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Sunday, January 31, 2010


The Escapists have been playing with dubbing lately -- or "ventriloquism" -- a game that has always turned my brain to mush. I have a terrible time tracking everything that's going on, remembering who's talking for me, whose voice I'm supposed to be providing, and all the while trying to keep up good improvisor habits like space object work, wheres, and narrative.

The few times that I've felt successful at this game have been when I was "in the zone" -- that very Matrix-y feeling that you can slow time to suit your needs, that nothing is getting past you, that you're mind-melded with your fellow players. But when that zone is nowhere to be found, this is definitely one of those games that can get out of control fast ... and when it does, it tends to revert into everyone talking at once, pursuing their own agendas, and narrative flying out the window.

So Note One (to myself and anyone else with dubbing-related mush-brain) -- slow down. As in any scene, leave room for space objects, where-work, emotion, nuance. Leave the stage, if your character's presence is no longer needed. Breathe. Make eye contact. Breathe some more.

While you're slowed down, remember you're not in this alone (Note Two). You're onstage with at least one other person. You don't even have to do your own talking -- someone else is doing that for you. Watch the person you're speaking for; chances are, whatever they are going to say (through your mouth) is there in their body language. You just have to say it out loud. Be obvious. Be simple. Say what needs to be said and then shut your pie hole and let someone else have a turn.

Remember Basic Improv Math: you're responsible for -- at most! -- 50% of what happens in a scene. Even less if you're onstage with more people. So if you feel like the weight of the scene is on your shoulders, let go and let someone else pick up the slack.

And Note Three (let's call it the Chris Miller Rule of Improv Awesomeness for reasons I might explain in a future post): when in doubt, do space object work. Touch something in the "where." If you're in a kitchen, chop vegetables or wash dishes. Sweep the floor. Rummage around in your purse for chapstick and put it on. Straighten your imaginary clothes. It'll give your voice-provider something to work with, keep you from being a talking head on an improv stage, and give the audience something to look at.

Finally, give yourself a break. Everybody can't be awesome at every game. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Some Dubbing Games
- Two-, Three-, or Four-Way Dubbing
Two, three, or four actors provide voices for each other, while also appearing in the scene. (Actor A provides the voice for Actor B, who provides the voice for Actor C, who provides the voice for Actor D, who provides the voice for Actor A, etc.)

- Dubbed Foreign Film
Two actors provide the voices for two other actors who act out a "movie" scene.

- Audience Dubbing
A volunteer from the audience joins a scene, with their voice provided by an actor offstage.

It's been 19 years, 11 months, and 25 days since my first improv class.

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