TA: IMPROV + CHARACTER + CONFLICT

This will be a 12-part online notes / reflection series of the theater arts classes I’m taking with Philippine Educational Theater Association; which is not only one of the premier theater acts in our country (and the world), but also people I’ve personally admired for years.

I paid good money for this and I want to get the most out of it. If you’re curious what you can learn from class, or want to gain new perspective, read on…



 

Hi this is part 3-6, I’ll be sharing notes based on theme rather than clear dates of when the exercises happened…

 

ON IMPROV

Also alternatively known as “device work”. There are several rules associated with this but some of the more important ones include:

  1. Always say “YES”
  2. Kill the police thought (that little voice in your head sayin you can’t do that)
  3. No blocking (when a partner says there’s a dog, don’t say there’s no dog, you’re killing the flow)
  4. No Hedging (no staying on the boundary of things)
  5. No wimping (BE BRAVE SONS AND DAUGHTERS)
  6. Get into trouble (MAKE. CONFLICT)
  7. Believe what you imagine (convince yourself first! so you can convince others)
  8. Work with your partner (collaboration)
  9. Stay humble!

Some exercises we did to increase creativity and kill the police thought:

  1. gather round in a circle and make up stories for a box (it’s a boat! it’s a well! it’s a toilet) classic kiddie stuff
  2. with a parnter, name 8 disconnected things in a row really fast. for wach word touch a body part of your partner. If it’s related (like orange, apple, potato your parter will stop you) This is so fun cause it’s both embodied and slightly awkward (AHAHAHA)
  3. jog around the room, and create a story for the box. the teacher will grab a person who will join your story.
  4. Be connected at the hip with a partner. Pretend you’re one person. Make a story by just exchaging one line each. Make a story together and act it out across the room. Try to include LABAN movements (see latter part of post)
  5. AS A CLASS. Try to make one long ass story, with just one of you just contributing one sentence. LEARN TO LISTEN to details, but also move the story forward in terms of contributing sentences that matter and are more interesting.

personal notes: IT’S HARD TO not just be thickfaced enough to say your ideas but also have plenty of them that you can riff off of partners but also have new ones that are interesting with nice execution. Creativity is a muscle and knowing how to criss cross experiences and character you know is super important.

Blocking people is also tricky. Often in real life we want to RESOLVE conflict. But in story and theater, or writing, you want to make problems worse before you make them better. So if someone acts like you stole a necklace. How do you make that worse and interesting ? I accidentally ate it ? No I’m not the perpetrator I was framed ? It’s pretty tricky and this is a really fun as hell game. Also writing is fun I missed it. We had a classmate who has a wonderful grasp of old sounding filipino and he had such a cool classic character going on that I liked.

 

ON CONFLICT

Okay when they talked about this, the class actually didn’t know what the lesson was.

  1. We first had a mini wrestling match (try to make your partner trip),  arm wrestling match, and this destroy the other team’s barricade. Which was fun as heck!!!
  2. Next we split into pairs and were instructed to fight each other using our eyes. about a topic . Any topic but communicate with our eyes. Me and my partner went with “there’s something disgusting on the floor, and why the hell are you not doing anything about it”. Next, Sir phil asked us to assign person A and person B, where person A is supposed to be at “the height of an argument” of the thing we were looking at. I got to start so i yelled at my partner for not burying the body we just murdered. (I confess I may have watched too much brooklyn 99..) Person B was just assigned to listen to me. Which was important because the next task was for person B to argue with ME this time, but now I have to listen. So this was improv + conflict that asked us to verbally escalate things. After a few rounds, sir asked us to argue in front of the class

 

Notes for conflict:

Elements of drama:

  1. beginning – middle – end
  2. characters (3 dimensional : phsyical , psycho/emotional and sociological
  3. setting – place, time, milieu
  4. conflict

 

FORCES including conflict

Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, Man vs Self, Man vs Society, Man vs Idea

 

EXPRESSIONS of Conflict

Verbal, non verbal (like the staring thing, hidden/silent/subtext) , physical

 

TREATMENT of Conflict

Slowly rising (unfolding), jumping, static.

Rising is the ideal, jumping is when the topic or the issue keeps changing that you lose the train. Static is when the problem is super repetitive and is going nowhere. Sir used the arguments we did in class to present examples of who did static conflicts, were blocking their partners and didn’t progress the story. This really goes to show that all actors are writers…

 

on LABAN Movement

So as per usual, our teachers didn’t lecture us first. What he did first was ask us to do:

  1. super hero poses
  2. movements to super hero poses. add sound effects and do two or more in between
  3. and find people who look like they did poses similiar to us

 

What movement was common ? punching, yup. punching and slashing.

