Last week I was lucky enough to study with Craig Cackowski. He had the class experiment with playing as if they already knew whatever info was presented to them during the scene. Craig talked about how it might be your first instinct to act surprised since you, the performer, are in fact learning the information you’re learning the moment you hear it–but it doesn’t have to be so for the character. It led to a bunch of fun, unique, and personal scenes from everybody.
I think getting surprised in a scene can end up getting in the way of what the scene might be in the same way transactions do. You’re too busy negotiating or acting surprised to actually have the scene. And since being surprised is such a common instinct you end up seeing a lot more surprised scenes than, “I know,” scenes. People are more or less surprised in the same ways, but we each know different things from each other. Makes sense that going for what’s unique about you is more fun than something broad like surprise.
Similarly, most improvisers also aren’t doctors, so a common instinct is to play unknowledgeable. But, like surprise or negotiation, being a bad doctor ends up eating up more stage time than it should. As a result, you see more bad doctor scenes than good doctor scenes– making for less opportunity to share the doctor specifics from your own life. ‘Cause if you play an expert, your doctor expertise will come from what you actually know, which you might know, for example, because you take a relative to the doctors’, because you have a medical condition, etc. The point is that the specifics you use to make yourself the expert are personal–they’re from your actual life. And it’s easier to care about something you actually care about, making expertise easier to play than you might think.
So, choose to be an expert and choose to know. And, along similar lines, don’t fix problems, if someone tells you not to do something it probably means do it, attack danger, and own accusations. In all four of these instances common instinct is to fix problems, listen to people who tell us not to do something, avoid danger, and to defend ourselves against accusations, but like negotiation these instincts end up slowing down or preventing unique and personal scenes.
If you have to explain why you’d do these things choose an explanation that actually makes sense for you since you’ll be expected to live by that explanation. You might come up with reasons that work for someone else, but it’s best to use a reason that works for you and leave those other reasons for whoever is most suited to play them. You do you. And doing you might mean ignoring all of the above. Me, I’m going to try playing by these rules. They’re rules I’ve come across in most of my classes and things I’ve run across on my own often enough to see that they’re getting in the way of having funner scenes.
As always: ignore all guidelines as seen fit.