Ever wondered how improv shows develop? Carla Keen, Director of 'What Happened to Tomorrow?', offers an insight into a trick used to create intriguing characters, delightful scenes, and even build a whole world...
Imagine you are on a Tinder date. You are at a restaurant and your date doesn’t leave a tip. Not a huge thing, but it might make you start to wonder: if they don’t tip, where else might they not be so generous...?
Like someone on a date, improvisers become hyper-aware of words and behaviour, picking up on clues from each other to build a picture of a person, place or situation by using the phrase: “If this is true, what else is true?”
This phrase is great for finding games to play with characters. For example, James played a character who always claps when the pilot successfully lands the lunar shuttle. So, if this is true, what else is true? We find out in subsequent scenes that he also claps when his dinner successfully arrives in a restaurant, and has to prevent himself clapping at really inappropriate times such as a funeral.
Maybe he is someone who finds joy in everything, or he just assumes everyone does it, or maybe it’s just a slightly odd quirk that makes him a delight or an annoyance to be around.
We apply a similar idea in a slightly different way when improvising a narrative. Most Western stories have a very familiar story arc, and often the middle part has several moments of “if I change this thing now, what are the consequences?”
For example, when Erica’s character decided to break their routine by leaving their clean, safe life at the top of a skyscraper in London and explore the depths of the murky 2118 London, the consequences were that she met an old model android who had been made redundant by newer models, and they subsequently discovered it was her family who owned the factory that made the new androids.
For our show What Happened to Tomorrow? we also use this idea to imagine a future reality, based on what exists now - “if this is true now, what might be true in 100 years’ time?”
For example, when we ask the audience for objects to inspire the show, we might use someone’s Fitbit. We might imagine that if we can currently track heartrate, what else might be true in 2118? Could a device detect when you are having a heart attack and call an ambulance?
If that’s true, then what else is true? Could it detect other bodily needs and attempt to fix them before you are aware of it? Could you end up in a car which suddenly diverts you to the nearest McDonald’s because it’s noticed your blood sugar is low? Is this a world where we have become so reliant on technology, we don’t understand how to listen to our bodies anymore? What is it like to live in that world?
We also use the objects to inspire us in more oblique ways. For example, if the Fitbit strap is textured, it might inspire us to think of a world where texture is incredibly important, perhaps where we’ve managed to effectively synthesise texture in virtual reality (VR), or where skin texture has become a primary way of identifying yourself.
The challenge to all of this is that because the show is improvised, everyone on the team is inspired in a different way. This means that the characters and the reality of the world gradually emerges, built by a small detail that each improviser brings to the stage.
If I say “the coffee replicator is broken today, so I ended up with a margarita for breakfast”, then we all know this is a world where food replicators exist, that possibly the technology is quite new and unreliable, and that my character is someone who is happy drinking cocktails for breakfast...
What happens next depends on my cast mate thinking “well, if this is true, what else is true...?”
What Happened to Tomorrow? is on at the Corpus Playroom from Thursday 13 to Saturday 15 December 2018.