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personal histories

Cindy Tonkin - July 27, 2011

the objective is to make your scene partner safe enough to bring in their own personal history

for a harold, start with grounded, theatrical real life scenes, and then move on to silliness later.

how you get better is watching shows, good and bad. seeing people you respect and admire who fail makes you OK with failure

if you can perfect being a human being you should be able to perfect being on stage… except you can’t perfect being a human being.


  • 3 line scenes
  • 3 line scenes where each line endows your scene partner
  • 3 line scenes where each lines endows your character (having an i statement moves away from plot – plot is the hardest thing to make interesting and sustainable)
  • 2 minute scenes with no more than 3 lines of dialogue
  • 3 line scenes where each line begins: “i can’t believe you just said that, it makes me feel…” (respond, feel something)
  • 3 line scenes where each line begins: “it’s important for me to hear you say that because”… (make it important)
  • conversation + action (talk in pairs about something that you feel strongly about, then each pair given a action: surgery, wash car, rake leaves etc where they continue that conversation)  –
  • keep it real – given a classic scenario that movies and sitcoms have done a million times (jail, morning after sex, parent reprimand, visit a grandparent), but keep it real – grounded in real life – play a close version of yourself

always assume no edit is coming. to play the moment when you know this is true, use these three tools: i think, i feel, i want. if you’re still stuck then make statements about each other (e.g. hearing from someone that they feel like you’re intimidating will cause a reaction)

“it makes me feel” should be followed by an actual emotion (mad, sad, glad, etc), vs i feel like you don’t think i’m smart (that’s not an emotion!)

good to feel positive emotions – if you start negative it mostly stays there, with positive it has more room to move, negative puts you on the defensive, gears up for an argument, positive engenders the greatest relationships

emotion can inform motivation more easily than the other way around: FEEL something, and then work out why later – an emotional choice is the least encumbering

start a scene by scanning them and then choose an emotion (randomly?), it’s better to have an emotion than none

play people who are familiar enough with each other that they can compliment each other

make sure to make things important

60% of bad scenes is 2 people not feeling or making things important

conversation + action is generally the first 15 minutes of tj and dave, then they have a spike or an explosion which refers to something they set up / planted much earlier

it’s not about being funny, it’s about being comfortable enough to express opinions: take any good conversation and have them be assassins in Peru trying to kill the Chilean ambassador, and it’s entertaining…

heartbreaking moments belong in comedy too: play a character closer to arm’s reach

generally you want grounded, intense scenes that the audience will buy into – so later the less real scenes will be accepted too. grounded = identifiable, but not boring (99% of life is boring, we want to see the 15 minutes a week which isn’t.

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