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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Tuesday (8/7/12) 11:15pm - ... wherein Peter attends week 5, day 2 of the iO Summer Intensive.

Here are my notes from week 5, day 2 of the iO Summer Intensive.  Our instructor for week five is Miles Stroth.

* The Opening Scene of the Deconstruction:
        * The main purpose of this scene is to pump the show full of *information*.
                * Name people.
                        * Both onstage and offstage characters.
                * Allude to offstage things/characters/events.
                        * Imply a world that's larger than just the here & now.
                * Explore questions about your character.
                        * Who are my friends?
                        * What do I do with my time?
                        * What makes me happy?
                        * ... and so on.
                * Reference cultural things.
                        * "Are we going to see Batman tonight?" opens the door for any & all usage of Batman.
                        * "I want to walk the path of the great American writers." opens the door to play *any* great American writer.
                * Tell stories.
                        * Me: stories the characters both know are less useful than stories only *one* character knows.
                                * In the latter case, you have an excuse to *tell* the story in perfect detail.
                                        * ... which is more useful for producing information.
                        * Telling stories about your character, and where your character is coming from, makes the audience *invested* in your character.
                * Err on the side of TOO MUCH information. :)        
        * The scene is more "conversation" than "game".
                * Think "TJ & Dave", not "Cook County".
                * It's pretty much realistic.
                        * Maybe with *slightly* larger choices.
                        * Note that 'realistic' doesn't perforce mean 'angry'.
                                * You can still be funny.
                * It's definitely NOT a straight/absurd scene.
                        * Instead, each character is flawed in his/her own way.
                        * Once you know your flaw, develop it and lean on it.
                * It's not a "this is the day" scene.
                        * i.e., "the day when I take drastic action and everything changes".
                * Instead, it's more of a "day in the life" scene.
                        * i.e., "this is what life is like for these people."
                        * "This is the current source of tension between them."
        * Try to nail the relationship and the inherent problem in the first line.
                * Do it clearly and obviously.
                * Example: "Yes dad, I love it here on the farm, but I want to move away to the city, and you can't stop me."
                * Just get it the hell out of the way.
                        * Otherwise, you'll waste valuable time trying to chase down the relationship and the inherent problem.
                        * Similarly, a "slow start" is not useful in this scene.
                                * Yes, it's a ~six-minute scene.
                                * But you can't waste time on a slow start.
                                        * A slow start adds no new information.
                                        * And, again, priority #1 is to add new information.
                * We don't necessarily need details about the relationship.
                        * But we *do* at least need to know the basics about it.
                        * ... and the two characters definitely *know* each other.
                * Once relationship/problem are established, you can move on to *exploring*.
                        * ... which is the actual purpose of this scene.
                * At least make sure you've answered the question "How do these two people know each other?"
        * Note that the problem isn't the *focus* of the scene.
                * The problem is just there to create tension.
                * You should occasionally touch on the problem.
                        * This *maintains* the tension.
                * ... but you shouldn't monomaniacally focus on it.
                        * This means you're not exploring other things.
        * Any time you find yourself stuck on one topic, that's your cue to move on to something else.
                * You want to spend the whole scene restlessly moving from topic to topic.
                * The constants here are *not* the "what you're talking about".
                * The constants are:
                        * Your character.
                        * Especially: your character's POV.
                        * The problem between the characters.
                        * The relationship.
                * These can all stay the same, regardless of the topic of conversation.
        * Likewise, you don't want to get stuck in one *emotion* in your scene.
                * If you find yourself stuck in one mood, that's your cue to explore what your character is like in *other* moods.
        * The two characters should not be 'peas in a pod'.
                * That is, do not mirror.
                * There should be a clear *difference* between the characters.
                * Once you've established that difference, you can start exploring the question, "*Why* are they different?"
                        * This lets you start exploring the characters' *histories*.
                                * (i.e., what shaped them in their pasts?)
                        * Side note:  this is why it's less useful to play children in this opening scene.
                                * (i.e., they have no real history to work with, compared to adults.)
        * Note that we need details about *both* characters.
                * If you've spent a while talking about character A, it's now time to change gears and start talking about character B.
        * Sometimes the other character will act like a dick to you.
                * In this case, the realistic choice might be to leave.
                * The problem is, this ends the scene.
                * So: find a reason to *not* end the scene.
                * And keep exploring.
                * That said, this game (of dickishness) *should* recur throughout the scene.
                

