Class: The Deconstruction
In my humble opinion, the best way to really get your head around a subject or a concept is to teach it to someone else. You’re never more in the moment than when you’re teaching and that’s when you find things you didn’t think you were looking for.
So it was great to teach The Deconstruction with Lloydie on the Saturday afternoon, and even better that it was a double session so we could really get our teeth into it. As we perform a 2-person deconstruction (Life Deconstructed) we’re both clear on how ‘our’ version works but teaching it to a group raises so many ideas.
Many of the things you discover as you’re teaching come out of happy accidents. In the case of Saturday, it was the number of students we had and the amount of time we had to play.
For a start, we talked about the basic structure and – in passing – mentioned how ‘heady’ it is. By the end of the session, students were enthusiastically talking about what a comfortable format it is. Heady? Someone questioned….we-ell I suppose heady for US, for two people trying to do the job of 4-8 people, but maybe not so much for a big group.
Before I go on I should probably explain the format of The Deconstruction. It’s a neat mix of character and ideas:
You start with a base scene between two people during which you explore their relationship, feelings towards each other and details of their lives.
You then do a montage of scenes exploring the themes from the base scene in an unrelated context, e.g. a base scene about 2 old men fishing might produce 3 unrelated scenes about competitiveness, fear of dying and hope but with no mention of the old men or their world.
You return to the base scene – those two men again – perhaps in the same location, perhaps somewhere new, but still exploring more details of their lives and relationship.
This is followed by a montage of scenes set in the WORLD of the two old fishermen (the base scene). This COULD include one of those men but in most cases it will involve people and places they’ve referred to, e.g. the children of fisherman ‘A’, the ex-wife of fisherman ‘B’, the underwater life of the lake where the old men fish.
Almost finally, you return to the base scene and the final ‘beat’. Has anything shifted for the old fishermen? Has the journey of the improvisers affected the characters. You may not consciously use any of the themes or world that you’ve discovered together over the course of the show but unconsciously some of it may bleed into the base scene.
The very last ‘tag-on’ is a medley of scenes I like to call the ‘b-dum chhh’ scenes – the final percussion, the icing on the cake, all the little tie-ups and gags you didn’t get to do in the main piece.
We had two groups of 6 and 7 doing two decons and only three hours so – as with our own version, we decided not to do the last bit – the tag-ons. We don’t do it at the moment because it’s so hard to come on with premise and gags with only two of you and no time in the wings to think of anything. But at the end of the session, we had 15mins left, Lloydie and I turned to each other with the same idea, so we combined both groups for a hilarious quarter of an hour of mini-scenes and sketches where characters and concepts from both deconstructions met and melded. It was great fun and I’d definitely recommend it as a model for anyone with a couple of groups wishing to do a show together.
Another thing that we didn’t have time to do was to explore playing with time. For ease of teaching, and generally to avoid confusion, we choose to do our own decon in chronological order, but one student suggested playing travelling around in time. It’s certainly an option and I’d be keen to see what a larger group made of it. I still think it would be confusing to do it in either of the 3 base scenes, but it might be fun to use it as one of the two montage sections, e.g. instead of the WORLD or THEMES, or even as an extra section.
But of course, this is the beauty of the Deconstruction, you can deconstruct your scenes however you want! Like the Harold (of which the Decon is really just a variant), it can be moulded into whatever form and to explore whatever details you please. For some reason, it took me a double session teaching it to realise its potential.