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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Positive - Negative Charge

Last post I discussed the inhibitor/promoter pair. I want to extend the discussion on that to talk about energy. Remember, one of the foundations of Quantum Improv is that we look to move forward in our scenes. When we move forward, we have a positive energy. When we move the other way, we have negative energy. Notice, however, how these energy exchanges work in our natural world. If we have a sufficient positive force or energy, we are moving forward. If the next energy introduced is a negative energy, then we move backward, right? Not at all. First the forward momentum from the initial positive energy introduced must be diminished - down to nothing before we will be going in reverse.

Ever try reversing the direction of your ceiling fan? When you hit reverse, it doesn't just automatically go backwards, even though the energy introduced is completely reversed. I've put the machine in reverse, but it still moves forward, albeit slower - and slower - and slower, until it stops, then slowly starts in the other direction until it is going the other way with as much momentum as it was moving originally.

We've experienced a transfer of energy, from positive to negative, from forward to backward.

Now let's look at how this can relate to an improv scene. Setting our common language, we are looking to build something together, between two improvisers let's say, and we are looking for our scene to move forward. We are looking for positive energies to be built on positive energies in order to move our scene forward. For the purposes of this discussion, positive means that which moves the scene forward, negative inhibits forward movement.

Here is an annoyingly general statement. I believe most improvisers are too quick to introduce negative energies into their scenes. I do not champion the idea that there should never be any negative energy in a scene. Obviously you can't have conflict if you don't offer some negative energy. Conflict, obstacles, trials, challenges - these are the things drama is made of and we must have them if we desire to tell a story. I'll go more into detail regarding that idea in future posts.

So I'm not against offers that add conflict. I do feel however, that many improvisers think that simply taking the opposite view will be the best road to desired conflict. Another quick play is the opposing perspective, or the challenge to the offered perspective. Although I think this style of interplay definitely has its place, I think it is too often used prematurely. When used prematurely, the desired effect is lost - that is, moving the scene forward. Let me go back to the energy transfer model to explain why and how this might be happening.

Two improvisers Carl and Sarah are building a scene. Carl makes an offer (positive energy). Sarah immediately challenges (questions) Carl's perspective. The trouble with this is there was not enough positive energy built up before the negative energy was introduced. There was minimal momentum developed from the positive momentum. What will happen is the positive energy will be quickly diminished and the pair will find themselves stalled with no forward progress. What they will have to do is start again with some sort of positive energy. If Sarah makes a new offer and Carl immediately takes a conflicting viewpoint, we're in the same place once again - going nowhere. Too many starts and stops like this will not have a positive effect on your audience - or your playing together dynamic.

This is why I advocate more positive energies built on one another, especially at the top of the scene. How many scenes have you seen or been in that you would feel just didn't get the momentum built? You gotta get those fan blades going first, then when you add a negative force or energy, you won't stop your forward movement - now you're creating drama, now you're creating art.

And once you get those fan blades going using your promoters, you can weather an inhibitor or two. But we must keep a watchful eye and mind of the overall energy. Too many inhibitors can grind us to a halt. In fact, since we're looking to move forward, we should be mindful that our inhibitors don't slow us down too much. When we do this and do it correctly, you will see that your "conflict" offers and responses actually have the impact of moving the scene forward, making it more exciting and impactful, and not just stalling it.

How can this be, you might be asking. Isn't that the negative energy you're talking about? Well, technically it is, but we're using it as a tool for our benefit, to make the scene ebb and flow, transferring between positive and negative energies - with the constant that there are not too many inhibitors piled on or pressing too heavily on the forward motion.

Look at professional golfers, who have taken the science of inhibiting energies in their natural world and used them to their benefit. Tennis players use this dynamic too. They call it backspin. A backspin is the ball or object rotating in reverse - backward - negative energy. Fortunately there is a strong enough force moving the ball forward at a velocity that the backspin seems to have zero effect. But when the ball hits the ground, the value of that inhibiting force is realized. It helps the golfer from suffering the natural result of all the forward momentum he has forced on the ball. When it lands it doesn't just stay in forward motion with nothing to stop it. It hits and the inhibiting energy takes over, now able to overcome the original velocity. This effort gently moves the ball from past the hole more slowly towards it. A much more controlled approach than hitting before the hole and continuing to roll towards it at what will amount to a speed that is too high.