Even though I learned this in the Groundlings, it’s one of Viola Spolin’s exercises in Improvisation for the Theatre. If you don’t know the name, she single-handedly invented improvisation as a theatre form and her son, Paul Sills, started the first-ever improvisation troupe, Second City. I wrote a whole series of articles on Spolin for Now Casting that you can access by going to here.
Here’s how, according to Spolin, this game is played. If you’ve ever done the “Mirror” exercise in one of your acting classes, that’s the first step. Two people face each other and one is the mover, the other the mirror. They follow each other until they can play “Follow the Follower,” a more advanced exercise where they organically mirror each other. The second step is Spolin’s “Transformation of Objects” game where players in a circle pass a space object to each other and transform it physically into another object. For example, turning a steering wheel might transform into conducting an orchestra. The transformer then hands the space object to the next actor, who transforms it and passes it on.
The rules of the transformation game are simple, but the acting skill involved is complex. As Spolin puts it, “two players begin with a relationship (“Who”) and, while playing, allow Who to transform into new relationships one after another.” In order to do this, you have to focus primarily on the body movement to transform the scene, and it often works best when learning this game to mimic the movement of the other player or players. For example, two people fishing and casting their lines could turn into two people doing jobs on an assembly line or two cogs in a machine. You can talk and make sounds to further create the scene, but the focus has to be on the movement. Otherwise, you can’t transform it. Once you sacrifice movement for words, the game ends.
This is the best way I know to condition your expressive apparatus to play moment-to-moment and to heighten your listening skills. Check out Spolin’s wonderful book for detailed description of all these exercises.