We started our conversation in the pub with a discussion about Blocking.
Blocking is where an Offer is made by one player and not accepted by the other. An Offer is some addition to the scene. It could Endow a character with a personality trait, a problem or a physical object. It could create a piece of narrative history or define some part of the physical environment.
( An example of an Offer is... )
An example of an Offer is
Player 1 “I like your new football”.
A block would look like this
Player 2 “It’s not a football, it’s a kitten”.
The problem with blocking is that it takes the scene nowhere. It also destroys the spontaneity of the other Players and kills trust. It’s why one of the Rules is “Always Say Yes; Always Accept the Offer).
Offers can be more subtle than my camera example. Blocks can be too. What if Player 2 had replied, “Thank you, it’s going flat though, so I’m going to put it away.” They’ve accepted that they are holding a football, but it’s not going to take any further part in the narrative.
Blocking is a bit different from Wimping. Wimping is where you accept the Offer but talk about it, instead of doing something with it. For example
Player 1 “I like your new football”
Player 2 “Thanks, my uncle bought it for me”.
Player 1 “Your uncle, Steve.
Player 2 “Yes, Steve, he bought me this nice new football”
The story is going sideways. This is not a bad thing but at some point someone is going to have say
Anyone “Shall we have a kick around?” At last we get to some action.
So, we were talking about Blocking and there are three examples to mention. The Wise Woman of Improv talked me through each example. She knows her stuff and I think speaks with the zeal of a convert.
The first was a partial acceptance. The Offer was that there was a window. The partial acceptance, “That’s not a window, that’s a skylight.” It sounds like an Acceptance. Player 2 has Accepted that there is a physical object where Player 1 was pointing and acknowledged that Player 1is suggesting that that is a window. What this lead to was a few minutes of bickering.
Player 2 “Call that a window, I don’t”
Player 1 “You can see the sea”
Player 2 “No you can’t! That’s the sky, same colour, different thing”
Bickering leads to talking heads. There was some witty word play and with strong characters it might have been excruciatingly funny but we hadn’t got strong characters yet, just a few minutes of watching two people bicker about the window. This is a good example of Talking Heads (characters talking about things rather than doing them) Gossip if you will.
The second example was an Offer that closed off narrative. The offer was that Player 1 (and thereafter every other player) kept being struck in the face by acid. One of the Rules is that you don’t play children, drunkards, animals, idiots or madmen. This is a Rule because those characters don’t have narrative drive. Things happen to them, they don’t happen to things. They are also not bound by narrative constrictors. A madman can do anything, so your fellow players have no idea what you might do. So too a stage full of blind men. You can’t have a story because none of the blind men can control their environment. One sighted man with three blindmen, that’s a story, four blindmen just ended up with some low quality slap stick.
The third block was egregious. So egregious that I winced. I should have challenged it, but we’re not quite ready for challenging yet. It was Negation, by this I mean the removal of an Offer that has been made and Accepted earlier. Back to the football example, just before the kick around starts a third Player enters and hoofs the ball into next Tuesday. No ball, no kick around. Now a good scene might develop between the three players but it is founded on the selfishness of Player 3 destroying what Player 1 and Player 2 had created.
Here’s what happened. In the Handle each Player has to enter the stage, either creating an entrance, or using one that someone else has created. They carry with them into the space an object, they then interact with an object that is already in the space. Then they leave through an exit that they create or by using one already created by an earlier Player.
We are awaiting the entry of Player 4. Player 1 has planted some plants (I took them for beanstalks), Player 2 had created a tap and a watering can (left lying about), Player 3 has indicated that the plants have grown chest high. Enter Player 4. Player 4 carefully and deliberately cuts down all of the beanstalks. We are now left with pretty much a bare stage. Every idea everyone else had about what to do with the beanstalks has been killed off. The complete Negation of everything we had been working on.
So I learnt a lot about how blocking works, or doesn’t work. Having had the Wise Woman pick apart what had been going on I understood how a partial Acceptance of an Offer can lead to wimping or to bickering and therefore Talking Heads.
Also I learnt, Improv is not easy. It looks like it’s just some guys on stage messing about. It’s harder than that. It’s different to acting. There is some cross over in skills but they are not the same. Being a good actor is not enough. Good Improv requires working well with whomever and whatever turns up. Blocking kills not only what has turned up but also any inclination to create and make an Offer. I don’t want to be on a stage with someone who might destroy what we’ve been working on and leave me exposed, alone.
Also, The Tall One and the Wise Woman said some nice things about me, which was nice. I was pleased.