Erik Voss wrote an interesting piece for Splitsider about game of the scene. (You can read the full article here.) Some of the improv community’s most respected performers weighed in, and I agree with their (sometimes differing) viewpoints.
The thing is, I don’t give a fuck anymore.
You see, early in my improv training, “finding the game” was the holy grail. The big cahuna. The mack daddy of all improv wisdom. Or so I thought.
When TJ and Dave taught a workshop in Toronto, I couldn’t wait to ask them about it. David looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “I don’t really think about game when I’m performing.” TJ nodded.
This should have slapped some sense into my feckless, fearmongering brain, but no. I continued to search for The Game and how to recognize it in all its myriad forms.
One of my coaches routinely drilled us on “beating the shit out of the game.” Rehearsal after rehearsal, two people would start a scene, then others would tag in when they found the game. Afterwards, we were critiqued.
Let’s say Player A had a stutter, then someone tagged in and made a game out of forcing him to stutter. If Player A was also an alcoholic, then beating the shit out of stuttering, versus putting him in situations where he’d be tempted to drink, was deemed “less smart.”
While I understood the value in seeing patterns, few things put me in my head like trying to find the game, never mind finding the “right” game.
When I asked Susan Messing about it, she said that there can be many games within a scene; that each player might have their own game, as well as games that they play together.
The more I watched and performed improv, the more I found myself gravitating towards the kind of scenes where game just wasn’t as important as discovery.
Discovery of who the characters are. Discovery of the world they inhabit. The kind of discovery that happens when things are out of the players’ control and in the hands of the comedy gods.
What I learned, eventually, was that game can happen without effort. And that “finding the game” doesn’t always guarantee a great scene.
How many times have you seen improvisers find a game on stage, only to beat it so relentlessly that the scene loses any point, or dissolves into endless repetition?
Playing the game can be fun. It’s a bit like a ping pong match: I do this, then you respond that way. Repeat. But we don’t have to try so hard to find the paddle.
If we just allow scenes to unfold naturally, games will reveal themselves.
If you can, do yourself a favour and go see TJ and Dave, or Messing with a Friend, or Jet Eveleth and Paul Brittain, or Razowsky and Clifford, or Joe Bill and Mark Sutton’s Bassprov.
There is game inherent in their shows, but it’s not overt. That’s not to say game-centric shows like Asssscat aren’t awesome. They are. But if you’re struggling to find the game each and every time and it’s affecting your ability to have fun in scenes, give yourself a break. Take a breath and just respond to what’s happening right now.
If you do that, if you focus 100% on your scene partner and just react to what he or she says and does, you won’t have to find the game. The game will find you. Or maybe it won’t, and that’s fine. Because it will still be a way better scene than one where you’re not present because you’re too busy searching for something.
In seven years of doing improv, I can recall my best, or at least my favourite, sets in detail. And I can tell you that none of them involved me methodically thinking about The Game Of The Scene. In fact, what they all had in common was that I wasn’t thinking. I was just having fun.
Those are the kind of sets I want to do now. And that’s why I don’t give a fuck about game of the scene anymore.
One last thing. Someone asked TJ what he thinks about before he goes on stage. He answered:
• Don’t panic.
• Make an emotional choice, a point of view, so you’re safe no matter what.
• Remember how fortunate you are.
It’s really that simple.