Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Using Theatricality

So, on Monday I talked about how players in super hero games rarely act like Heroes all the time. Tuesday, I ranted about how flash does have a place, but that substance is also important. Today, I want to turn to practical application. I want to discuss how you, the player (or GM) can use theatricality in your games. I also need to apologize, the full details on the benefits of this will have to wait until the wrap up tomorrow. So, let's go!

Why Would I Want To Be Theatrical?
This is a good question, and a good beginning point for this. Why would you want to be theatrical? Well, for one thing, it is fun. For another, it enables you to have a greater control on what is going on. The human mind is, in many ways, geared to tell and listen to stories. Which means, that with the right frame of mind, and a bit of theatricality, you can take better advantage of a situation by playing people's sub-consciouses against them.

Ultimately though, a bit of theatricality and using it right can be the difference between a good character and a great one. The difference between a fun scene, and one that players will be talking about for weeks, months, and years to come. Being able to play into theatricality as a player, or play off of it as a GM, in short will make everyone have more fun, make the game more enjoyable, and give everyone a fond memory to talk about for a long time to come.

Decide On Your Act
The first thing you're going to want to do is decide on your act. Now, this isn't super important if you are just dallying in the theatrics, but if you are looking to get the full benefits out of this, then you are going to want to do this. What do I mean by "decide on your act"? Quite simply, decide on the persona that you want to be perceived as, because that is what we're going to be working on.

In Action stories, it is quite common for someone to go with an 'indestructible' act. They are, quite basically, trying to convince others that they are invulnerable. As such, they make efforts to look unphased, to come across as unharmed. Another popular one is unstoppable. Some go for more complex acts, such as Batman who seems to be going for - depending on who is writing him - the persona of 'Demon of Vengeance' which takes elements of indestructibility and unstoppable, along with a few others for the complete package.

Never Drop It In Public
Now that you have your act, you need to play into it. The key thing to remember here is to never drop it in public. If you let someone who you want to be fooled see under the mask just once, they'll know forever that it is just an act. This is why you get so many lines in movies like "You see, he is human after all." Or, "See, she can bleed." That line shows that the person isn't indestructible, they are just a person, and that revelation can rob the act of its power.

In many ways you want to think of this like a magic trick, or at least part of one. Once someone sees the trick, the magic is lost, and they'll never be as impressed by the trick again. Sure, maybe the skill needed will impress, but that sense of wonder will never be there again. For a much better view of how this can work, and how wondrous it can be, I recommend you watch the movie the Prestige, and see how theatricality in that movie shows how well things can work.

Make It Look Easy
One of the key parts for any act is to make it look easy. Even the heroes who get beaten up left right and center make certain aspects of what they do look easy. For example, John McClain - the guy who gets thrashed in every movie - makes working through the pain and those injuries look easy. Most action movies make killing large groups of people look easy. The hero who walks out of, and away, from a crashed and exploding plane makes it look easy. Mostly, you want to show a lack of worry. People worry about things all the time, and those who are never seen to be worrying...well, they come across as something more. This is why a leader doesn't share his misgivings with those beneath her. Once she does, the grandeur of command will never be the same, and the troops may break in a rough situation, dooming everyone.

Don't Rush
The other trick you want to learn is to not rush. Being in a rush, again, shows worry. Not being in a rush, shows confidence, and even a sense that what is going to happen can not be changed. If you watch Football, then you are probably familiar with this image. A team is down, maybe by 3, maybe by 7, but the point is that they're down and time is running out. They get the ball, and have time for one last offense. The tension in the room, and the stadium, is palpable as people rush onto the field to get into position. Then, the camera finds the quarterback as he casually and confidently strolls onto the field. Fans for the winning team feel something in their stomach turning, fans of the losing team are full of hope. The quarterback has this, he's got it in the bag already. The next plays are just a formality...

This works because the quarterback isn't rushing. He is showing a lack of worry, and a confidence that you just can't buy. As he walks onto the field, he claims it as his, and everyone begins to react to it. You can get the same effect from any professional, the chips go down and the person doesn't panic, doesn't rush, and doesn't make mistakes because of that. They are smooth, methodical, and they are not rushing. It is a hell of a feeling.

Appearances Are Everything
The most important thing to remember here is that when it comes to theatricality, appearances are everything. It doesn't matter if you are worried, if you are rushing, or if it is really hard for you to do, as long as it doesn't look like that is the case. Ever notice how Batman is always walking when he is harrying someone, yet manages to cut the person off at every turn? That's because when he's not in sight, he is running and rushing like anyone would. However, he's not out of breath, and he looks like he's been wherever he is the entire time. The rest..well, you know the rest.

So, just remember that. Focus on the appearance when doing this. Everything else will fall into place naturally from that.

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