Class: Dali Is My Teapot
The guy at the Newsagent who looks like the secret love child of Bez and Pinocchio and talks exclusively in clichés, that lady off the telly who pronounces all ‘e’s as ‘a’s, the lady you did temping with who had a laugh that echoed the first four notes of the Thunderbirds theme tune, your own peculiar oversensitivity to smell…
Characters are all around us. We are characters. Despite probably not wanting to admit it. And from the larger than life to the quiet, more nuanced beings (or are they…) – aren’t we all fascinating and compelling? People like people. Just take an average tube train carriage. Isn’t it hard not to stare and study everyone you can see? Hard not to marvel at the fact you’ve not seen that particular jumble of features before. Hard not to think up a back-story for them. And hard not to probably silently judge them (don’t worry, I won’t tell.) It’s such a uniquely human past time.
But we’re not just affectations and quirks. Do you remember the beginning of the film Amélie? She talks about how she loves the feel of dipping her hand in grain, the sound of a spoon cracking a crème brûlée, of her psychosomatic heart issues and her horror that her joy of taking photographs may be the cause of all human disasters. We all have our personal passions, pleasures, fears, beliefs and dislikes. And just like Amélie, they make us individual and remarkable. A one-off mash-up of genes, synapses, flesh and heart, that will only exist once.
With all this and more in mind for my class, we mined a whole wealth of ways with which to animate our characters. And even better, most of the subtle things chosen or taken to influence our characters like actual life events, obsessions, physical conditions, dreams, political leanings etc (made up/stolen/real and personal), rarely came out that literally during the scenes. They just infused them in a cool way, leading to some stupendously rich, unconventional and varied characters.
For years I thought character was a fall-back. Not a great idea to start a scene with. Perhaps not crafty or clever enough. In my head I’d think, ‘Dial down the clown!’ ‘Wind down The Weird!’ ‘Crank down The Crazy!’ But I really don’t think that at all anymore. It’s taken time for me to grow comfortable and confident enough in my own improv to realise character is not only relevant, but a totally justifiable choice to make in a scene – and a totally legitimate ‘in’ to a scene. And aside from that it’s just so much f*cking fun – right? And this is why I adore teaching it.
Dali is My Teapot was a bunch of talented improvisers more than willing to look and sound stupid, rinse their own life experiences and unconventional traits, raid their unique imaginations and steal from every single human influence they could think of to create some of the most charming and off-kilter, character duos I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. They did indeed let the icing slip off the cake!
And to that end, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favourite musicians:
‘We nicked from all over the place. But when it goes through your hands it comes out a different colour.’
- Jean-Jaques Burnell, The Stranglers.*
*World’s greatest bass player. Disagree? Come and find me, and we’ll talk about this.