This blog is part of a series of "Classic Bovine Blogs." These are blog posts that we managed to recover from our old website that crashed in 2014. This blog was written by Eric Farone and originally posted on December 19th, 2007.
I have a game I like players to warm-up with. I call it “3 Line Scenes” it is a three line (exchange) scene in which the Who (relationship), What (focus of the scene) and the Where (location) must be established. For example;
Player One: Mom, I’m Sad. (Who/Relationship)
Player Two: But this is Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. (Where/Location)
Player One: I wish Dad was here.(What/Focus)
In three lines (exchanges) we have the “magic tripod” of a scene. The three things that hold a scene together. In improv, this is a valuable skill set to have… and not use.
Extended Metaphor Warning!
Think of the Who, What or Where as a rip cords on a parachute. When you start skydiving you learn how to pull the rip cord on the ground, you learn where your back up cord is on your body and you learn where your emergency chute cord is. When you first jump out of a plane, the have someone jump with you in tandem and they pull the cord or tell you when to do it. The next time they may connect the cord to the plane so that it automatically opens the chute while you are falling. After a while you pull it yourself. All of this effort is so you don’t crash and die, which is good.
The fun comes when you are so good at pulling the chute that you stop worrying about crashing and start enjoying the fall. You can play with the airflow, or form a ring with other divers, get married, whatever. The fun is not pulling the chute the fun is in the fall.
Same is true in an improv scene. The more you move forward into delicious ambiguity the more fun, free and exhilarated you feel. There is a rush the first time you go on stage without a script because you are moving into the unknown for the first time, but fear of crashing causes many to pull every chute right at the start. You soon you have to do more than pull you chute to have fun, soo you have to see how far you can fall before pulling the chute.
Some “improvisers” talk backstage and plan out scenes. This is like opening your chute on the plane. It’s like riding a roller-coaster where you are so safely harnessed in that you have no thrill. I used to love Mr. Twister at old Elitches. It was an old wooden roller coaster that made a horrible sound and seemed to move. At the top of some hills and corners, that sound would stop and you would think “We are off the tracks!” Now that is a ride!
When you feel like you are off the tracks and yet you still move forward that is the thrill that keeps you doing improv for life.
So I like the warm-up of a “3 Line Scenes” and when they are done warming up with it I tell them “Now that you know you can pull the cord at anytime, don’t pull it unless your freaking out”.
After we do “3 Line Scenes” I have them do “No Line Scenes”. This is a scene where the Who, What, Where must be established in silence. When the first person speaks, it over. These become very pretty starts to scenes, especially when the focus of the first line is ambiguous (not pulling a cord). So the first line doesn’t talk about the Who, What, or Where.
The next time you are playing see how long you can keep adding something and move forward in the scene without pulling a cord. Free fall and have a blast. Remember if you ever feel the ground coming up at you fast (”They aren’t laughing! What the hell is going on? I’m in my head! I’m in my head!”) pull one of the cords and be safe the rest of the way down.
The farther you go this time, the farther you’ll want to go next time. Enjoy the ride!
Eric Farone - Artistic Director