by Richard Oberbruner
The actors sit in chairs around an imaginary square table (empty middle space). They each impersonate a family member from one of their actual holiday meals. It’s this simple. The mix of personalities will light up the scene!
There is one rule to get the scene started: Talk in order. Once each character is introduced, then multiple conversations typically take hold.
Just like a real holiday meal!
One actor begins speaking in-character. All other actors pay attention in their own way. The next actor to-the-right then gets speaking focus, and so on around the table. The next actor can continue the current topic or branch-off into another one. React naturally when it’s your turn. Let your character’s emotional state dictate what you say. Holiday meals can be emotional pressure cookers. Actors get to say on-stage what is typically not said in real life. Take advantage of this.
Once every character is introduced, the orderliness fades, replaced with a couple conversations going on simultaneously – just like a real holiday meal! Don’t let the menagerie bother you. This is a good challenge for actors to stay focused on who they are, as well as, reacting to what they hear.
At my recent improv class, one woman’s boyfriend wasn’t showing up “again.” This created gossip around the table. The little boy tired of all the “adult talk” hid underneath the table. The know-it-all lady next to him said “That kid needs to be on something. Give him his medicine.” All the actors were being real. No one was trying to be funny. The funny took care of itself thanks to the emotional investment it takes to portray a real person.
Does your character shy away in a busy setting or stick his/her nose in the action? Does he/she become louder, quieter, gossipy, appalled? It’s fun to lose yourself in a scene like this. Beginners can safely test a new idea. More experienced improvisers have a multitude of situations to react to. In either case, “Holiday Meal” creates realistic characters in the heat of the moment.
Learn more about Richard’s work as a Communications Coach at R.O.I Training. Improv is his communication tool. He conducts employee engagement sessions with corporations and non-profits nationwide.