* Theme Scenes:
        * These are the two 1½-minute scenes that follow the opener.
        * We have one theme-scene for each character.
        * A character's theme-scene explores a theme -- a one-word 'big idea' like "protective" or "competitive" -- that you see in that character.
        * Start the theme-scene by stepping out and embodying the theme.
                * It can (and probably should) be a line as simple and direct as "I am very competitive."
                        * Yup.  Just flat-out *say the theme*.
                * Remember: you're embodying the *theme*, not repeating the *character*.
                        * If you feel you must provide a specific context, make it a different context from the opening.
                        * If in doubt, going generic never hurts here.
        * Then, a second performer steps out and mirrors you.
                * So, you are essentially the *same character*.
                * This means: do NOT do an initiation that makes you inherently different characters.
                        * Don't imply a status difference.
                        * Don't tell the other person they *don't* embody the theme.
                                * If someone does that to you, give it right back to them.
                                        * Then it'll be an argument, sure.
                                        * But at least you'll both be embodying the theme.
        * Then, you spend 1½ minutes in a competition to be the most <x>.
        * Note that this isn't really a scene.
                * There's probably no setting, no plot, no unique characterization.
                * It's more of an exercise that hammers away on exploring and heightening this one-word theme for the character.

* The Opener Returns:
        * For about two minutes, we go back to the opening scene.
        * We either pick up where we left off, or jump to a few minutes of story-time into the future.
        * The same performers resume that world.
        * Their characters are now informed with the themes we've explored.
        * If your character's theme was "competitive", really lean on making your character competitive in this continuation.
                * Heighten those qualities.
                * Hopefully, you were already discovering and heightening those qualities in that very first scene.
        
* Comment Scenes:
        * These are the five or six 1-minute or so scenes that follow the continuation.
        * Each one is a two-hander.
                * So if you get up to do a scene, and two or more other people also get up, you sit the fuck down.
                        * Or "walk back to the wings", or whatever.
        * Each one is a straight/absurd scene.
                * It is NOT a double-asburd scene.
                        * So, in your initiation, make it clear...
                                * ... who is the absurd guy.
                                * ... who is the straight man.
                        * If you endow both characters as absurd, your partner should probably punch you in the face.
                                * And somehow you need to back out of the double-absurd.
                * Once you know what the absurd behavior is...
                        * ... your goal is to heighten it.
                        * Make it *more* absurd.
                        * Make it *more* wrong.
                        * Both players can collaborate on this process.
        * Each one highlights some specific, fucked-up behavior you noticed in the opener or its continuation.
                * ... and *only* that fucked-up behavior.
                * Do NOT use additional material from the opening.
                        * This has the effect of "burning" that material.
                                * That is, the material is no longer available for future scenework.
                                        * (... because it's already been used.)
                        * This also muddies what the scene is commenting on.
                                * It makes its connection to the opening scene ambiguous.
                * Try to hit the big, obvious fucked-up behaviors that the audience surely noticed.
        * When you notice a specific behavior, make it generic, and re-work it into a new context for the comment scene.
                * This is what makes it a *comment* scene, not a "re-tell the material you just saw" scene.
                * Generally, you're saying, "*That* was fucked-up.  That'd be like if <x>."
                        * (Where "<x>" is that new context.)
                * Here's how I did it for one scene:
                        * In the scene: "Jack seemed really worried that he hadn't gotten a phone call from Big Tony, while the other mercenary did."
                        * Making it general: "Character obsesses way too much over an innocuous phone call."
                        * Putting it in a new context:  "A guy tells his best friend he's obsessing way too much over a recent phone call from a girl he's started dating."
        * Make sure the audience can tell exactly what bit of the opening scene you're commenting on.
                * Err on the side of being too on-the-nose.
                        * This is because it's nearly impossible to be too on-the-nose.
                * You can even mirror the dialog of the exact moment, to cue the audience.
                * The audience will reward *accuracy* here.
                        * Not being clever or 'funny'.
        * You can try a reversal of the behavior you're commenting on.
                * But it's tricky, and could confuse the audience.
                * Therefore, it requires even more explicit cueing of the connection to the source material.
        * There's a difference between themes, comments, and tangents.
                * It's a matter of specificity versus scale.
                * An example: a father hits his son with a bottle of Budweiser.
                        * Theme: abuse.
                        * Comment: hitting people with odd things.
                        * Tangent: Budweiser.
                
* General notes:
        * When playing the straight man, try to be as simple as possible.
                * If it's as simple as "This guy keeps twitching," then *say* that: "You keep twitching."
                        * It doesn't have to be more wordy to have verisimilitude.
                        * It doesn't have to be oblique.
                        * It doesn't have to be clever.
        * As the straight man, you can go into a long *rant* about what the real world is like.
                * The next thing that will inevitably happen: the absurd person goes right on being absurd.
                        * This gets a laugh, because of the timing.
                        * The absurd behavior has been set up as a punch line.
        * If there's a structural fuck-up in the deconstruction, just roll with it.

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