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ReV Up Your Improv Scenes
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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Don't Make it Better - Make it Worse

~ PART 11 of the Series: ReV up Your Improv Scenes ~

Congratulations! You've made it into Act II of your improv scene. [insert trumpet fanfare here].

You've set it up nicely, introducing, through discovery and spontaneous creative association, several wonderful elements into your scene. You've made the leap into Act II with an action or offer that spins the world (normal up till this moment) out of control, or at least unbalancing the natural order set up so far.

In screenplay parlance, the first act sets up the "normal world," then, as we just discussed in the previous post, something hurls us into a new world or new universe that is Act II – the portal of the ReVolt moment.

A great example of this in the movies is "Back To The Future." It's so beautiful in this movie because the new universe is actually the exact same universe but in the past, so it's totally unfamiliar to the protagonist, Marty McFly. The mechanism that flings him from his "normal" world to this new world is a custom, science-laden DeLorean.

From this point forward, the story (or the universe of the story) is out of balance and the protagonist is looking to restore balance. In many stories - the method of restoring, or goal of restored balance is known, and the choices made in the story are to that end, confounded by various obstacles, challenges and complications.

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In Star Wars, the objective is to destroy the "Death Star," ideally before it takes out the planet where the rebel base is. In the movie Rudy, the objective for Rudy is to get on the Notre Dame football team. In the example introduced above, "Back to the Future," Marty must restore balance by getting the car back to a certain spot at a specific time, after making sure his mom and dad get together as they are supposed to. This will restore the balance that has been knocked out of whack.

In Act II we are constantly and consistently moving toward that moment, overcoming along the way all the challenges and setbacks that befall us and hinder our forward progression.

There is beautiful creativity in "Back to the Future," in that the elements that inhibit the objective of the protagonist is the protagonist himself – "Dude, your mom's in love with you when she should be falling for your dad at this moment!"

The improvised scene characters should encounter challenges and setbacks as well. Seems like so many scenes at this point fall into meaningless banter or mindless bickering for no other reason than it seems like conflict. Is the protagonist moving toward their objective?

Luckily for some scenes the actors are indeed able to introduce suitable obstacles to provide some needed drama into the scene. Of course any obstacle requires action on the part of the protagonist. Action is essential. How many scenes falter is that the protagonist does not take action definitively. Sure, they talk about what they need to do, but they somehow put off, avoid or somehow keep themselves from doing it. It is important that the actor/improvisers make actional choices complimented by the verbal banter they create, and not replaced by talking alone. The most logical action to take place at this point is the reaction to the moment just experienced. The protagonist decides how to deal with it and then action follows reaction and so on. Hopefully the "deciding" happens quickly in the head of the protagonist and the audience simply sees the protagonist do something. Too many scenes in my opinion are slowed down and become stagnant when the protagonist and sometimes other characters too, talk about the decision process as opposed to being decisive and doing something without delay.

Another unfortunate choice actors sometimes tend to make is the immediate fix to the problem or challenge introduced. That is what this post is about.

You are encouraged to make it worse, and not just make it all better right away. Deepen the challenge, layer the difficulty. This can be some of the most fun you will have as an improviser. Live in the languish a little while before getting through it. When watching a surfer we don't want to see the wave peter out right away [problem solved] - we want to see it build, with the surfer having to show some real stuff to manage it, building suspense and excitement along the way.

It's enough for Marty to overcome his mom's flirtatious affections towards him – but he's got to deal with that pesky Biff Tannen too! C'mon Biff, gimme a break!

Conflict - good.  Heightened conflict [conflict further complicated] - Even Better!

The Act II of an improv scene will generally support 2 - 4 challenges to be overcome before getting to the climactic moment of ultimate success or victory.

Even in long form I think the same number is appropriate - you just have more time to deepen the conflict of each challenge or obstacle on your way to the climactic moment of victory. Add in a sub-plot or two, and you've got plenty to work with.

Also keep in mind, the Act II might end in a non-victory or limited victory. Remember again the story of Rudy. All he wanted was to play Notre Dame football. He never made it to the playing field to achieve victory. He didn't somehow come through at the end to make the winning score in the final seconds of the game. He was uniformed up for the final game, it's true, and he did get in for one play, but it wasn't the ultimate success Rudy wanted or you might expect from the movies.

Still, he was victorious, however, if you realize that even though he didn't get what he wanted [to make the Notre Dame football team and play], he got what he needed [his success was in his experience and growth in perseverance, patience, commitment and fortitude - never giving up, despite the hardships along the way]. We knew at the end of that movie that Rudy was going to be okay, being strengthened and transformed with these very important life skills. Rudy... Rudy... Rudy...

The final challenge that the protagonist must overcome is usually the biggest and most dramatic - and leads to the climactic moment.

In the interest of letting things get worse before they get better many improvisers are nervous about digging a hole too deep they won't know how to get out of it. I say dig the hole and leap in. It is almost guaranteed that you will find a way out of the trouble you've gotten yourself into and in my opinion it's better that you don't even know or think about how that will happen yet. It will happen for sure, and the key to that moment is the topic of the next installment which also takes us to the third RV element - ReVisit.

The ReVisit moment basically suggests that you have already introduced something early on in your scene that will be or can be the key to helping you overcome this final challenge, obstacle or tribulation.