Improvisers are told all the time how important is to “give gifts to your scene partners,” but are rarely shown how, leaving them dazed and confused.
I am no different. At times I am confused by it, too. Certainly, I been around long enough that I know a good gift on stage when I see one, but teaching it has always been a bit tricky. When I improvise, I usually give gifts by heightening the emotional game of a character, adding history to the relationship, or giving specifics. However, this is an area in my improvising and my teaching that I can always improve on, and I am always looking to pick up some new tools to put into my sometimes rusty improv tool box.
That’s why I was happy when Paul Vaillancourt addressed this topic in his new book, The Triangle of The Scene: A simple, practical, powerful method for approaching improvisation. Paul is a great improviser and improv teacher who started out in Chicago and then became one of the co-founders of iO West and a member of Beer Shark Mice. His book’s premise is that all good long form improv comes from two-person relationship scenes. The book includes lots of practical tips and examples for making two-person scenes really work.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book is Vaillancourt’s emphasis on how to give big, playable gifts to your partner to create improv scenes with rich characters.
Vaillancourt explains that the best way to set your partner up to succeed is to make statements that not only include specifics, but also include information that can give your partner clues about his or her character’s attitude. Vaillancourt suggests that you ask yourself:
- Is the offer really a gift that will make my partner look good and give them something fun to play?
- Are there many different ways to play the gift?
- Can I play the gift in this situation and other situations?
He then lays out lines of dialogue to show how you can include character information in a statement to make an ideal gift for any improviser:
- “You have a problem with authority.”
- “You are the meanest person I have ever met.”
- “You are like my grandmother.”
Vaillancourt says these are the best types of gifts to give our scene partner because they have the most playability. He then shows us how we can “Yes, and…” the generous gift that’s been offered to us.
With the first line, “You have problem with authority,” Vaillancourt suggests that you could the respond by saying that you drink in school, or that you hate your boss for making you work over time, or you could wrestle a cop who pulls you over.
With the second line, “You are the meanest person I have ever met,” Vaillancourt suggests that you could respond by slapping your partner’s baby, shooting them in the foot, or taking their new iPhone and throwing it down the sewer. In this way, he is not only giving us verbal ways to support and heighten the gift but physical choices, as well.
The whole concept of “Gift Giving” in improv has never been explained to me in such easy to understandable way, until now.
Really, the whole book is like that. It’s accessible for every level of improviser, teacher and coach. It’s structured like a great improv class, with each chapter building off the last. Vaillancourt has simplified the concepts to perfection and supported them beautifully with clear examples and embedded videos making every concept super easy to follow, especially for improvisers who live in smaller markets and don’t have access to many improv classes.
I love people who have been around as long as Paul, who have not only created their own method and can explain it such practical terms, but also who are as passionate about improv today as they were when they first started. If it’s not clear already, I highly recommend this book. ( The Triangle of the Scene is available on Amazon Kindle and iBooks.) And lets us know how you give gifts to your partners on stage, just put it in the comment section below.