I don’t currently follow any sports. In fact, I barely understand the premise of sport. However this Saturday I’ll be sitting down with Terp and determining, systematically, the sports team to which I will choose to pledge my undying devotion! Anticipating Saturday got me to reminiscing about my days competing in the NFL.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with CX Debate, it is talking fast, research, belligerence, note-taking, and trophies. CX debate is also about make believe: “if you do ___ then ___ will result.” In every debate competition the Impact a scenario will have is a major issue. Now in the weird video below I would draw your attention to one thing: the number of times the word “impact” is used.
That last moment, the guy says: “The impact to our D.A. is nuclear war which causes extinction right now. This debate’s over.” Man, it doesn’t get anymore classic than that! If there were crowds at debate tournaments, which there aren’t, the crowd would have gone wild! (side-note: if you want to do a show with me called MasterDB8r and are willing to create tubs full of research, hit me up.)
Impacts matter in improv too. We talk about heightening, but we are actually talking about two different things: heightening the game and heightening the impact of that game. In a scene, if you are irritated because your husband brought home a big-screen TV, then of course the diamond tennis bracelet makes you sick, but this new Lexus is the last straw! That is the scenario heightening path: TV, Diamond Bracelet, Lexus. However, the scene is a lot richer if there is an Impact to these offers. You are heightening the irritation but you should also be heightening the stakes behind that frustration. Has this couple been to marriage counseling to resolve bringing home fancy presents? Does someone feel a heart-crushing sense of inadequacy when confronted with any material wealth? Spelling it out makes it real.
Last week I was talking about frames and I still am now. Frames: how much we care about something based on how it is presented. The impact of your actions in a scene, and the emotional reality that they create, are the difference between a decent two minute scene and a world which can sustain a show.
In the quest to, as Tami & Chris say, “make the scene buy you a drink” it is important to stretch out your scene, while heightening it. We do this through establishing the impact of an action: this is reacting, but it is reacting smartly. As you react, take that emotional information and translate it into scene information.
Tami encourages people to be careful about wrenching their scenes too far into absurd territory by remarking that no one better kill her baby in a scene because “I’m not a good enough actor to know how you are really supposed to react to that. I will just sit there and cry for the rest of the scene.” Of course, Tami Nelson is the best actor in improv comedy. (personal belief: I haven’t seen better) But her point here is well taken: when you are in a scene and you are about to make a big heightening move how often do you ask yourself “what would a real reasonable person do in this situation if confronted with the information I am about to create?”
We might be more careful about taking off our pants, bunting people’s cats, or cheating on Dad with a tiger-woman if we thought our scene partner might react as drastically to those things as a real person would; we too often take for granted that our offers, no matter how drastic or absurd, won’t have real impacts in our scenes. We expect that kicking some one’s cat will get us, one way or another, invited inside to pet the dog (so we can put a gun to it’s head)– however, if kicking cats was likely to get the cops called, then we could probably trust ourselves to simply pet the cat the wrong way so that the final absurd move of kicking the cat could come much later.
As Aaron & Danhave both mentioned recently the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon: I was thinking about these things all day yesterday, then I went to a rehearsal and did a couple scenes where I anxiously rushed to get information out (talking fast doesn’t belong in improv, though it does belong in debate) and blundered through the heightening path like a child swinging from one monkey bar to the next. It is so hard sometimes, ya know? So, by way of practicality, I would like to mention that if you find yourself rushing through scenes that don’t seem to have high stakes to them, scenes where the impact of any offer seems negligible, you can always take a deep breath look into the eyes of your scene partner and say “I just really care about this.”
Take a sec to tap those breaks, make that connection, and affirm that what is happening matters— you can find out why and how in a minute.