In our rehearsals lately, we’ve been focusing on two big things, both of which are seemingly basic, yet difficult to master. They are: 1.) Follow the first thing, and 2.) Take note of any anomalies.
The first one is easy to understand: whatever is first initiated, that’s what you’re scene is about. Don’t start one way then bail on it 6 lines in because you saw something better. In fact, if you saw something “better” at that point, then you were doing yourself a disservice to begin with because you might not have made a strong choice at the top.
ANYWAY… we’re really talking about the second one. With this credo, you want to play with a level of concentration where you notice anything out of the ordinary. You want to play as an “anomaly cop,” ever ready. That way you can work it into the pattern of the show, changing any “mistakes” into intentional-looking “non-mistakes.” (For example: if for some reason a teammate says the word “rubber” as “rud-bubber,” it is your job as an anomaly cop to notice it — because everyone did — and work it into later scenes). You have to be so aware of what the current pattern is that any changes pop out like fireworks.
In other words, improvisers should notice differences the way my toddler son does around the house.
Henry must spend his entire day staring at our bookshelves, stove, electrical outlets, TV’s, computers, cupboards, chairs, clothes, soaps, towels and everything else we own with ferocious intensity. He knows the way the rooms “should” be so well, that to move anything gets a reaction like you’d expect from moving the furniture in a blind man’s house.
The “anomaly copping” occurs most often after sleep. He’ll wake up from either his nightly sleep or his mid-day nap, trounce around the apartment to get some food or a drink, and occasionally be stopped by something out of the ordinary, emitting a high-pitched “Ah!” and a pointing finger. “That wasn’t there two/ten hours ago,” he’s telling us, and he’s absolutely correct. In order to childproof our home, we’ve gone to the lengths of removing the AV cables from our TV (they plug in the front) and the knobs on the stove (which just makes sense). If we leave either of these big-ticket items in during his waking hours, he lets us know. This is fortunate, because his “Ah!” gives us a 2.5-second window of opportunity before his feet compulsively draw his pudgy hands closer to the anomaly.
This is how I want to play on stage: always in the moment, instantly aware of any changes in the pattern, and with my feet (or my mind feet) ready to take me toward the anomaly.
I’m working on it. All day. Every day. With breaks at night and after lunch and a diaper change.