Confessions of a Slow Learner, or How to Do Unscripted Wrong – By Dave LaSalle
DL: So there are these things we call the Tools in Unscripted. I can’t tell you what they are, because it would take away from the show for you, and because I’ve taken a blood oath in Prescott’s basement. Broadly, they’re strategies we employ to prompt a new discovery in a scene, or to ramp things up emotionally. This is my third year performing in Unscripted, and I think a recent rehearsal was the first time I really understood the Tools.
Let me backtrack. Prescott has a mantra that comes into play as we get closer to opening night and begin to do run-through after run-through of Unscripted. It goes like this: “Don’t worry about the plot; worry about the scene.”
This is incredibly difficult.
Improv is an act of relinquishing control and trusting the moment, but the risk feels so much…riskier in a full-length play. I’ve been training in letting go of the reins since my first Intro to Improv class, but from time to time in Unscripted, I’ll look down to notice I’m white-knuckling those reins as hard as I can, trying to get this beast of a show to go where I think it needs to go. As though I know.
I’ll be standing offstage, thinking “OK, Kathryn’s character needs to get connected to Jason’s, and she has a son his age, so maybe he and the son are friends and I’ll go be their teacher and bring this all together.”
Ugh. It’s exhausting just writing that down.
Moreover, by the time I get on stage, I’m so focused on connecting plot points that I can barely focus on the scene, much less discover new things about the relationships onstage. Thankfully, my training kicks in and I am able to let the scene carry me along (or my character is just so stubborn he goes where he wants and not where I want to head him).
Now I realize why Prescott has been drilling me for three years now on the Tools. I thought they were extras, tricks to improve the look of the show. But I’ve realized how essential they are.
These little scene-intensifying devices not only push each scene to be meaningful and interesting on its own, but they also ensure that I can never, ever know where the story is headed. Any time I want to steer the course of events, I can instead drop one of these small hand grenades and see where we are when the smoke clears. Not only does this technique create better plays for the audience, it also makes things scarier and more fun for the performers.
So there you have it — three years in, and I think I’m beginning to learn how to perform Unscripted. Check back in three years, and I’ll tell you why I’ve got it all wrong again.
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