Improvisers have a wonderful term called ‘The Offer’. Essentially it is any content that informs the audience and other improvisers about the scene, its characters and environment. Offers are treated like a precious treasure, a tiny delicate baby, a new lover and all efforts are made to maintain and develop that offer. And those efforts in turn become offers themselves.
A good improvised scene contains offers that are clear and connected. One of the many sins an improviser can indulge in is to ignore an offer. Doing so confuses the action, stops the flow of the scene and enrages the improv gods.
This “lens” of the offer, as Jesse Schell might call it, is useful to whip out to examine game design. What offers in the game narrative are not developed or never used? Is there something tantalizing that is offered that players can never interact with? How are offers emphasized in game content?
And offers are not just limited to game content. Look at your game packaging and marketing materials. What do they offer the users? Is there sufficient support for these offers in the game? Or does your game, Age of Zombies, only show the living undead in a cut-scene at the beginning and then one in a dungeon 5 hours later?
Performers do it, athletes do it – but rarely do we game developers warm up. And yet, our jobs are just as demanding both creatively and physically.
Actors have many different ways of warming up, but their activities fall into the following categories:
Vocal Warm Ups
The voice is one of the most important parts of the actor’s instrument, so it makes sense that they’re warmed up. We activate our breath, articulators and resonators with silly exercises such as tongue twisters. These would be good for developers to do before important pitch meetings, sloggy code reviews or long schmooze fests at conferences.
Physical Warm Ups
The body is also an important aspect of an actor’s repertoire and actors usually spend most of their warmups stretching. It’s an excellent way of getting energized and reducing stress – things we all can use more of in our face-paced industry.
These are very popular among improv troupes as they foster group dynamics, trust and strong connections with each other. They’re also extremely silly thereby enabling people to take greater risks. All great things to have in a collaborative, creative environment. My favorite is one called “Bunny, Bunny” but it’s so silly, no improvisers have yet put up a Youtube Video demonstrating it.
Many athletes will prepare for an event by walking through their routines or imagining the motions that they will perform. This activity preps the mind to synch with the body. Actors will do this as they run lines in their head or do speed throughs of the play. While developing games is more cerebral, you can still imagine successfully accomplishing a goal. I find too that this helps reduce anxiety by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.
I am working on a new audition piece and continue to find the whole process vexing. Like Catherine O’Hara once said – it’s something between opening presents on Christmas morning and being burnt alive.
I chose a piece from Joe Orton’s devilishly funny Loot. Before working with my audition coach, Annnette Toutonghi, I did all of my character homework, I defined my action, I came up with my element of truth and pondered the prior moment.
You’re not feeling it!
It wasn’t that the preparation was bad, it was more that I didn’t allow myself to inhabit the circumstance and allow myself to be in the moment. A common trap for me but one that I well understand.
She made me give the monologue as a muppet and that loosened me up to start to play and really feel the words I was saying.
And I never really thought that much how the words of a dramatist give the actor that punch to follow through on an action.
So I get why people say Orton is a genius. And yet, it’s so well done it’s so easily missed!
I find 1st rehearsals to be my favorite time in producing a play; you learn about your scene partners, the directors, his/her methods, the play, etc.
It’s like Christmas – you never know what’s going to be under the tree.
For The Dinner, we sat around in a circle and wrote answers to questions posed by the Director like “What was it like to perform for the first time” or “What’s the strangest music you ever heard”. We then shared some of the answers and talked about ourselves.
I never know what to say about myself, so I just blurt out the first things that come to mind. Most people talk about where they’re from, what their job is and what’s their theatre experience. I talked about birdwatching, military catholic boarding school and how the Germans think Pizza Hut is about a Pizza Hat.
We then did an exercise called The Machine which I really like b/c it’s very ensemble oriented and really connects you in a strange way to your scene partners.
I auditioned for a an experimental piece called the The Dinner produced by a new theatre group, Irrational Robot Bureau. The audition piece was to be a simple piece of text such as a comic or VCR instructions or ingredients on a soup can. The piece then was to be presented in 3 different ways.
I chose an excerpt from the recipe Ginger-steamed Tilapia but had difficulty figuring out how to present in 3 different ways. At first, I thought about playing an emotion like angry, sad, romantic, etc., but it seemed a bit too hokey.
I settled on singing the lines for my first presentation in a hillbilly twang with lots of syncopation and voice breaks, like allow fer the Stee-EEEM taflow throooo.
For my second presentation, I used gestures to define the key terms of the recipe, like picking up something wriggly for ’tilapia’. I did not want it to be a complete mime of the recipe. Instead, I wanted my gestures to convey the key information and ‘feeling’ of the recipe.
For the last presentation, I manipulated my face and mouth to get different sounds ending with me cupping my hands over my ears, which made the final line very intimate and cut off from the audience – I just reveled in the sound it made inside my head.
The auditors seemed to have liked it and I got a laugh here and there, which was encouraging, but then I found myself playing it up.
And I hate when that happens.