How Many Different Ways Can You Improvise A Scene?

Exercises de style, written by the French polymath and oulipian Raymond Queneau in 1947, tells the same story ninety-nine times in a variety of different linguistic and rhetorical styles. Luke & Michael were interested to see whether we could improvise the same scene ninety-nine different ways.

Queneau’s material was a feeble anecdote about seeing the same annoying stranger twice in once day. Our tale turned out to be about a man who is disabled and unable to work following an industrial accident. His wife is frustrated by having to look after him. He vows to rebuild his self-respect by renewing his former hobby of kite flying.

We were keen to distinguish style from genre. Here are some of the styles we used:

• as many unnecessary additional characters as possible
• one improviser plays both parts; the other narrates the stage direction
• the improvisers swap characters every third line
• over-the-top emotions
• monosyllables
• both characters are dogs
• as slowly as possible
• as loudly as possible
• mime
• in the style of another improviser
• constantly in motion
• Old Norse kennings
• aphorism and allegory
• gibberish
• obscene
• excessive detailed description
• as a three-beat Harold
• only in questions
• rhythmic delivery
• version for children
• epic

We didn’t have enough time in the available rehearsal time to run the scene ninety-nine times.* We only managed about thirty, but it was a worthwhile attempt. We learned how liberating style can be, how you can have more fun playing when you don’t stop to worry about creating the content of the scene. It was also useful for us to stretch ourselves, to try out ways of performing that we unconsciously shy away from, and to appreciate that the number of approaches to a scene is infinite.

 
* That reminds me. One day, I’d like to put together a show called ‘100 Scenes’. Two or three improvisers create 100 different scenes in quickfire succession, none of them longer than 30 seconds, some of them significantly shorter, while a tally is kept by an assistant on a blackboard at the side of the stage. The show ends at the end of the 100th scene. It would be interesting to see what themes or motifs emerge from this pointillist structure.
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One Comment on “How Many Different Ways Can You Improvise A Scene?”

  1. […] Exercises de style, written by the French polymath and oulipian Raymond Queneau in 1947, tells the same story ninety-nine times in a variety of different linguistic and rhetorical styles. Luke &amp…  […]


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