Scribbler’s Saga #117 – Le Esprit de L’Escalier Pt.2

Posted: October 14, 2021 in Uncategorized

© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

Just because I previously wrote about something doesn’t mean I’ve magically excised it from my writing. For instance, do I still get mugged by The Spirit of the Staircase (see post) having flashes of what I should’ve said ten minutes after it could ever do me any good? To date, my recent improv classes have excellent incubators for – “Doh! That scene just died and I now know how to fix it!”

I’ll back up a bit out of consideration for my recent postings being next to nonexistent. Needing something, anything to do here in San Diego that is A) creative and B) social in a way that doesn’t depend on my family for going out and doing stuff, I ran away to the circus and joined an improv class. Starting with a Zoom class, I learned the basics and then when there was a tiny break in the grim COVID situation there was the stage. At the moment, I’m working up for the friends and family show that probably is also the final audition for joining the cast of the theater doing the teaching…no pressure there.

I suppose this is where I might go on and on about the value of classes and experiences like this upon my writing and, by extension your writing. Blather about thinking on your feet. Or learning what is and what isn’t a good scene. Just because these concepts might be true doesn’t mean I want to waste more than the two paragraphs used up here. 

For one thing, there hasn’t been the kind of improvement likely to justify such – “Dude, you clearly drank the Kool-Aid.” – praise and that type of verbiage sometimes just sounds stupid saying it out loud. Writing for years; rewriting for the same many years has a way of teaching the basics. Though I can’t deny that learning to do this mental prep work faster will help at some point. I probably could’ve gotten the same skills out of an acting class.

And now for the blood and guts of my weekly self-immolation for which you came. For your consideration, I present to you two scenes one I played in and one I just watched from the front row. And both times I got the brainwave after the instructor either gave his notes or the class had already repaired to the pub next door.

A typical safari operation in Kenya will test the marriage of a pair of newlyweds seemingly on the adventure of a lifetime…

Okay, the Rod Serling narration above didn’t work like I thought it would. Basically, it’s a three-person scene where two people start on stage and the third person either enters the scene as the third character or wipes the scene to things along. The fictional groom is having trouble with the tse-tse flies, the heat and keeping his food down in any order gets the most laughs. The fictional bride reveals under questioning a liking for the safari guide…who enters showing off his guns. Things quickly progressed to a massively kinky three-way.

The scene mostly worked, except for the note from the instructor about the difference between the Yes And of improv and the reality of a scene. Yes And in this case meant the players had to accept the reality of the possible love triangle while on safari, but they don’t have to be cool with it inside the narrative. More than enough people in the groom’s thoroughly cuckolded shoes would get nasty about this revolting turn of events. The three-way is a choice based on the players rapidly deciding what they want when they get the suggestion of safari from the audience. There are other choices.

I wasn’t in this scene. I thought nothing much of it through the rest of the class and even moving to the pub next door for the beer and chicken tenders that seem to glue the class together. We made plans for upcoming shows and discussed shows and recent mud races and, and, and… Then, I went home.

Somewhere between either catching up on the Padres’ dismal play (I’m glad this isn’t a sports blog), watching some movie, solving a crossword puzzle or even stealing time to work on my latest magnum opus it hit me.  Oh, it would’ve been totally cool if [BLEEP!] playing the groom picked a moment where he holds up an imaginary cell phone at the reveal of the affair and – “Darling, despite my barfing every four minutes, I managed to post this of the two of you on PornHub.”

Basically, my brilliant idea was to have the groom blackmail his bride with a revenge porn posting. He’d explain that yes, PornHub is all about consensual porn and that she could fight to have it removed two to three weeks from now and the possibility of hundreds of thousands or millions of page views exposing her for the scheming &*($^ she is or, in return for the appropriate consideration, he can remove it now when there’s only been fifty page views. The three-way is still possible after this move, but the scene work to get there would be balls out fun. 

This brainwave seems to me to fit into things we’ve already been taught about scenes, technical stuff like status, raising stakes, role reversals…all the things I’ve also been taught in regular acting class as well. Except there is a script in acting class. I kept seeing where [BLEEP!] playing the bride could take things. Maybe she gets rubby-rubby on the hubby. Maybe she has her own compromat on the husband (devised just now as I typed). What was it do you think? 

