What’s up? It’s beautiful outside. I’m eating a sandwich. It’s Pi Day. Today is pretty alright. I’m nodding satisfactorily as I type that, so if you want to go back and re-read it whilst nodding as well, I won’t judge.
Let’s have some improv talk. Object Work. For those unfamiliar, object work is pretty much just interacting with your current imaginary environment to make it more realistic to your character. Miming. But not in a creepy way. If, in your scene, you’re in a hair cuttery where perhaps you are employed, your object work might be interaction with scissors, hair spray, etc. Maybe it’s too breezy so you shut a fake window. It’s closing time, so you flip the imaginary “Sorry, we’re CLOSED” sign over. It’s time to ride your imaginary bike back to your spacious, imaginary, loft apartment.
I don’t think I’ve ever met an improvisor who has remarked “Object work?! I FUCKING LOVE OBJECT WORK!” Object work can feel really awkward, especially if you over-think it, which I think we greener improvisors tend to do (though I’m sure people who have been doing improv far far longer than I may feel similarly as well!). It really just leads to everyone dropping object work, and engaging in the ever-popular and constantly criticized talking head scenes, where everyone just stands around and talks at each other. “Two white guys talking” as one of my teachers used to say. Maybe occasionally one person might do something like hold a coffee mug. And then suddenly the coffee mug will be set down and POOF! Object work is gone.
Completely unrelated: I am deja vu-ing really hard right now, pertaining to some emails I’m sending out. I am not a fan of that feeling.
Back to this thing! Another thing that you’ll find, and honestly, this is hard for everyone, is that (get ready for some generalizations) improvisors tend to stop their object work when it is their time to speak in a scene. Usually it’ll be picked back up but somewhere in that “I am speaking now; it is my time to speak” moment, the rake gets dropped or hands just freeze in whatever motion they’re in (holding, pushing, etc). UNLESS (get ready for the biggest generalization ever) that improvisor is holding a furry creature that they are petting. Then they’re an object work MACHINE. The thing is, though, you can convey the emotions and wants of your character through your object work to make it even funnier/more serious, depending on what you’re going for, buuuuut I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Without object work, we’re keeping ourselves (and the audience) teetering in the void between sitting in a dark theatre and sitting in a hair cuttery (or wherever you scene is taking place). Obviously you don’t have to just cut hair the whole time, but it is all in the little details that makes our characters and environments really come alive. To make people really see it, even though we’re all playing make believe, is tons of fun. Everyone has different tricks and tips for object work. The most important thing is really just fucking do it. You’re playing make believe in front of a bunch of strangers. If you’re not doing object work because you think you look dumb (hi, guilty), what’s the point of going on stage in the first place?
One of the exercises that we did back in AP2 was partaking in the creation of a room where one person at a time interacts with one thing in said, which was given an over-all theme (ie: office break room, library etc) from our teacher. Similarly (but also not), last night, we were given an activity to recreate in two minutes. One by one, we each accepted our activity and thus (apparently thusly is not a word) created an environment in which: Bizarre sandwiches were made. Suits were put on. Teeth were brushed. Toilets were cleaned. Pot was smoked. Donuts were made. And so on, and so forth.
Our second time through, doing the same activities, we were given an emotion (or descriptor) with which to complete our task. Bizarre sandwiches were made in a pompous manner. Suits were angrily put on. Teeth were excitedly brushed. Toilets were happily cleaned. Pot was self-loathingly smoked. Donuts were sexily made. And so on, and so forth. What’s interesting and definitely of note here is that, in getting your object work on and having an emotion with which to do whatever your object work is, doing object work (believe me, I’m just as tired as typing it as you are of reading it at this point, but typing “doing it” or whatever over and over is even more annoying because my brain is that of a 12 year old boy) is so much easier when there’s an emotion somewhere behind it. It’s a lot more fun, too. Anyone can pretend they’re flipping a pizza in the air, but doesn’t it just seem more interesting and fun to flip a pizza in the air in a paranoid fashion?
Yes. Yes it does.
Use that emotion, and you’re helping not only keep all up in your object work, but you’re pushing your character’s wants a but further as well. It definitely helps me. I have this habit of setting up a pretty solid* “here’s my deal!” uh…deal…for my characters, and then I drop it at some point, maybe half way or so through the scene, because my brain throws on the breaks and claims I’m not supporting my scene partner, even though “supporting your scene partner” means more than simply agreeing with them or doing whatever they want. Keeping my emotions moving through my object work really helped re-enforce the need to stick with my want/deal in the scenes we did. So, as it turns out, object work, which I am most apprehensive of doing because I feel weird, has a huge impact on my improv.
Keep it real…with OBJECT WORK!**
* I like to think so sometimes. It’s probably more gelatinous than solid
**Copyright JLK 3/14/2012 don’t put this on t-shirts. I know you want to. You can’t. I OWN IT. I’ll use it for a toothpaste ad someday. Just wait.