Don't Block Yourself

We think of blocking as being done to someone, but we can do it to ourselves, too. I was in a scene recently in which we were playing J'Accuse. J'Accuse begins with an initiation of some weird or awful accusation against the other player in the scene. This time we got a suggestion from the audience for "She bought 10 Furbies."

I am playing with Karen, and I initiate with something like "Honey, I get bringing home the cats, I get the dogs, but why did you need to bring home so many Furbies?" The scene is heightened and it becomes clear that she is overly sentimental and can't get rid of stuff animal-related, I don't like the Furbies because they're pieces of 90's kitsch trash, and I want them gone.

She counters and heightens the scene again by picking off the shelf a car from my Hot Wheels collection. In response to my suggestion of getting rid of the Furbies, she smashes my 1967 Mustang replica. I threaten to step on the Furbies, or tear them apart in retaliation. Then, she pulls out a lighter and threatens to burn my prized possession: a still-boxed, pristine-condition, 1962 Shelby Cobra. To counter, I pull out a lighter and offer the same for her precious Furby in my clutch. We're at a standstill.

This is the pinnacle of the heightening here, and there only seems to be one way out: burn that shit down. As a player, this is what I'm expecting. This is what has been projected into the scene by Karen. She has made the initial offer of destroying sentimental junk out of spite, as an outward representation of our rocky marriage, and it has turned into a full on game.

Thinking she is going to burn my Cobra, I move one step ahead and realize I can react to this in one of two ways: hate it or love it. So I decide that I'm going to love it, and that in fact, this fiery attitude reminds me of exactly why I fell in love with her in the first place, that maybe this whole crazy shenanigan might bring us closer together rather than push us further apart. Instead, Karen makes what Johnstone might term a "clever" choice, and as she goes to burn the Cobra, her lighter doesn't work.

We are brought to the heights of the scene, and we are given inaction. The action which Karen has ingeniously devised and carried up to the precipice, she has foiled and blocked herself by a device as simple as a broken lighter. Why?

(Let me pause and say that I hold no fault of Karen; that I have been on the other side of blocking myself many times... sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly. This is an attempt to explore what it's like for the scene partner, from the outside in.)

Perhaps for my part I was getting ahead of myself -- planning ahead instead of being present? Then again, I would argue that projectability (or predictability) is such as an elemental aspect of improv: there are rarely surprises in what happens -- moreso in how things happen.

By accepting the offer of burning my prized possession with joy, with insight, with a new-found wisdom, I was hoping to contribute to the awesome scene that Karen had led us to by surprising the audience in how. I was hoping to take the short scene, which was highly interactional but mostly transactional, and turn it into a transformational scene, one in which the character is altered internally.

Instead, because I was slightly hung up on the "burn shit down" project, I offered Karen my lighter (undoubtedly blocking her project she initiated by having the lighter fail). We burned the objects, and the scene ended. Once in the groove of the game, we lost our rhythm and missed the key-change from major to minor, from a transactional to a transformational scene.


Kelly Petronisimprov, blocking