The UCB schools in New York and Los Angeles preach the importance of “finding the game” of the scene. This can be daunting for beginning improvisers. In this video, you’ll hear a well-played game. Listen first, then read on.
Matt Besser begins the scene as the teacher of a shotgun class. Without missing a beat, Ian Roberts makes the sound of a gun going off. It’s about the shortest wait you’ll ever have for a Checkhov’s gun sitution.
Checkhov’s Gun: If a gun appears on stage in a play, someone must be shot by the final curtain.
But that’s fun, right? Everyone in the audience would be waiting for that gun to be used. The fact that they use it right away is a good scene move.
Immediately, everyone else fires off their guns. And Besser gets mad.
At this point, you might be saying, “If the teacher is yelling at his students NOT to shoot the guns, isn’t shooting them a violation of the ‘yes and’ rule?”
This is where “yes and” gets messy.
“Yes” is not always a literal yes. “Yes” is simply agreement to the facts of the scene.
In fact, if someone in a scene tells you NOT to do something, you MUST do it.
The audience is not looking for us to follow marching orders. They want us to misbehave. The stage is a place to explore the consequences of misbehavior. You’ll often find that doing what another performer asks you not to is actually a great gift to the other performer. If he was angry before, he’ll be fully enraged after you ignore his warnings.
Think of it this way: The most interesting part of any Superman movie is when he encounters kryptonite. If another character reveals a weakness, the entire audience wants to see what happens when that weakness is exploited.
The “game” in the scene above is simply Besser freaking out every time a shotgun blast goes off. It’s the thing that can be repeated (with variations) ad nauseum.
There’s a more subtle game going on here, too. It’s the students behaving as if they’re smarter than the teacher. And the teacher gets annoyed when they do.
Game scenes can be shallow if done incorrectly. If the scene was only gunshots and Besser’s reaction, we’d grow tired of it more quickly. But Besser confiscates the guns. For a time, the audience forgets how fun that was. And when it comes back, it’s even better.
That’s your challenge with a game. If Action X results in Reaction Y, you must do it enough times to establish a pattern. Then, walk away from the pattern and play the scene as you might normally. And when you trigger Action X again, the audience will love it.
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com