(I published this post a few months ago under one of my stage names. I am reposting it now under my real name. Please don't be taken aback seeing a different author's name on the post you may have read before. D.V.)

This is a storytelling tactic that helps to wrap up a scene, and a few exercises to help activating the tactic.

It's about using real or mimed props as murder weapons. The exercise that I will describe in a few paragraphs is a variation of Keith Johnstone's "Die!" and "Murder by touch" exercises - but let me explain he tactic first.

A tactic of reincorporating earlier material is of course familiar to all improvisational actors. There are common situations when the same material is reincorporated many times in the course of one scene, or even the material from the earlier scene gets adopted in the next scene and the next and next, and becomes a sort of "in-joke". In such situations we can speak about reincorporating the recurrent material.

If the recurrent material is being used in a scene where the status of two players is dramatically opposite -- which means that one player is abusive and the other is helpless -- the props, real or mimed, are almost inevitably used for such abuse. In that case, to wrap up the scene and create the dramatic reversal and the dramatic shift of status, the low status player can use the prop to inflict the poetic justice upon his abuser.

For example, a cranky blind lord who makes his footman endlessly adjust the position of the wine glass on the dinner table, gets the shattered remains of that very wine glass fed to him in the stew by the footman (audience being near-hysterical while the footman is carefully arranging the glass splinters on the plate before serving it); the sadistic physical education teacher whose whistle meant trouble to students is tortured in the end by the students whistling at her from all directions, making her crumble on the floor, covering her ears (curtain); the self-righteous Bible-toting medical nurse who leaved helpless patients without lunch for being "naughty" gets knocked out with her own Bible and then gets the ages torn out of the Bible force-fed to her; and so on.

As you can see, the core skill here is the ability to discover a murder weapon in any everyday object -- and every object may be used as a weapon in a great number of ways.

For example, a book can be used to knock someone out with it of course; the pages torn out of it can be used to choke the bad guy; a book accurately placed on the floor can make someone slip up on it; the pages from a page-turner whodunit can be placed one by one along that path that leads the fascinated reader into some sort of a trap; a book can be hurled at someone; the pages of the book can be poisoned; a non-fiction book with revelations about someone can drive that person to committing suicide; a rare secret book of black incantations can invoke the demons who drag the reader straight to hell; a book -- for instance a book of really bad poetry -- can be used to bore a character to death.

I am sure you can think of a few dozen other ways of killing with a book. Same goes for any other prop, of course.

Exercise 1: "Murder By..."

One player is the Murderer; everybody else is the Victim.

The Murderer and the Victims are on the stage, opposite each other.

The Murderer receives a physical prop, or the name of a mimed prop. The Murderer than must immediately mime the scenes for each of the Victims, where the prop is used in a new way as a murder weapon.

The exercise continues until all the Victims are dead or the Murderer pauses for longer than 10 seconds, or if the Murderer repeats the form of murder. Then the new Murderer is selected.

Exercise 2: Recurrent Prop

Instruct two players to play an opposite status scene around a certain prop, and to use the prop as the murder weapon for shift in status in the end. The scene may be either improvised, or impro-scripted (meaning that the players are given for example 5 minutes to work out the scene together.)

Exercise 3: "What is it?"

There's a well-known tale about a Zen master who was having late dinner with a group of his disciples. In the middle of a dinner the master handed a large, finely decorated fan to his favorite disciple and said, "What is it?" "Why, it's a fan, Master!" - the disciple replied. The master grabbed his walking stick and knocked the disciple over the head with it. He then handed the fan to his second favorite disciple and asked, "What is it?" The second favorite disciple opened the fan and fanned the master. The master knocked him with a stick over the head. Finally the master handed the fan to his least favorite disciple and asked the same questions, "What is it?" The least favorite disciple opened the fan, put a wedge of pie on it, and handed it to the master. The master accepted the pie, then stood up, and bowed deeply to his least favorite disciple.

Then he knocked the crap out of him with the walking stick.

I'm joking about the last bit (probably), but the idea of the exercise is simply miming the one unorthodox use of a prop.

Player 1 hands a book to Player 2.

Player 1: What is it?
Player 2: (Opens the book and puts it on his head like a hat. Pause. Takes off the book-hat and hands it to Player 3.) What is it?
Player 3: (Opens the book and mimes watching a fly buzz around, then uses the book as a fly-swatter. Hands the book to Player 4.) What is it?

Dimitri Vorontzov


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