Car Scenes (Gedankenexperiment)

Wednesday night insomnia drifted to thoughts about car scenes. The scenes tend to start when an improviser pulls out two chairs and sits down on one while holding onto a space object steering wheel. Someone joins in the other chair. Maybe it’s a back seat, or maybe it’s the passenger side, and the scene usually goes from there.

There’s occasionally some form of side support, in which someone might play a police officer, a hitchhiker, jogger, and sometimes even a tree on the side of the road. My mind chewed on how one make that side support visually engaging and honor the reality of the car.

Let’s start with a streetlight, which someone from the sides could assume by walking downstage with an arm extended to the car. If the car is in motion, the streetlight should start walking upstage and lower the extended arm once reaching the back, with the option of returning downstage and raising the arm again. If the street light is aware of the of scene, and the characters aware of the streetlight, there can be a fun cause-effect game to play here in which the speed of the streetlight could serve as a proxy for the mood of the driver. If the streetlight moves faster in reaction to something the passenger says, which means the driver is speeding up, that could signal a strong emotional reaction to what was just said, as could the streetlight stopping.

The streetlights don’t have to continue for the duration of the scene, and one cool way to edit out of being a streetlight is a turn. If the car is turning toward the direction of the streetlight, then since the stage is in the car’s perspective, the hand of the improviser assuming the streetlight should turn upstage as the improviser slows down behind the car, and then the improviser should return to a normal pace upstage. If the car is turning away from the streetlight, the improviser assuming the streetlight does the same thing but turns the arm downstage.

Things get more fun when there’s a mirrored streetlight on the opposite side of the stage. This could turn into a restricted follow-the-follower game within the car scene, so eye contact between streetlights is important, especially when they want to edit out with a turn, but also to make sure they stay lined up as they move.

Of course, a streetlight is only one of many options to consider when adding to a scene. A moonwalking pedestrian/jogger that’s leaning forward is another option, and the result is a different way to stay engaged in a scene while giving something extra for the audience to enjoy.

The next time I find myself on the sidelines of an improv highway, I’m taking this on the road.

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