Behaving Truthfully in Imaginary Circumstances

If I didn’t speak to it, I didn’t see it. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. I have to say it. And the more specific the detail and subsequently the stronger emotional response to it, the more it’s in my body and the easier it is to play.

-Robert A. Lynch

The quote above is a note I wrote after an Advanced AdlerImprov class a couple weeks ago. It refers to putting imaginary circumstances in my body.

The game we was this – two people sit in a chair and narrate a scene in specific detail. Then they act out the scene they just narrated. When players were specific in the details they narrated, the more fully present they were in their bodies. The places where they generalized, so too were the performances.

I was reminded of my early days Meisner classes and imaginary circumstances for scene set ups. My teachers, Ted Hoerl and Eileen Vorbach, would ask a series of probing questions to gauge how prepared we were. They could tell when the imagined circumstances were specific and when it was general. They could tell we were prepared when they could see whether or not it was in our bodies.

Ted, in particular, always talked about how specific was specific enough. He said you couldn’t just walk into your room and catch your best friend/brother/father “having an affair” with your wife/girlfriend. You had to see the winking asshole.

Similarly, Susan Messing teaches in her Annoyance improv class to use all your senses – taste it, touch it, hear it, smell it, feel it, fuck it.

Mad Men was very specific about its props. The stacks of papers were real typewritten papers. That’s the exception to the rule though. More and more TV shows and movies are shot on green screens these days. Our job is to make those imaginary circumstances real so they’re believable for the audience. And, just like you need to say your lines out loud in rehearsal, the same goes for your imaginary circumstances – say them out loud. What do you see, feel, touch, taste, hear?