Sir Carlon then asked us who knew about LABAN’s basic efforts (asked us to talk) and then went into listing them:

  1. Punch
  2. Wring
  3. Slash
  4. Dab
  5. Flick
  6. Glide
  7. Float
  8. Press

I had a dance teacher lecture to us about this before but he was really old. I liked how teacher carlon taught this better because everytime he listed the effort he asked us to do it on our own bodies. He asked us to do it on different body parts, and to increase the size and energy from 0 to 100.

He also showed the dimensions of the basic efforts:

sudden – sustained (as related to time)

direct – indirect (as related to direction with relation to the endpoint/end pose)

heavy – light (in relation to weight)

He had a couple of us demo in the middle of the group of the class, how to mix these dimensions into the basic efforts we were working on. He started with differentiating different kinds of punches and then in the next round, he had as alternating from punch to wring. He then made a short dance choreography that covered all the movements and had us memorize it. Then he asked us to rearrange it. Then he asked us to pick only one movement and individually study it’s dimensions. Then he asked us to split into groups and make a group choreography exploring two basic movements and adding even blocking to it.

See how participatory the whole thing is ? How he created different exercises to integrate these movements into our bodies ? Personally, if i geek about this,  if you pick two movements and three dimensions, the permutations of that would be 8 x 7 x 2 x 2 x 2 that’s 448 possible combos! And you don’t even have orientations yet! (that’s at least 8). Studying this in freestyle at home would take hours but also really unlock a lot of combinations you haven’t previously thought about.

 

on CHARACTER

To tie movement into character, kuya carlon first had us warm up with a short choreo (which we had to add a short choreo to) and then did an across the floor exercises of drawing circles. Now , he asked us to listen to lullabies and create characters and stories through movement.

Another character exercise he had us do was to cut out three pictures of people or animals from a magazine. For the first person, we had to invent for them a story which we told to the class. (I made jeprox who’s main conflict was looking for atlantis, which drove him crazy, making him lose himself and find his home. Think don quixote tropes with adventurer tropes) The next two people we simply embodied while walking around.

Sir Carlon also had us do an exercise where we ran around the room where we had to snap from one character to the next very quickly. We even had a runway segment where we had people to strike a “pose/small movement” for each character. It’s actually quite neurotic if your characters are very different from each other (HAHAHA)

Sir Phil had a different exercise for us in embodying our characters. Had us to a slightly meditative exercises where we occupied the body of an interesting someone that we knew. And then sir phil had us work through the entire day of the person. What were they doing at 6 am ? 9 am? 3? 10pm? 12 midnight ?

Then we broke into 3-4 people groups where we introduced our characters to each other, and the rest of the group can ask questions to the person presenting. If the actual real life person, can’t answer the question, make an answer up. MAKE THEM INTERESTING. This exercise actually frustrated me a little because people had such boring characters and were well within people’s comfort zone. Sir phil asked for INTERESTING characters. And they picked people who would duck down and say “i dont think I’m interesting. I’m jsut a student”. It makes ZERO. SENSE. I mean I understand if you only know such predictable people, but as writers/artists can’t you TRY to embody people you’ve observed in the street ? be slight acquintances to fascinating people that are beyond what would be in your social class ? If you’re a shy person, characterising other shy bestfriends you know is not just unoriginal, it’s plain LAZY.

 

on SCRIPT WORKSHOPING

Now when I heard that we were going to write scripts I felt a little apprehensive because as per my highschool experience it’s a messy thing to do. I wonder how professionals even collaborate on this. How our class did about it (WHICH I RECommend all english teachers to do)

Have the class split into four large groups.

Each group reports on lullabies. They will pick the best lullaby they like and explain why to the class. The next day, they will lift 4 lines from that lullaby from which they will create a story.

Now this is after our teachers taught us all about creating conflict, characters, utilising sound, shape, and movement to tell story. Now I slightly missed the time when we had so many restrictions in terms of we’re not people and we can’t use dialogue etc. Because being allowed to do ANYTHING, had us battling a lot of ideas.

Sir actually showed us different roles that come out in a group afterwards:

initiator – the one giving out a lot of ideas

supporter- the one who agrees with ideas

evaluators – who comment and critique, and shape ideas

information giver – someone who has experiences around the theme and gives info/ anecdotes etc that make things better.

 

Now.

How our teachers went about it. He had one person from each group submit themselves as a “writer” and these guys workshopped an initial story. Now what was funny was that it bombed..

They presented a structure with no STORY, no conflict. So what happened was we had an open discussion in the class, spitballed possibilities. And we ran with this idea of doing a plot with unborn babies trying to pick their future parents. It’s pretty cool. We decided to stick with the structure presented (intro, 3 sets of parents, then an ending) and what our teachers did was to split the class into four and assigned us one each part.

Group one had the prologue and ending, group two worked with a gay adoptive parents couple, group three worked with a ‘jologs’ early pregnancy poor couple and the last group dealt with an artificial insemination couple.

