Improv Character Training: The Gathering
The Gathering: How to Run It, How to Play It
The Gathering is an improv session created and led by @ImprovLiz of The Maydays. In essence, it is a mystery dinner without a set mystery and without set characters. This is, after all, improv!
For an online session of The Gathering, participants have a series of five rooms in a house where they will be able to mingle with their fellow characters.
A group of friends get together for a final gathering at a house they’ve been reunion-ing at for years. The house is going up for sale, and unfortunately this will be the last chance for everyone to get together there.
The house has five rooms of importance, which are created by players at the beginning of the session alongside the teacher/couch. The rooms are breakout rooms online, or they could be physical spaces in a theater, In either case, walk through each space and name it together as a group.
I say rooms, but these could just as easily be locations like a garden, a pool, or a driveway. As rooms are created, consider (1) where the rooms are in relation to other rooms. Which rooms do you have to pass through to get to other locations? Is there a window that overlooks another room? (2) What fills the room? Is there an out-of-tune piano in the corner? Are there any pictures or paintings on the walls? (3) What does it look/smell/feel like? Is the pool cold? Is the cellar damp or dry or dusty?
There are no set characters for The Gathering. The key to success in this one is to decide what the major motivator is for your character. Do they have specific goals? Is there an outcome they want from this gathering? Or is there something they need to get off their chest?
In The Gathering, it’s the motivations of your characters that will eventually create the rise of plot. It’s best to consider the plot as a product of putting diverse characters in one setting. The more you focus on your character and their motivations and the less you consider where the narrative is going, the better the plot will become.
The ball / the ball of emotion.
Players throw a “ball” to each other, calling out their names as they go. After a round, players throw an emotion to each other along with the ball. Player A throws the ball angrily, Player B catches the ball angrily. Then Player B throws the ball blissfully to Player C, who catches the ball blissfully. Then Player C…
Formula three-liner / three-liner
Hi, how are you?
I’m fine thanks.
In the formula three-liner, players get a set dialogue that they interpret with a mental back ground. How do you say “Hi, how are you?” to someone who’s just lost a loved one? To someone you want to sleep with? To someone you want to leave you alone? To your doctor before a prostate exam? Background is treated as subtext.
Then move into regular three-liners. We’ve primed the pump for players to work more on sub-text and less on stated motivations. Consider reminding players to establish a who/what/why.
Once everyone’s warmed up, it’s time to mingle. Begin conversations with others, and in general just try to get as much in the head of your character as you can.
Remember that the purpose of the game is not to produce scenes, long-form, or any general plot. The purpose of the game is to stay in character and explore their motivations.
That said, the facilitator/lead can add structure to The Gathering by having trigger events that send people places and bring them back together. When @ImprovLiz of The Maydays ran The Gathering, trigger events included the initial hello, people coming in the door, cooking in the kitchen and dinner. Liz stayed in the kitchen for the most part, and when players got lost they were able to get some kind of short-term motivation/objective from her (“Bring up a bottle of wine from the cellar, would you?”).