Friday, 9 December 2011

Improv: Explaining in Reverse

**Warning: In this post I use the word "anus". That is all.**

In this week's Sea Tea Improv rehearsal, a series of events happened that I wanted to write down, probably because it is an example one of my favorite things about improv: explaining in reverse.

Often times in a scene you find yourself making a big, bold, character/universe defining statement or action only to later need to dig yourself out of the hole you just put yourself in. Actually, that's not quite right. Its more like finding yourself at a mountain peak and then trying to find the path that got you there.

I admire my teammate Joe because I often see him doing this in one breath. He often makes bold declarations in scenes. You can see the process in his eyes as he realizes that what he said probably needs some explanation, thinking of some backup, the light when he gets an idea and the satisfaction as he gets the audience from point 1 to point c (not a typo). All this without hesitation.

The example from this week's rehearsal was more of a slow, group explanation in reverse. We were doing a montage long form, which means getting one suggestion and then doing a series of scenes off of it. It is extremely free form. The scenes can be short or long, and often there are recurring themes/characters/story lines.

In an early scene we met a character of Dan's who was a "dungineer" (or dungeon engineer). When I heard that, I immediately started wondering what dungineer school would be like, so later on I initiated a scene with Dan's character starting his first dungineer class. During the class it came up that I had tortured the sickest man ever, which made me the sickest man ever ever. In response to this, I gave Dan's character my card and said in an offhand way "Here's my card...keep it close to your anus."

Let's step back a moment. Now, I had no in-scene motivation for saying this at all. However, the previous montage we had run included a very detailed story of both a pair of hamsters living in people's rears' and a male prostitute with an amazing amount space. Of course these story-lines ended up meeting for a very odd ending. Also, in Dan's dungineer class he drew a picture of a cow whose mouth was sewn to it's own ass (after being instructed to draw the sickest thing he could think of). Perhaps with those things fresh in my mind "anus" was just at the tip of my....nevermind.

Regardless, Dan did the best possible thing he could do in the situation. He took it in stride, gratefully took my business card and placed it where directed.

Now, that could have been the end of my nonsensical statement, but twice in later scenes characters exchanged business cards from their anuses (never did I think I would need to pluralize "anus"). By repeating the gag, they were also making it normal and a part of the world we were creating. It's a little like watching a kid's movie where the main character can talk to an animal; the first time it happens it can be a bit odd, but the more it happens the more you just accept it and the rules of the universe are defined.

The best part, though, was a later scene when a character of Greg's needed to get a business card because he didn't have any yet. Dan was brilliant as the business card maker and passionately explained how we keep business cards near our anuses because dog's have the right idea in sniffing each other's butts: the anus contains the essence of ourselves and is the fastest way to know the true nature of a person. Greg was "fitted" for a business card by having his scent imprinted on a business card, and gleefully went on his way.

In particularly successful long forms, I love trying to trace back the threads of the world we have created. This one remained clear in my mind from my original statement, to a great "yes, and" from Dan, to support and continued use from other players, to final explanation. I am sure I could have picked a less anus-centric example, but this is what you get.

Anyway, all that aside, we have a show this Sunday at 7pm at the City Steam Brewery in Hartford. This show is actually a benefit show, where any donations or shirt sales will go to a cancer group (I don't want to write the actual name just in case google brings anyone to this entry. I don't think they would appreciate being connected to an entry about anuses.) If you are free you should definitely check it out!


  1. This post cracked me up...and now my labmates are asking why I'm laughing....tehee anus.

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