Improv Class 2.4 – Why do you do what you do?

The theme of the class before this one was “Be affected by what you hear.” We played a game in which one player started a scene with a random opening line. The other character then had to have a strong emotional reaction toward this line (see the previous blog). So I started this class with the question “what was it like to have a strong emotional reaction towards a random opening line?” Ruan said that it was hard for him to have a strong reaction towards a statement that he didn’t really care about. He felt that his response wasn’t authentic. Naomi told a story about her sister who received a birthday gift from a colleague. The colleague told her how she searched everywhere for this gift and how special it was. The gift was some weird ceramic chime. Not something that Naomi’s sister really liked and would normally have a strong feeling about. So how could she accept the gift in a way that would still validate the effort that her colleague went through and still be authentic? So she responded by saying “wow, thank you so much. How did you know I liked ceramics?” She accepted the gift and was affected by it in a way that validated her colleague while still being authentic because she really did like ceramics. This story is a perfect example of how you can be affected by what you hear and still be authentic.

Ruan and Naomi’s comments reminded me of two improv games so I combined them for the next exercise. The first is the Gifts game that I learned from Megan of Improvision. In this game a player hands an imaginary gift to the person next to them. The person receiving the gift, names the gift and over accepts it by saying how it is the one thing they’ve always wanted. In the other game an emotion is picked, such as anger. An imaginary box is then sent around the circle and every time the box is opened the player must react in the identified emotion but stronger than the previous person’s reaction. Until the reaction is so strong that the person dies or the box is completely destroyed. In my combined game we identified an emotion and then passed around gifts having a stronger and stronger reaction in the chosen emotion. The question that came up was, “how do I have a strong authentic reaction if what I receive really doesn’t matter to me?” The answer is simple; you play a character to who it would matter. For example, Mike received a gift that looked like a tray, so he made it a Wimbledon trophy and played a tennis player who won the tournament. In the example he also gave the object a specific characteristic that made it more valuable to his character. This is a great way to come up with strong characters in a scene – you pick any emotion and then react strongly in that emotion toward the opening line of your fellow player. Then you just play a character that justifies that reaction. Boom you have a strong character that has a strong motivation.

The application of this improv wisdom in real life is very valuable. Sometimes we have very strong reactions towards certain situations and offers from other people. These reactions may be positive or negative. A good way of becoming more self aware is to ask yourself, “why do I have such a strong reaction about this?” and “why does it matter to me?” These questions can lead you towards understanding what you value and really want in life – the theme for my next blog.

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