Hell, even [BLEEP!] as the guide has things to play from here. Just because he’s playing a Ranger Rick fella doesn’t mean that he can’t pull out his dueling cell phone and assert that the groom has his own video on PornHub (though my really wicked idea here that the other party in that video is a chimpanzee would absolutely not fly with any audience likely to buy tickets). Or that in-between safari trips, he supplements his income as one of PornHub’s web developers granting access to the passwords that arbitrarily delete any file he wants from the site. All good ideas that struck after I needed them.

Imagine if you will, two ordinary FBI agents discussing the composition of the 10 Most Wanted List…

Okay, the last four students, myself included, did a scene with the crowd suggestion of the FBI and we’d added the rule for a game we play called Blind Line. The audience suggests about two things per player in the scene that get written down and thrown on the stage. At random intervals, players pick up the pieces of paper and say the line written thereon…while justifying the dialogue in the scene.

[BLEEP!] and [BLEEP!] came out discussing that there were only white perpetrators on the 10 Most Wanted. [BLEEP!] later admitted to total brain freeze and trying to save the moment by making the disparity about all white criminals. Still, it was a train wreck waiting for a character coming on later (me) to play up a dinosaur holdover from the very bad old days of the Federal Bureau of Intimidation. 

I’ll be a little cagey here because we do live in a society that likes to misinterpret fictional things as being representative of the real views of the player and then weaponize. Made a mistake doubling down on [BLEEP!]’s rotten grapefruit served up in a moment of panic; that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Again, Yes And only applies to having to play that your scene partner launched this rotten tomato, not to doubling down.

Hours after [BLEEP!] and I admitted to each other how much we’d both fucked that one up at the pub, I took the second mugging off The Spirit of the Staircase. And the head slapper here gets even more painful when you consider my own reading history. I actually know just enough about spies and FBI agents to fake it; e.g. I can use dead drop, brush pass and false flag in a sentence and not be laughed at…thank you John Le Carré (no, I didn’t write my grand spy novel, yet, because I haven’t made much effort to find research subjects with whom I could ask to check the master’s homework).

The scene that played out long after it would do me any good started with me playing the supervisor doing what is called a Canadian Cross (cross the stage and broom off the whole train wreck). The best example is probably Graham Chapman of Monty Python wearing his British General’s uniform – “Stop that! Stop that, this instant!”

Anyway, I come on derisively calling the two characters by their last names to establish that I’m the pissed off boss. I make a joke about the 10 Most Wanted List being somewhat like “Assclowns R’ Us, if you’re an assclown you’ll eventually see us.” I then hold up imaginary (it’s improv, no props) paper targets from the other two guys’ most recent range sessions.

I point. “Well, that one almost worked out…looks like you got this imaginary perp in the carotid artery, but all these other shots are just terrible. Four outright misses. This one you took off some hair from his scalp and…” I point again. “And you, you’re worse, your best bullet looks like it took out the suspect’s left ball sack…okay, from the standpoint of acting as natural selection on the gene pool, but crap for the purposes of keeping your jobs. Now, drop what you’re doing and go down to the range to practice!”

Now I’m alone on stage with a possible fourth character that hasn’t come on, yet. I pick up my line from the floor, read it and say – “Jeez, he’s never used the emergency code!” I cross the stage and grab the fourth [BLEEP!] out of the stage wing calling him Oleg.

This part of the scene becomes about an FBI supervisor and SVR Resident who meet in a park after taking a million buses and taxis (tradecraft) to ensure they weren’t followed. The two men have an improper relationship where they’re both juggling the secret love and the toe dance with outright treason discussing spy stuff…like the fact the first two incompetent [BLEEP!]s are not only double agents but triple agents also working for the Chinese. Oleg and I then conspire to burn the untrustworthy and incompetent.None of the above happened because The Spirit of the Staircase threw a serious left hook catching me on the right mandibular joint. So far, I’m great with the time to edit. And, I’m only a bad breakfast burrito away from total disaster…at least on stage.   

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