Please Stay mixed story-telling with a variety of solo-performance styles and scene types. The next few articles will explore scene types for solo-performances, whether that be for narrative or sketch style performance. In this article we explore how you setup, play and write the different scene types.
This article will explore Presentational Scenes, where the scene has a presenter and audience dynamic as a theatrical conceit. The scene might be a class-room, press conference, TED Talk or some other context, with you playing the presenter and your audience playing whoever would be gathered together in this context.
This scene type is a great way to explore characters, set up and talk about the world, as well as get a characters’ absolute perspective on a situation or idea – but may not be best suited to move forward action or explore a relationship. I had a lot of fun with this scene type in Please Stay and Bri Williams used this scene type to great comedic effect in her solo show Little Mountain Goblin where she portrayed a scientist at a press conference discussing a new discovery.
Here are some other examples I’ve seen people use in performance and workshops:
- High School Teacher addressing their class
- TED Talk
- Press Conference to reveal a scientific discovery
- Manager telling staff that the company is shut down
- Dumbledore addressing students of Hogwarts
Setting it up
Make it clear right away. In most cases the reveal of the three W’s (WHO, WHAT & WHERE) wont be the most interesting thing (although there could be fun there), so get it out of the way. This allows you to play with the people and characters, rather than the mechanics of how you meticulously set up the context.
Here’s an example of how I setup a presentational scene from (my favourite scene in) Please Stay:
“Welcome to the Danger Zone. This is the last stop on your walking tour of NASA’s facilities.” – Excerpt from Please Stay, “Danger Zone”
We don’t want to sacrifice our characters tendencies, energy and behaviour, but I do want the audience to know where they are so everyone can relax and focus their concern on what we want to explore. Which was: Who is this guy, and what is his deal. To this end this scene was about the allure of danger, and how we often want things we don’t understand or can’t have.
Please Stay included a Law & Order title card for each scene. This allowed me to just put up a slide with the location and time for each scene as it started, and in all cases I had a sound bed for the scene to make it seem more real. All these elements helped, but I have to say I felt audiences felt more on board when there was clarity through dialogue as well – it’s also possible that some of the audience couldn’t properly see the slides.
Now that you’re in the scene you can do whatever would normally happen in this context (or what would hilariously never happen).
Make sure to research (where possible) examples of what you are looking to recreate on stage. Find a character you will enjoy playing. Have a clear perspective for your character, what they’re trying to achieve, how they feel about what they are doing here today, how they feel about the audience gathered and give them a very definite energy. This will help ground you in the character, and allow you to deal with anything that comes up.
Do not rely on audience interaction to fill the time. Presentations include content delivery, so write some content, and make it relevant for the context and character in question. At the end of the day, you are writing a presentation, so you can use any advice or insight you have from people who write presentations, otherwise using storytelling techniques to structure the content is always a sound option.
If you are going to have audience interaction, you can practice in rehearsal but I recommend you also prepare by writing out some questions you think the audience will ask (include some off-the-wall questions) and work out how your character might respond. Respond using good improv technique, honour the question, and bring your characters perspective and energy to the response.
You should want a specific type of question from your audience, or it might be too generic. In Please Stay, I solved this by having my character ask himself a question, so that the audience knew what to expect:
“Does anyone have any questions about space, or science, or NASA, or Danger? *pause for a beat* Some people ask me what is the most dangerous area in space. And the answer is of course, space itself. Because there’s no air up there, and the other parts are on fire. Good danger question. Good space question. Good me question.” – Excerpt from Please Stay, ” Danger Zone”
In Please Stay I was asking for generic questions about space. The first performance was really fun but challenging, because the audience didn’t realise they could ask me any random science, space or danger question. The moment I added the above, they were on-board every show. The first time I did this scene it lasted 2 minutes, after adding those three lines of dialogue it ran anywhere from 5 – 8 minutes.
Here’s some quick tips on audience interaction for this scene type:
- Build rapport with the audience before you put too much pressure on them. And let them know if their participation is included in the show. Use the top of the show or other scenes to have some fun with them, and demonstrate you can look after them.
- Where possible, ask questions in a way that invite people to volunteer. That way people choose to be involved. If you are needing to single people out, make it welcoming.
- Provide an example to demonstrate what might be an acceptable input, and show how your character might process that.
- Make Character choices that allow you to support what might be thrown at you.
- Avoid questions that are unnecessarily revealing. There’s a big difference between, “What’s the most embarrassing thing you have eaten?”, and “What’s something you would never eat?”
Despite all of this discussion on looking after the audience. Don’t be afraid to engage with them. People are at your show to have fun, and you’re a fun person. Dang, you’re the most fun person I know. You’ve spent all of this time on your own writing something that will entertain a group of people. So get out there. The major take-away here is make sure you’re getting what you want, you do that by preparing the audience, showing that it is safe, and asking for it clearly.
You can always just drop the lights on a scene. But presentational contexts always have some way in which they end, and that can be fun to play with as well, again do your research. i.e.
- School Classes – These often end with a school bell going, so you can play that sound effect and then play though the end of class.
- TED Talk – Often speakers will run out of time. These little foibles that play out in the real world can be fun to play with. You might have a character not finish a compelling story in time, and then gets bonus time to do it.
- Press Conference – Everything from the “That’s all we have time for” to “I’m not answering any more questions! You people are animals! *storms out*” all of these are options, and could be fun.
- Management Meeting – You know how these meetings end, either we’re over time and people need to leave, or people just get up and go proclaiming they have work to do. Lots of fun options.
- Dumbledore – He disappears in a cloud of smoke, says some riddle, or perhaps the school is attacked.
- Danger Zone – for Please Stay – I ended the scene proclaiming that the walking tour was over, and that they should check out the gift store.
Other articles in this series:
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 1) – Post-mortem of Please Stay.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 2) – Post-mortem of Big Strong Boy.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 3) – Getting Started.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 4) – Creating As A Process.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 5) – Writing True Stories.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 6) – Solo-Performer Scene Types: Presentational Scenes