Due to scheduling conflicts, I ended up giving up a couple of my tickets to Adal’s weekend workshops. Here’s a guest post from Roman Rimer, who took Adal’s Callbacks class and was kind of enough to write down some reflections.
Callbacks aren’t just found in improv scenes, they are in our daily life. Being able to amplify the pure joy of callbacks in a created world is so satisfying. It reminds me of the saying, “Everything has already been said, but since no one was listening we have to start again.” Of course with improv the main ingredient is listening, and what finds its way into the group mind bears repeating, not because people weren’t listening, but because it has to be said again, played with and exhausted until we’ve all contextualized and added our own flavor to the joke.
The main theme behind callbacks was the group mind. The first exercise we did in Adal Rifai’s Callbacks workshop was the magic of everyone contributing the the greater picture and each person being able to recall what others had created.
The first exercise we did involved one person going into the center of the circle and naming a large object, where there would be plenty of room for descriptors. In our case we had a golf bag. Each person would go in one at a time and add a detail – there was an orange tee, airport luggage tag with YYZ, monogram on the bottom right AKC, a hole that an animal had chewed through, a baby sock covering a club, etc. Once everyone had gone twice we would then repaint the picture, each person reviewing (one at a time) a detail another person had created. This exemplified the idea of holding onto ideas and after time passes, releasing the information back. The great thing about this exercise was the understanding that although we might not personally remember every single detail that had been added, as a group we were able to remember the details fully. We just have to remember what we can, understand others will remember what we might forget, and vice versa.
In the following exercise we created language. In this world, people greet each other by placing the back of the hand on top of a person’s head and say, “The sun is in you,” to say I love you, one says, “You eyes are shiny.” When fighting, instead of a throwing a punch, one places their finger on the other person’s nose and says, “Boop!” (I don’t know about you, but I’d really like to live in the world.) We then did scenes based in this world and used this information/language when appropriate in order to communicate a hello, I love you or initiate a fight. It was helpful to remember to use these words and gestures when the scene called for it, not to overdo it.
We then went onto explore different scenarios we could play in. One was a world where hair was currency – what would the rules be of this world? One fact established was that ginger hair were more valuable than others. If this was true then what else was true? Callbacks go beyond lines that are funny, they expand to ideas that can be revisited in different contexts. Everyone has their own interpretation and there is something so satisfying about one line or idea spoken or investigated by different people; it’s a beautiful piece of the group mind. In improv we explore a topic or an “unusual” world where there is so much to be said and played with and everybody can build and play in the world together. Unusual things happen often in our day to day and we seldom have the opportunity to call them out and celebrate and build the ideas they inspire, which is why this is so liberating.
This happened with the next world that was created – where “men give birth instead of women,” now granted, this already exists as some men do give birth, though the idea behind this was that we’d be living a world where this was the norm. I found this to be an incredibly fun idea to explore. There were different interpretations of this – from how birthing men would seek reconstructive surgery to please their partners to reproductive health care being covered in full to how the government would operate if the President were to give birth to parenting styles coming from an apathetic beer guzzling dude who happens to have given birth six times. By yes and-ing what had gone in previous scenes we could create the world in full and revisit these topics and play within the framework. It becomes easier then to play a new scene understanding some of the parameters and truths that exist in the world. If the government in this scenario acts like this, then these rules or saying can be applied or revisited when characters interact in this world.
Callbacks can be executed in a number of ways – one can have an idea in mind and start a scene or use it as a cap on a scene to use as a reveal in the end. It can act as a trigger of sense memory or used as side support. An analogy that was given was that callbacks are “landmines” set on the stage just waiting to be used. They can be songs, a number, words, rules, names, and one that opens up for more exploration in longform – behavior. Any piece of information that bears repeating and can be explored again and again and again.