Let’s Play a Game!on October 15th, 2011 at 6:15 AM
When I was little my mother would keep me motivated to clean my room by turning it into a game. She’d say, “Pick up all of the things that are blue.” And I would. She’d run through all the colors and shapes and sizes until every stray Lego or Barbie shoe was put in its place. Somehow this daunting task of cleaning my whole room became easier, and I was finished before I even realized I was doing something difficult. So it only seems appropriate to me, now that I’m an “adult”, that when faced with a huge, seemingly impossible task the best way to handle it is to turn it into a game.
There’s a scene in Our American Myth during which our actors, playing heightened versions of themselves, debate the definition of political violence. This scene was originally written based on a conversation that happened on Twitter. It was then rewritten based on the conversation the script development team had about the Twitter conversation. Then we rewrote it based on the conversation about the conversation about the Twitter conversation. The first time our actors read through the script, it immediately rang untrue. It was disjointed, and all over the place subject-wise, and didn’t really reflect the same values our actors have. So we decided we needed to get our actors together and have a new conversation. Same topic, but whole new ballgame. We wanted to explore as many angles of political violence as possible, but we also knew that this conversation would need to be performed in front of an audience. It needed to be short, to the point, and dramatically interesting. What? Seriously? How the hell are we going to accomplish that?
Let’s turn this impossible task into a game! We took some index cards and came up with some known goals and secret goals for people to play with during the conversation. The known goals contained suggestions for amplifying each person’s natural personality type, like “be the class clown”, “make an ally”, and “mediate conflict”. Each person got to choose one goal which they kept throughout the conversation. The secret goals were trickier. They dealt with tactics the participants would use to make an argument. We used things like “back up someone else’s argument”, “appeal to a higher moral authority”, and “get someone to hit you”. When the conversation got stale or slow, I’d give them either a verbal prompt (to change the topic), or I’d give one of the actors 3 index cards with secret goals. They could choose one, which layered on top of their main goal, and they had to play it until I felt they’d succeeded, or at least made a really good go of it.
The result of this game was phenomenal. Everyone had fun and we came out of the room with 2 1/2 hours of really interesting conversation. Everyone had the opportunity to argue as themselves, but with raised stakes. Each person was asked to pursue tactics they might not normally choose in a friendly debate, and I think everyone surprised themselves a lot.
From 2 1/2 hours, we were able to isolate 5 minutes of pure gold. Well, there was more gold than that, but 5 minutes of pure gold which fit in seamlessly with the rest of the script. I’m consistently and constantly surprised by and pleased with this show. The whole process has been a series of impossible tasks which we manage to complete with a combination of lots of time (we didn’t think we had), lack of sleep (ah, that’s where that time came from), hard work, apparently a little skill, and sheer dumb luck. This is my life. This is my work. And from what I’ve seen of good theatre, this is the business. This is the art. This is how theatre artists play. So come play with us!