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Monday, April 29, 2013

IMPROVISATION and PERSONIFICATION: Bobby Talks about "You Take it From Here"

Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I will be your host for this post. 

Ever seen a talking dog?  I don't mean in real life, but in the movies or on television.  I know you probably have.  Same with talking mice, talking ducks, all that stuff.  If you're old enough, you probably have even seen talking, singing and dancing raisins. 

Fun stuff, huh?

Well, you may know that all of these are examples of what we call "personification".  Personification is basically giving animals or inanimate objects human attributes.  This happens in literature a great deal.  It also happens in theater.  In fact, when learning improvisation, it can be very freeing for students (not to mention a lot of fun) to do personification exercises.  For example:  "Okay, you're a toaster who's had a bad day, and you're a piece of bread who doesn't want to leave his brothers and sisters on the loaf.  Go!"  Amazing and amazingly funny scenes can be improvised from such constructs.  It's impressive how creative we can make inanimate objects!

For those of you who have ever taught improvisation, you know it is not always simple.  I myself have found that there are usually a couple of students who are willing to jump right in and try it out, while several others become very nervous.  You can see the thoughts on their faces:  "I don't know what to say," or "What if I say something stupid," or "Please don't call on me, please don't call on me, please don't call on me..."   No matter how much I try to let them know that this is an exercise to just let go and react and respond, it does nothing to calm the stress. 

That's why I'm particularly proud of a project I was involved with called You Take it From HereAfter I had a few publications with Brooklyn, my editor there, a cool guy named David, called me up and asked me if I would like to be a part of a special project with some other writers.  Turns out, a very talented playwright named Geff Moyer had presented an idea for a book of improvisation starters for personification.  I had never seen a book of improvisation starters, but I wanted to be a part of any special project presented to me, so I said yes without a moment of hesitation.  My task was to come up with 25 personification scenes and to write the first page and a half or so, leaving a wide open ending with the words "You Take it From Here..."  I thought it was a great idea.  It's a way for students to start off, relax a bit, and then finish a scene with improvisation.  I have seen it have great results in my own classroom, students who were shy about improvisation coming to life.

This was not necessarily an easy job, but it was a lot of fun.  The hardest part for me was to keep coming up with different animals or inanimate objects that might have a scene together.   Some of my favorites that I came up with were "The Root and the Stump", "The Star and the Black Hole", "The Oak Tree and the Iris Flower" and "The Deoderant and the Armpit".  Being someone who naturally wants to complete a scene, it was also difficult for me to leave things open-ended, and without a onclusion (particularly when I had such great ideas for conclusions!).  I had to keep reminding myself, "This is just to get the students started, it's just to get the students STARTED..."

The other great writers involved with the project were the aforementioned Geff Moyer, Jerry Rabushka, Chris Stiles,   and Bradley Walton, all very talented fellows, and, I'm happy to say, playwriting pals of mine (click on their names to see more of their work).  I was delighted when I was sent the proof of the final book, and got to read all the incredible stuff they came up with. 

I have found that the book is not only valuable for acting students (of any age, middle school all the way to adults), but also is an excellent resource for playwriting classes.  It's great for an in-class writing assignment to have students finish a scene in the book.  I have seen it get the creative juices flowing in even the most reticent of students.

I hate to make this sound like a commercial, but I do believe improviation is such an important part of theatre and learning how to act, and, if you would like a great resource to facilitate improv work, I cannot recommend You Take it From Here enough, and not just because I am a co-writer of the book.  I am proud to be, of course, but even if I wasn't, I would still recommend it, and that's the truth. 

So, if you want to have some fun with personification, check out You Take it From Here, right here:  It has over 125 improvisation or creative writing starters.  After using it with some students, let me know what you think.

Thanks for checking out Theater is a Sport.  Improvisation is definitely a sport, too.

See you next time! 

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