3 minutes and 30 seconds.
That’s how long Eric took before he spoke a single word in his scene with Aimee at the last Popaganda I produced.
Many improvisers feel the need to fill every single silent second with words. We forget it’s important to let some things breathe. You know? Like wine!
In this scene, for example, Eric stood downstage waiting for a bus. Aimee stood upstage, off in the corner whispering to him (but not to him, because they weren’t looking at each other) about how if he still loved her, he would catch her. She gave the impression she was going to run over to him a la Dirty Dancing and expected him to catch her over his head. (We’ve all seen the scene. We knew what to expect.) What we didn’t expect was that Eric would ignore her for 3 minutes and 30 seconds!
She kept whispering, as if it were an intention she was setting. As though she could will him to still love her, and catching her would be the ultimate sign of his devotion to her.
We, the audience, waited in eager anticipation for Eric to respond. You could feel the tension in the room when finally, after 3 and a half minutes, he revealed to the audience, and to Aimee that she was a ghost, that she’d been dead for I don’t remember, months, years? Anyway, she was dead.
As the realization set in with the audience, an uproar of laughter began, and lasted a REALLY REALLY long time.
I know it doesn’t do much justice to explain an improv scene after it’s happened. I know it’s ephemeral. But for those of us in attendance, it was not only a delightful moment, but we also got totally schooled in the lesson of how patience begets payoff.
It spoke to the amount of trust there was between these two players. The non-verbal communication between them. The quiet confidence of knowing, or maybe not knowing or discovering the precise and perfect moment when to drop the information that Aimee was a ghost. The excellent acting between the two which permitted for believability because as the audience, we were completely satisfied.
I found this list over at Jesterz Improv and thought it would be helpful to bring home the point:
Here are a couple of things that you create by being patient:
- Trust – Showing patience in a scene shows trust to your scene partner, your fellow performers and in improv as a process.
- Emotion – Patience allows you to discover what your characters true emotion is and it gives your scene partner time to discover what their characters true emotion is
- Anticipation – Anticipation can grow as improvisors are patient with the scene and explore what is already there, rather then inventing.
- Clarity – More often then not, when an improvisor isn’t sure what is happening in a scene, they panic and start to bend the rules if improv. Panic turns into denial and denial turns into a bad scene. (https://www.jesterzimprov.com/patience-proceeds-payoff/)
With that in mind, after the big reveal, the players seemed to have such a good time playing in the world where Aimee was a ghost and Eric was kinda fed up with her hanging around. But remember, not only was there the anticipation of when Eric would speak, but we were all still waiting to find out if he would catch her too. The stakes were raised, Aimee seceded that her ghost would leave Eric alone if he performed this one last action together; the catch. The lights blacked out on this beautiful moment that I’m so happy my iPhone was able to capture:
The bus arrived and Eric sat right down in the front row with the audience. A huge let-down for poor Aimee’s ghost.
ALL THIS TO SAY THE FOLLOWING. Take a breather out there. Look around. Take the time to discover. STOP AND EXPLORE – that was the biggest note I got in Leslie Seiler’s Conservatory 1 & 2 classes. (That, and to shut up when the teacher is talking. Oh how I am being served some tasty irony on that front now that I’ve begun teaching.)
In true crassness, don’t blow your load within the first few moments of the scene. You’ve got some time up there. Especially in a duo scene. Why not discover things with your partner? Learn to trust your partner. And, in the words of one of my favourite Depeche Mode songs; learn to Enjoy the Silence. You might have to react to your partners’ for over three minutes if the scene calls for it.