During the last stormy, rainy Sunday of our Sonora weekend, Her Grace wisely took advantage of the opportunity to ask our friend Joel Radell (in his persona as Lord Montague) to assist us with some practice in improvisation. This is what we do every time we embody our faire personas and interact with one another and the patrons to depict our time and place – 1562 in Scotland. I was grateful for Lord Montague’s help and wanted to point out in this post one key aspect of what he offered us – the concept of framing a gig/improv by defining it’s limits and motivations.
Lord Montague asked Lady Guyonne and me to practice an improvisation so we could learn how to better interact as our characters. He then gave us the most important direction – I am paraphrasing but in effect he said to me: “You know that Guyonne has some information you very much want her to reveal, but you don’t want to let her know WHY you want it”.
To Guyonne he (again, paraphrasing) said: “You know that the information you have is important to Bothwell, but you don’t want to reveal it until he makes clear WHY he wants it.”
We then went on to have a very enjoyable and instructive improv. What was so enjoyable and what brought out the best in our performance was the fact that we had been given motivations and limits to what we wanted and what we would each do to get what we wanted. What I want to point out here is the importance of the framing Montague gave us, and how we should emulate this in our own gigging.
Improvisation as a faire persona may very well be the most difficult aspect of the acting we are called upon to deliver as members of Saint Andrews Guild. It requires that we carry on in conversation and behavior as a character in the same way as we might do so as ourselves in normal, everyday life. I find it difficult to be natural and unaffected in everyday life as myself – how much more the challenge to be so as a character I am putting on like a costume!
But improvising some talk and action between ourselves is only one aspect of our performance. We can go through a day greeting each other, interacting in our roles, sharing some talk and banter between us with patrons – but what we call a “gig” is much more than that. A gig requires framing – a context and a driving force that provides us with a way to improvise a story that interests our audience.
As I pointed out in my paper last spring – Go Big – Acting in a Faire Environment – anything we might call a “gig” needs to tell a story. A story has a beginning, middle and end. A story has an arc – a movement in time from a start to a finish. And such an arc cannot be created by mimicking everyday behavior. If the well-worn and innocuous moments of our daily lives were so interesting we would not be a species that tells stories. But we are a species that tells stories, and if we are to grab and keep the attention of our audience and give them an enjoyable experience we need to tell a story.
And a story needs framing.
So when we are thinking of creating even the shortest and seemingly simple “gig”, some short “play” that will entertain and educate our audience, let’s take the time to think about and agree to a framework for it. We don’t need to write lines, we don’t need to set out every twist and turn to the story. In fact we will have more fun and find new and more exciting ways to perform if we do not decide on every word and gesture. But framing the gig – agreeing between ourselves on the parameters of what we are after, what we want to achieve, what blocks stand in our way and how we might overcome those blocks, can go a long way toward making our performances more memorable, informative, and certainly more fun for ourselves.
Lord Montague’s lesson demonstrated that this does not take a great deal of time or effort to achieve. He gave us two simple directions – one that told Lady Guyonne what she wanted and one that told me what I wanted. We can do this ourselves, even on the fly during a faire. If I get an idea for a gig, with just a few minutes thought and collaboration we can decide our motivations, our goals and our desires, and quickly define a gig – a story – that we can then act out to the benefit of our patrons and to the enjoyment of ourselves and our peers.
Whether we think on a gig for weeks or decide it in a few minutes, our performances will be enhanced, our patrons better informed and entertained, and our days at faire that much more enjoyable if we take the time to frame the gig as a story that will transport both us as actors and our patrons as audience into our time and place and leave them with a feeling of having been told a story, no matter how short or seemingly mundane.
I look forward to gigging with you all in the coming season.