Here are my notes from week 4, day 2 of the iO Summer Intensive. Our instructor for week four is Bill Arnett.
* Pattern games.
* Once several patterns are establish:
* Introduce "passing objects around" patterns.
* Introduce "pass around a facial expression" patterns.
* Have everyone walk around the room...
* ... instead of staying in a circle.
* Two-line scenes with weird dialog.
* Form two unequal lines.
* The front two people do a two-hander.
* Person 1 initiates with a line of dialog.
* The line's mood should completely contradict its contents.
* e.g., I said in a casual and blasé voice, "Help. Help. I've been shot."
* Person 2 can respond in a variety of ways, including:
* Match person 1's energy.
* Contradict person 1's energy.
* Be oblivious to the content of what person 1 says.
* ... instead, respond only to the mood.
* Point out the bizarreness of person 1's contradictory offer.
* Here, you're playing the 'straight man'.
* Establish that wackiness as part of "this world's 'normal'".
* But that gives you less fuel for the scene.
* i.e., now you've just done world-building, but you still might have no idea what the scene is about.
* 2nd-Beat Practice:
* Have two students do a scene.
* Then, perform as many 2nd beats inspired by that scene as possible.
* They'll go in all sorts of directions.
* They could...
* ... expand the scene's basic idea.
* ... put a concept from the scene in a new context.
* ... take the story forward/backward in time.
* ... put a character from the scene in a new situation.
* ... take a *tiny* detail from the scene & run with it.
* ... etc.
* The notion of doing a second beat should feel *freeing*, not *limiting*.
* Ideally, you should be *excited* about all the directions you could go in.
* Usually with a 1st beat, the first expansion that occurs to you is to do the next thing in chronological order.
* This is often hard to play, though, because you'll want it to be logically consistent with the previous scene.
* Also, it can land you in a scene that's about plot.
* Plotty scenes are not execution-proof.
* i.e., a crap improvisor can ruin a plotty scene.
* Character scenes are less execution-proof.
* i.e., crap improvisors playing strong characters can still make something worth watching.
* It's safer to use a character inspiration, rather than running the plot forward.
* Note that (say) modern fiction often progresses in lots of ways that aren't "run the plot forward".
* (Me: e.g. Cloud Atlas)
* Note that our most naïve ideas for 2nd-beat scenes don't reflect how scripted narratives work.
* e.g.: if you watch an early Star Wars scene between Luke and Aunt Beru, and took that as a first beat...
* ... you might do a second beat about Aunt Beru.
* ... you might assume the overarching story prominently features Aunt Beru.
* ... you would not conclude that this is the last time we see Aunt Beru in non-crispy-bacon form.
* Conclusion: improvised 2nd beats can go in at *least* all the myriad directions that scripted 2nd beats go in.
* You are never beholden to any particular element of a 1st-beat scene.
* Just watch and ask yourself, "What did I *like* there?"
* Again, look for things to be *inspired* by, not *limited* by.
* Another way to look at things to take from a 1st-beat scene:
* "What would be the coolest audience suggestion to get based on this scene?"
* Simpler suggestions would be better.
* ... because they are easier to play with.
* Personalities and behaviors are the easiest suggestions to work with.
* There is a full spectrum of 2nd-beat possibilities that runs from "Plot" to "Wha?"
* You can pick anywhere on that spectrum.
* The "Wha?" end loses all the *specifics* of the scene.
* Its connection to the scene is much more tenuous.
* The connection is very abstract, or small, or conceptual.
* The "Plot" end is much harder to play.
* But its connection to the scene is much more obvious.
* The "Wha?" end is very useful if the 1st-beat scene sucks.
* Imagine that you're *highlighting* some element of the 1st-beat scene.
* It's as if the 1st-beat scene is a giant painting...
* ... and you just have a tiny flashlight you can aim at it.
* Note that the 2nd-beat scene may determine the 1-2-3 pattern.
* That is, it establishes a pattern that determines where we'll go with the 3rd beat...
* ... because the 3rd beat should complete the scene.
* Test Harold
* This is a Harold rearranged into this pattern:
* Do an opening with at least three distinct games in it.
* 1st scene, 1st beat
* 1st scene, 2nd beat
* 1st scene, 3rd beat
* Group game
* 2nd scene, 1st beat
* 2nd scene, 2nd beat
* 2nd scene, 3rd beat
* Group game
* 3rd scene, 1st beat
* 3rd scene, 2nd beat
* 3rd scene, 3rd beat
* That is, we "batch" all the scene 1s into one contiguous section.
* For the three-game opening...
* If you want to change the energy of the opening (e.g. introduce a new game)...
* ... make it a very *clear* change in energy.
* ... do it DC, where everybody can see you.
* Don't be a slave to "letting games emerge from the preceding scenes" or "making scenes emerge from each of the games"
* Keep finding new, cool ways to do the transitions.
* Test Harold II
* We then did some properly-structured Harolds.
* ... except all the scenes were really really short.
* This let us focus on openings and games.
* Ideally, endings will reincorporate earlier material.
* Ideally, theyll incorporate as much of that earlier material as possible.
* You don't have to complete the whole last batch of scenes.
* If you see a strong place to transition to a solid ending, DO IT.
* "We had a great ending" trumps "ooh, we were able to complete all our 3rd-beat scenes".
* General notes:
* It's okay to die in the middle of a scene.
* It's okay to leave in the middle of a scene.
* It's okay to be alone for a while in a scene.
* Dialog tends to go faster when everybody knows what the scene is about.
* "Opposite Impulse"
* This is when you do the *opposite* of what a normal person would do, to comic effect.
* This will get you a laugh.
* The problem is, once you make that choice, you have to be willing to commit to/live in that topsy-turvy world.
* That can be really difficult.
* If you get stuck in a scene, try digging into your response to your scene partner's emotion.
* But really, don't worry.
* Every scene -- even the good ones -- has slow, "What next?" moments.
* In games/openings...
* If you find yourselves doing a lot of movement stuff, throw in some dialog.
* If you find yourselves doing a lot of dialog, throw in some movement.
* You don't have to work hard to consciously establish themes in your shows.
* Just focus on doing good scenes.
* The themes will follow.
* Always think about shape-of-show in a Harold.
* Put another weay, pretend you're a Maestro director.
* If a show lodges in a certain type of energy...
* It can be hard to break out of it.
* ... but you *have* to break out of it.
* "The melodrama trap":
* This is when you get stuck in a scene where...
1. ... you have a clear emotion, but...
2. ... you are not defining anything in the world of the scene.
* This leads to very emotional scenes where nobody has any idea what's going on.
* This tends to make the emotions hollow.
* The scenes feel like vacuous political ads.
* And it makes the scene tentative.
* ("Wait, did somebody say what room we're in, and I just didn't notice? I'll stay safe by being completely vague.")
* You can always *define* your way out of the melodrama trap.
* Me: it feels like just noticing is, like, 90% of the battle.
* If a scene gets over-the-top or surreal...
* ... then *revel* in that surreal-ness.
* Let your character have that "WTF?!" moment when the surreal thing happens.
* Villains don't need to have souls.
* Especially if the villain is in a small role, they can be a straight-up bastard.
* If you're going to do clumsy course-correction in a scene ("Wait, no, you already said you were my mother." "Oh, right."), it's better to do that earlier in the scene rather than later.
* Audiences are more forgiving at that point.
* Remember that the Harold, in its rigorously-defined form, is a teaching form.
* It's just a structure that's designed to teach people to do 30 minutes of improv using themes, callbacks, and organic group work.