We work too hard at the top of the scene. We think we need to figure out everything in the first few lines. Are you my mother? Are you my boss? Are we on a bank heist? Are we on the playground? Is that a cane in your hand or a magical staff? Do we need to know everything? No. We don’t. And the audience doesn’t care if we come up with some amazing back story.
The audience wants to see our behavior. They want to know how we relate to each other. That’s what a relationship is.
- I’m weak and you are strong.
- I’m calm and confident, you are jumpy and nervous.
- I’m an optimist, you are a pessimist.
- You need to be mothered, but I can’t do it because I’m repulsed by you.
- You are the bully and I’m scared, but I’m going to stand up to you as best I can.
- We are both so excited to see each other that we are jumping up and down like teenage girls.
- I am trying to seduce you, and you are shocked.
These are all things that can be established in a very short amount of time. Sometimes we can walk on stage and feel it immediately. We notice it in each other’s behavior and how we feel. The audience sees it too. It’s clear and simple and right in front of us to play with. But instead we walk on stage worried about the who, the what and the where. Get out there instead and worry about the how.
“But, what about the game?”
Behavior is a game. And context is important. Yes, that is true. But instead of spending all your time worrying about yes anding the context, start with behavior and let the context tumble out. It will. You might need to practice it, but it will.
- I’m weak and you are strong, and then it tumbles out that you are a private in the army and I am your drill sergeant.
- I’m calm and confident, you are jumpy and nervous, and then it just spills out that we are breaking into a safe and you are the safe cracker.
- I’m an optimist and you are a pessimist, and you are also my physical therapist.
- You need to be mothered, but I can’t do it because I’m repulsed by you, and I’m also your mother.
- You are a bully and I’m scared, but I’m going to stand up to you as best I can, because you are the IT guy whose job it is to fix my laptop damnit!
- We are both so excited to see each other that we are jumping up and down like teenage girls, and it’s a reunion of cellmates… in a prison.
- I’m trying to seduce you, you are shocked, and you are my wife.
I’ll let you in on a secret though. Sometimes the context can simply be the most obvious and straightforward. You are the bully and I’m scared, and we are both just kids. And if we play the behavior and develop this relationship–this way in which we relate–often it’s pretty damn funny too. Yes, the strange context can help make it weirder and funnier and perhaps works better if you are writing a sketch, but the behavior is what keeps the audience watching. Behavior without much context can be fascinating. Context without behavior is boring.
“Great! Now we have a scene. What do we do next?”
The same thing you have been doing. The opening moment is the scene, at least for now. Just play it. Just be the thing you were in the beginning. That’s all you need to do. Do that for a few minutes, it will come to a climax, the audience will laugh, and your teammates will edit.
There, that’s not so hard is it?
Photo by Trix0r on flickr.