Insight into the Eye Contact Conundrum

Last year, I got a note from an instructor visiting San Francisco that by making eye contact in a particular scene, I had betrayed the character I was playing. More recently, I got what felt like a conflicting note from another visiting instructor: ABC. Always Be eye-Contacting. The underlying concept motivating this advice is that one needs to be aware of what their scene partner is doing, and eye contact is one of the most effective means of accomplishing this.

The difficulty in resolving that advice is that I’ve seen veteran improvisers avoid direct eye contact in scenes that I liked. Indeed, there were several moments during the Messing with a Friend set in which Susan Messing and Mark Sutton weren’t looking at each other, nor were they narrating what they were doing, but they were still able to pick up on cues from the other. Someone asked about this after the show, and I overheard the response: “Peripheral vision.”

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2 Responses to Insight into the Eye Contact Conundrum

  1. Plando says:

    Jimmy Pennington put it this way in one of his workshops when he was in town: If you are the absurd character, you don’t need to make eye contact, because nothing should distract you from pushing your weird point of view.

    Or maybe it was don’t make eye contact at the top of the scene until you’ve figured out your character’s deal/game/POV. Which should only take 1 to 2 lines.

    • K says:

      Thanks, Plando! Jimmy Pennington was the visiting instructor who gave the note in the post, so this context helps.

      It also came up during Rebecca Sohn’s class at the intensive, and she emphasized the effectiveness of filtering a character’s POV/deal/game by connecting to one’s scene partner, in which eye contact is one way to get there.

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