It’s all about trying to get the timing right. We look for cues to speak our turn, to ask for a raise, to lean in for a kiss…
Act too soon, and it sends the wrong signals of pushiness or desperation. Too late and the moment slips by.
Getting it right takes skills they don’t teach at school. It’s one of those things we have to figure out on our own, usually painfully. It takes empathy, good listening skills, confidence, some intelligence, and a fair degree of luck to make our entrances right on cue time after time. The two biggest requirements are confidence, and the cluster of behaviours we know as paying attention.
This simple improv game is a great exercise for developing both of those requirements.
The Exit Game
3 or more players are each given an exit/entrance word. They start a scene. As soon as a player hears her word, she has to leave the scene. As soon as she hears her word again, she must walk into the scene again. But you can’t just walk on and off the stage. Each walk-off and entrance has to be justified! This means you have to give a reason for exiting, and a reason for reappearing in the scene.
The game is active, and can get hectic. Inevitably, some up-stager decides its funny to say ‘your’ word every few seconds just to watch you disappear and reappear in rapid succession. Like all cheap laughs though, the trick has no shelf life.
The Exit Game sounds simple, but once a scene gets rolling you will be surprised at how easy it is to miss your cue. Just like in life, we get too wrapped up in our roles, and just distracted by all the activity. Developing the skill of doing your part and paying focused attention to your environment, takes considerable practice.
It almost feels like a stretch to freight such a fun game with meaningful take-aways, but there are some good ones.
- Justifying is a great social skill! Being able to come up with a motivation for moving into a conversation, and a gracious exit out of it again is one of the toughest social skills to learn. As in this game, timing and confidence are everything.
- Find that ‘detached attention’ place. In the middle of all the chaos going on inside your head and in the room around you, you are going to have to find that ability to both play your role and monitor what everyone else is doing so you don’t miss you cues.
- Done right, its good jazz. This game, like a great group meeting or conversation, is at its best when no one person is driving the action, and everyone is tuned in to everyone else. It’s not easy, but when it works it’s magical. This game is probably one of the best ways to practice that ‘group awareness’ outside of joining a great jazz ensemble!