Each group presented their more fleshed out ideas to class, which sir critiqued and had the rest of the class react to the ideas. (Should it have happy endings ? Should the babies be able to see the future ? Should it have a funny plus surreal bent ?). Sir fielded this well, and had the experience and authority to really tell some groups that , hey your story is weak , or too common or isn’t so logical for what we’re trying to do.

For example, group four had an old rich guy impepregnate this young pretty singer, and sir was like okay. all the unborn babies would like this because it’s a comfortable life, maybe to balance it out the baby could be born autistic ? If there’s an autism risk, it’s the woman who has to be old. And the young woman being bought by a Dirty Old Man is played out. How about an old sympathetic couple who was having a difficulty having children? This group had to rewrite.

 

By the end of the class sir had us blast write a script in 15 minutes for each part we were doing. That’s around 15minutes per group since the total run time of our play is an hour. Some groups didn’t finish on time so what happened was that we submitted our scripts the next day to the head writer. Head writer had a day to consolidate, make the scirpts mesh together, iron out narrative tone incosistencies or whatnot (i have no idea what she did) which was then sent to our teacher for final comment.

I love how much more collaborative this process was and I liked how our teachers gave us the building blocks of story telling (movement, character conflict etc.) so that we could actually build a compelling play.

I edited our group’s and I enjoyed it. I’ve even attended a crashcourse on theater writing that was half the price of this whole PETA workshop (DAMN, i always thought PETA workshops were expensive, but if you look at the hours you get from them, if you look at the hourly rate THEY’RE CHEAP!). I’m seeing not only the difference of theater writing with regular say fiction writing and I’m really liking the process.

Watch out workshop weekends for acting/ writing. I might be getting at yea. This is my aries talking again just wanting to sponge up information and use it to other stuff.

 

WHAT WILL STAY WITH ME

In case I don’t ever make another theater prod ever again.

  1. Laban movement workshpping which would inevitably bleed for my passion for dance.
  2. when you teach: check up on how you’re students are feeling are after. don’t lecture, make students do/experience the thing you’re trying to teach and have them improve/listen and observe by seeing the different ways you go about it.

THIS IS SUPER TRICKY. Especially with office life, being used to workshops and teachers being of a lecture type, with the powerpoint slides. Unless you’re a super compelling speaker, get ACTIVITIES and bodies involved. Get everyone, practicing the thing you’re trying to impart.

This is what frustrated me in archi in terms of us not being rapidly tested on designing things and building our confidence. But in PETA, in a day we would’ve made at least 10 different stories in limited preparation, with different themes, prompts, and levels of groupings. It built your confidence as a creative and a story teller. I wish archi school had the same level of reps training us to be better at our thing.

 

LAST.

I’M AWARE THIS IS LONG.

ACTORS creating “WHYS”

Sir phil had us do an exercise who’s notes I failed to take a photo of. But the idea is basically, the director will give you “objectives” but not “whys”.

For example.

sit down, drink coffee, fix clothes. if you just do the actions, it’s not believable.

But if the actor did whys: I’m a call center agent tired from lack of sleep, I slump unto the chair. I drink coffee lazily. I notice the clothes and get slightly pissed. Then i fold them.

It seems more natural now.

Sir phil explained to us that in scripts and that with directors, you’ll be directed to do actions but not ALL the details will be given to you. You need to write them in your head to make yourself look believable.

Another prompt he had one of our classmates do, was to sit down and look out a window. He critiqued her and then asked her to do it again, but this time you just came from your father’s funeral.

From her execution: could you tell it was her father ? was it the first day of the funeral or the last? whats her relationship with her father ? what did she see in the window ? answering all these questions, make your acting more life like.

Another round had a classmate of ours eating, looking out a window and saying “bakit?” or why. While I was watching him I thought that if I was in his place, I would pretend someone was singing drunk kareoke so early in the morning disturbing my breakfast. like a slightly pissed flabergastered vibe going on.

Sir gave our classmate a prompt which he acted out with similiar objectives but with different whys. We guessed different whys: you heard an ambulance, or saw a fire truck from afar, that’s why you looked through the window. Now sir kept prompting him.

Someone guess he was left by someone he loved.

Sir revelead the prompt: he was left by his wife.

Now based on how long he watched the window, was it enough to watcher her drive away ? Did he know she was leaving by the way that he ate ? all this mutinae of details that actors all think about. Sir asked us to think about them to make the performance more real.

I LOVED IT. I loved that it kept encouraging us to flesh out the fictionalized worlds we’re acting in. If I apply this in dancing, how SPECIFIC I am with the characters I create? Where did they come from ? Where are they battling ? What are they wearing that you’re not just seeing ??

It’s so EXTRA. and I love it, it really adds DIMENSION, to every little “objective” you’re doing. Wether you’re just looking out the window or drinking coffee.

I ended up overanalysing actors now in sitcoms and this one play I just watched. It’s a different level of appreciation for these actors we tend to idolize. and welp

 

i guess this is a reallllllllllllllly long note.

I hope that our play does well.

M

your soul is welcome here

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