Thanks to a scene work class, the revelation that I could make an independent choice has had a significant impact on how I’ve played scenes since. In particular, Jill Bernard’s VAPAPO is a cool trick I sometimes use to make that independent choice, and it informs so much about my character.
What’s interesting is that the choice almost immediately morphs into something richer. I haven’t necessarily discovered a detailed relationship between my character and that of my scene partner, how my character fills time in a day, or even where my character is, but I already have a sense of how my character might react to different situations.
When reflecting on this proto-character state after a recent scene, I came up with a name for it: Billy Mumphrey.
Who is Billy Mumphrey? He is a fictional character in the world of Seinfeld, the main character in an unpublished manuscript that Elaine is supposed to read as part of an interview at a publishing company. After she hands off the reading task to Kramer with a request for Cliff’s notes, he describes Billy as “a simple, country boy– some might say a cockeyed optimist– who got caught up in the dirty game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.” Then something comes up, and he can’t finish the story, leaving Elaine with few details about the character but surprisingly enough to make a convincing impression during her interview.
Billy Mumphrey could be the executive of a company, a college student, or a missionary; Billy could hold a position of power over other characters in a scene, the other characters could hold power over him, or they could be in equal standing. What we know is that he is simple and an optimist. I don’t know if there’s anything to be gleaned from the world diplomacy aspect, but that detail doesn’t necessarily force anything to happen in the scene.
I need to play with this idea more, but I’d like to think that recognizing this proto-character state can help me hold onto my choices better. Then again, maybe I’ve just been reading too many Billy Mumphrey stories.