Monday, March 24, 2008

Background Check


In my Columbia Comedy Workshop class, we're working on a scene where a couple is having dinner at a restaurant and nothing happens. They just have a nice conversation. No heightening. Nothing at stake. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, by the end of the scene, nearly everyone in the background at the restaurant is dead. It's a fun scene and in putting it together, I realized how little attention is paid to the "background" in a scene, especially those written for the stage. Typically, if you even have people in a scene in the background, it's usually to emphasize the effect that the couple is in public and someone is making a fool of his or herself. They are just a little more than window dressing. A little.

So, the assignment for this week is to write a scene where the story - or stories - that you are telling play out in the background. In our show, we have three scenarios playing out. It doesn't have to be that many. It could just be one.
Whether the scene in the background is connected to the foreground scene or not doesn't matter too much. The main thing is that the foreground scene establishes what's "normal" in this setting while the background scene does all the work of telling a story. You definitely don't want pertinent information being delivered in the foreground scene once you have started the background story. It might get lost. Nor does it have to be set in a restaurant. Any place where you can have two or more people in the same room, such as an office, train station, doctor's office waiting room, etc.

It's a fun, but challenging exercise. We tend to rely on our dialogue to tell the story. In this case, we are intentionally relying on our dialogue to NOT tell a story and allowing one or more to play out through action. Good luck!

THE BS NEWS QUIZ OF THE DAY On Friday, I asked...

"British author Sebastian Horsley was recently denied entry into the United States on what grounds?"

50% said "He wore a anti-Bush button" - While always in fashion, he was not wearing one.

37% said
"Terrorists like his books"
- I'd be more frightened if Oprah did.
No one said

"His pen could be a weapon"

12% got it right with
"Moral Turpitude"

According to The Times, Horsley flew to New York to promote a book about his time as a drug addict and his insatiable love of prostitutes was turned back at the airport on the ground of “moral turpitude”. Sebastian Horsley, 45, had arrived, dressed in his “dandy uniform” that includes a velvet scarf and a stovepipe hat, for the US launch of his memoir Dandy in the Underworld. Instead he was interrogated for eight hours at Newark Airport about past drug taking, his links to Kate Moss and the contents of his hat (to which he replied: “My head.”). His convictions were ages ago. If you are not going to let people into the country because they admit to having done drugs or being with prostitutes, then we should start shipping them out, too. Start with D.C. and then move to the state capitals.

In slight defense of the immigration officer, you are going to raise a little suspicion if you show up at the airport looking like this...