Juggling Stories on Stage

Juggling Stories on Stage

Director, Carla Keen, tells us what it is like putting together a fully improvised show...

In The Ministry of Unplanned Occurrences’ latest improvised show, The Asteroid and Tentacle, the bar is a hive of activity filled with intertwining worlds, so if we’re making it up as we go along, how do we keep track of the characters and multiple stories?

From a Pixar film like Toy Story, to an epic hand-wringing Chekhov play, nearly all stories follow a familiar pattern. If you grow up influenced by Western media, you’re probably able to recognise where a story is heading and how it is likely to end – and this is part of the enjoyment!

The Three Acts

One of the simplest and well-known story patterns comes from Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’. It has been expanded and explained numerous times, but looks something like this: 

Act 1: What is normal? What happens to disrupt that normal?

Toy Story example: Woody is the favourite toy. Buzz arrives and becomes the favourite.

Asteroid & Tentacle example: A smuggler doing a regular pick up at The Asteroid and Tentacle discovers a stowaway (a runaway Fleet ensign) in his cargo hold.

Act 2: What does the hero want? What obstacles are in the way?

Toy Story example: Woody wants to be the favourite. Buzz is newer and more exciting. Both Woody and Buzz are captured by Sid.

Asteroid & Tentacle example: The smuggler must decide whether to turn in the ensign or drop them off at the next spaceport. Meanwhile, the ensign is getting into constant trouble in the bar.

Act 3: What is the turning point and how do things resolve?

Toy Story example: Woody and Buzz realise they need to work together. They escape and return home. Both are further unified by a new challenge – a pet dog.

Asteroid & Tentacle example: The smuggler discovers that the ensign has a natural talent for lying and stealing and takes them on as a co-pilot. The smuggler teaches his new apprentice everything he knows.

There are many more in-depth ways people have thought about stories. We tend to practise using the eight-part story spine by Kenn Adams of Synergy Theatre, but another famous one is Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’, which George Lucas is said to have used to write Star Wars. Another is Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.

Whether it’s how Woody feels when Buzz arrives, the moral dilemma the smuggler faces, or even juicy work gossip at work, stories are a compelling and vital part of making meaning of our lives, which is why we love telling them so much.

Join us for our latest adventure at The Asteroid and Tentacle
21-24 September, 7pm, Corpus Playroom