The final class of the Bovine Metropolis Theater‘s Level 3 series started off with an excellent exercise: we stand in a circle. The rules are to do what everyone else is doing, and exaggerate or subdue it. Eventually everyone is doing the same thing, which is evolving. No one is leading or following. It’s clearly a metaphor for how a good scene works: everyone is present, looking out for themselves and others, and there are no “wrong” moves, as others will respond appropriately.
Then we played some games where our character had a mantra, and everything was interpreted through it. I suspect these were inspired by Viola Spolin. That works because, of course, that’s how people are in a stylized sense. Eventually that clicked for me. By the end I’d entered each scene with a song in my head, and responded appropriately according to whatever song it was. This works well because songs embody emotions, motivations, attitudes, etc., the basis of a character.
When the scenes clicked, it was because each player brought something to it (e.g., a character trait), and neither they or the audience knew what was going on. With each line of dialog the players filled in a picture consistent both with what had been said before and with their character choice. Just as in the first exercise, no one was leading, there were no preconceived paths, and the scene grew.