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Why the WHAT is so important?



Who, what, where are crucial to any improv scene and the discover of those three things allow the players to explore further. It's often referred to as the BASE REALITY. It's the world the scene takes place in or the given circumstances as actor's are trained in. I see it as the first step to a deep dive into the motivations, point of view and the understanding of why this scene is happening at this particular moment. Before I continue on, let's review how the base reality is defined.


WHO - who are these two people? Often, this is described in label like two plumbers, a mom and child, a couple, business partners.


While this is absolutely correct, I like to look at it a bit more. Who are these two people to each other ? What makes them tick, what do they feel about each other, what's their power dynamic, what's their commitment level? what are they hiding? what are they not saying? When you answer these questions about two plumbers, we can determine that one is stealing money from the company because they feel like the other has taken advantage of them. The other knows and is waiting for the police to arrive because they are angry and feel betrayed. This is not what the scene is about, this is just WHO these two plumbers are.





WHERE - what location is this scene happening in? This is usually a building, a nature setting, a common area or a private residence.


Let's look a little deeper at location and what makes it important in a scene. We'll go with something common like a wedding proposal. Typically, we see a proposal at a restaurant or someone's home. But what happens if we put that location somewhere atypical? Like in a hospital delivery room, at someone else's wedding, while defusing a bomb, or while being attacked by aliens. What does that tell us about these people and WHO they are? If we go back to our two plumbers now that we've discovered who they are and how they feel, what if the scene that we meet them in is taking place at one of their weddings? One plumber is having the best day of their life unaware that the police are on the way.


WHAT - this is typically the actions and words happening in a scene. For example, washing dishes, on vacation, adopting a child, soothing a sad friend.


For me, it's not about the activity that we're watching unfold, it's about what is REALLY happening in the scene. What do they want? What is their motivation? This is so much more important then the activity. It brings the tension, the conflict, the inciting incident and it is what draws in the audience and creates the connection between the characters. Let's return to the wedding scene with the two plumbers, If the one plumber has chosen the other's wedding for their humiliation, then what the scene is about is revenge and retaliation. It's also about shifting of power dynamics.


This is the type of base reality that let's us discover what is happening, decide what to do or not do and determine how to move forward in a scene. Scenes that look beyond the basics of the base reality and dive in the what, provide a layered approach which plays out through listening, responding in the moment, an understanding of relationship dynamics and an outcome that stems from a profound exploration by both scene partners.




Sounds like a lot to do, right? The truth is a base reality can be laid out quickly within the first 3-7 lines of a scene. Once both players know, the base reality and what that means to their characters, this is where the scene can really start. I'll go back to our plumbers one more time and start off the scene with dialog.


Plumber 1 - I wouldn't have wanted anyone else by my side for my big day. We've been through a lot together.

Plumber 2 - I'm sure it will be a day to remember! Your tie seems a bit crooked, let me fix it.

Plumber 1 - Thanks, the suit was expensive but I would do anything for my fiancé. She deserves the best.

Plumber 2 - I think people should get exactly what they deserve and I am certain you will, after all it is your special day.

Plumber 1 - Well, we'd better head up to the alter and get ready for excitement!


Starting the scene off, we've answered the base reality and set up the what! While not everything was stated out loud, some was stated through a bit of subtext. What we are saying isn't always what we mean. As the events unfold, the revenge and retaliation will unravel and be revealed. And if you like to play with game - now the fun can begin!!!!





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