Finding the Game in the Scene
A common concern I hear improvisers express is about "finding the game." It's something some improvisers can get in their head about.
Complicating matters further, the "game" is somewhat hard to define due to semantics and the difference between Chicago style improv and the teaching at UCB where they have pioneered a new way to approach "game."
This article from Splitsider is a good read on the differences between the Chicago and UCB approach to "game."
If you're one of those improvisers who worries about finding the game of the scene, let's talk about it.
I have seen improvisers beat themselves up about "not being able to find the game," and get very worried about doing it.
Don't fret about finding the game. Chances are you've found it plenty of times in successful scenes.
You know the scenes that weren't successful? Those weren't unsuccessful because you didn't "find the game." It was because you were in your head, freaking out about "finding the game."
The game is not in your head.
The game is in the scene. Or, in UCB terms, it is the scene. Either way, it's not in your head, so get outta there!
To put it simply, if you want to find the game, get in the scene.
When you're in your head you're not focusing on what the scene needs, which means you're not supplying what the scene needs. You're not focused on defining character, relationships, etc. Without all of those things it becomes really hard to make the scene go anywhere, much less play a game. There's nothing to play a game off of.
What should you do? If you find yourself getting in your head with worry that you've missed the game SLOW DOWN, get out of your head, and get into the scene. Focus on these things instead!
4 Things to Get You Into the Scene:
Establish the "Scenic Elements" (as Greg Tavares calls them) Episode 9 guest, Greg Tavares, talks about the scenic elements in his book, Improv for Everyone. They are the basic elements of a successful improv scene; Character, Relationship, Environment, Point of View, and Point of Attack (when in the story the scene takes place), also known as CREPP. Get his book and read up on these elements more deeply. But it's basically the "who, what, why, where, how" of a scene. Some people call it the "platform" of a scene.
Be Present It's really hard to do a scene when you are not present in the scene. You certainly aren't playing the game you're so worried that you're missing when you are barely involved in the scene and are letting self-doubt run your mind. Shake all of that off, look your scene partner in the eyes, make some bold character choices, and get involved in the environment or activity happening in the scene.
Comedic Point As mentioned by Will Hines in the Splitsider article posted above, the comedic point is quickly being found and played deliberately at UCB. The "comedic point" is the funny idea, thought, or joke that the scene is about (in UCB terms). An unusual thing that is funny happens and that is mined for laughs through heightening and other kinds of extrapolations like "if this is true, what else is true?" People seem to be confused on what "unusual," or "strange" or "1% weird" mean. Improvisers who misunderstand it will make choices that are really out of left field or crazy town to be "weird." "Unusual" or "weird" does not mean you have to be an alien dragon from planet GlipGlorp. It just means that something was out of the ordinary or struck you as odd. Kevin Mullaney wrote this great piece on finding the game that involves a really simple example of what "unusual" means.
Frame the Unusual Once the unusual thing happens in a scene you want to focus on that by defining why and how that thing is unusual. Doing so clearly gives the improvisers something to play. Check out the exercise "Senator Make-Em-Ups" that Lindsay Calleran and I talk about at the end of Episode 10. It's a great exercise to learning how to find the unusual thing or behavior and frame it.