surfer) approached me and so I tried telling her about my characters views on foreigners and how they shouldn’t be allowed in our country unless they have things to offer (which I know is an extreme example of right wing political views, however I knew this would give Erica and others a strong indication of who my character might be). I also used my characters power and authority to take control of the party and show authority (she believed herself to have) over the other characters by dictating what they should and shouldn’t eat at the party and turning everything thy said round to being an argument for vegan rights and support of politics. Which obviously is a stereotype and a completely hyperbolic nudes of this character type, however I knew it would successfully portray the character type and make it recognisable for Erica and the others. Some of the other characters were more difficult to pick out as they didn’t necessarily have set stock characters or stereotypes to play with, but instead had general personality qualities listed which they had to try and imbed, some of which were difficult to portray due to them having the opposite gender types. For example Jack picked out a card which was actually meant for a girl, called Katy, and because of the way jack adapted his physicality and voice to appear more feminine it actually made it look like he was trying to play a stereotype of very camp gay man. We talked about ways of getting round this in an improvisation scene such as this while still remaining in character, and decided that it would have worked well if Jack came in and introduced himself as ‘Katy’ straight away as then we would establish from the beginning that he was paying a girl.
Overall I found this lesson really insightful and interesting to do and felt that the way in which we were thrown into improvisational situations as a group rather than one by one it took a large amount of the pressure off to impress, and instead you could simply focus on the character and acting.