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 March 15th, 2011.
Who Are You? ~ The Who
In improv I tell people to “be a character”. To some people this just means try to be someone besides themselves. So they change their body, or their speech, or even just hold onto an attitude just to get outside of themselves and into a character. All these choices get them a bit further away from themselves and closer to being a character. But how do we really define and develop characters as we go through a scene on stage?
We define the “Where” (location for the scene) by interacting with it. If we have in our head that we are in a gas station and never act upon it we are no where. If we just say “we are in a gas station” it is said, but it is not integrated into the scene. We need to reach out and touch our “Where”. We need to interact with the environment and let it influence us. This helps us “see” the set and paint the canvas of the scene.
We discover the “Relationship” (who we are to each other in this moment) by seeing and listening to each other and reacting to one another. If we do not connect on stage there is no relationship and therefore nothing at stake. If we just call out our relationship “Hi Mom” then it is out there but still not integrated with our scene. We need to see each other and interact with each other on stage, and the first step toward this is eye contact. Our eye contact connects us and helps us read each other. This interaction helps hammer out the form of the relationship takes and show that to the audience in a fully integrated fashion.
Bats use a thing called echolocation to help them navigate. In order for a bat to use it’s echolocation it must send out a noise to hit the objects in it’s vicinity. The sound the bat makes is bounced back to the bat letting it “see” more clearly what is around it. The bat must act on it’s environment by sending out a sound in order for it to better define it’s surroundings. We must have our characters acted upon in order to define them.
Characters must be acted upon, influenced, pulled and tugged on to be fully formed. They have to be defined through tests and trials. The scene must act on the character in a way that forces the characters metal to be tested. This pushing and pulling, testing and acting upon let’s us better see who the character is and what is important to them.
There Goes My Hero, He’s Ordinary ~ Foo Fighters
This kind of testing is usually associated with “heroes”. When I say “hero”, I don’t mean a super-hero with magic powers. I mean an ordinary someone who I can route for in the scene. Someone I can associate with or have compassion for and possibly hope that they will succeed. They don’t need to win, but I need to be able to route for them. In order for me to route for them, something has to be at stake, and what higher stake is there than a character’s beliefs and moral compass? These are the scenes I want to see on stage. The scenes where character is revealed through actions and based on a thought out belief system.
So to refine and see our characters develop, we must put them in high stakes scenes where they not only can lose, but maybe even lose their way. This is how we define our characters. We put them in moments that their integrity is at stake. Scenes where they may fail or succeed. This is the tension that defines them.
Billy Don’t Be a Hero ~ Paper Lace
So often in improv we have a fluff scene where nothing is changed the characters are never put to the test, but aren’t these the moments that make great theater? But moment of great theater are hard to play and harder to make funny. So instead we get a bunch of scenes, just like a sit-com set up, where the character always is trying to change their life and at the end nothing has changed. The character is not smarter, wiser, or better for the test (and neither is the audience). It is a half hour of laughs where nothing was gained or lost.
Just like the Sisyphus in Greek Mythology, who was punished by being forced to roll an huge stone up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity, we end up right where we started and nothing is changed. Our character become Teflon and unaffected, which kills the stakes and does not develop the character.
I Need A Hero ~ Bonnie Tyler
The moments of being tested, moments when our characters have to stand up for what they believe in are the moments that may define them as heroes.
Heroes are just people (characters) who are tested, tempted and defined through actions and in the end don’t lose themselves. These are the scenes and the moments worth seeing on stage.
There’s a hero if you look inside your heart, You don’t have to be afraid of what you are. ~ Mariah Carey