Its 11:30 pm on a US Navy nuclear powered submarine. As Officer of the Deck, it is my responsibility to take in multiple points of information to keep the ship safe. Information of concern may regard the ship’s position with respect to land, its position with respect to other ships, its depth, the condition of the nuclear reactor, the condition of torpedoes, emergency system operation, and whether the cooks are preparing a meal. (The latter is important because a 20 degree angle while preparing French fries tends to ruin someone’s day.) The means for obtaining the aforesaid bits of information are the ship’s sensors, such as sonar and Voyage Management with Ring Laser Gyro Navigation (fancy speak for Garmin), and the people who make up your team.
In this instance, we are making our way through a narrow strait while submerged. It is late and the captain is busy, so the safety of the ship is on my shoulders. The Sonar Operator begins to tell me that we have two ships that are going to come really close to us, so he recommends that I turn the ship to open our proximity to them. This immediately provokes the Navigation Supervisor to scream at me that if I do that, I run the risk of hitting the ocean floor since the water is shallow on either side of us. Of course, this prompts the ship’s diving officer to tell me that we can’t afford to bring the ship closer to the surface without potentially closing the vertical buffer between us and the ships above. With all of this information in hand, I consider the risks and order the safest option available … skirt the edge of the strait, knowing that two ships going in the same direction will have to follow each other through. We live to fight another day.
I don’t share this story to illustrate how bad-ass I am in my day job, although I did get my fair share of fist bumps from the whole affair. I mention it to elucidate the value of effective listening.
Every one of us has people in our lives who never listen when we attempt to communicate. There is the girl in the office, who only tolerates your voice until she has a chance to make you listen to tales of her misguided efforts to qualify for Olympic hurdles. Then there is your boss, who allows your suggestions to increase productivity to fall upon deaf ears so that he can tell you about his golf handicap. Unless I owe you an apology because you are one of those people that I just mentioned, the question becomes, why would we “Quantum Leap” into those people’s bodies during scenes?
If you make a conscious choice for the character to be completely obtuse, then this diatribe doesn’t apply. The key difference is that the character would merely be pretending not to listen. The player is completely aware of the information being presented, so that they can further what the scene is about (or game of the scene as applicable).
When we fail to listen, the obvious consequence is that it makes our job harder. We rename characters, change relationships, and swap locations in a manner that would be reminiscent of the school change in the second season of Saved by the Bell (for my more urban friends, think the vanishing child in Family Matters). While the mental gymnastics that are required to justify such gaffes are readily available in our toolbox, the energy we expend would be better used to discover something in the information that has been put forth. That energy can only be suitably focused if you properly process that information in the first place through effective listening.
Looking beyond the flaming hoops that we douse ourselves in gasoline to flip through by ignoring the details of our creation, we also grossly inhibit our ability to experience magic in our piece. I could quote Del Close, who said, “Where do the really best laughs come from? Terrific connections made intellectually, or terrific revelations made emotionally.” We all know this, but even coming from the chief architect of improv, we still manage to forget this. I will instead quote Mooj from The 40 Year Old Virgin, who said, “It’s all about connections; it’s not about c**k and a** and t*** and butt**** pleasures.” I am not certain about sex education portion, but that crazy old Hindi man was right. The good stuff, in both meaning and laughter, is buried in the connections. If we are not listening to the stuff that our team is making an effort to communicate and establish, we CANNOT make those connections.
Will you drive a submarine into an underwater mountain by failing to listen to your scene partners? Possibly, depending on how vivid your scene on a submarine happens to be. I can guarantee that the potential loss of non-imaginary life will be minimal in any situation you would find yourself in. Sadly, I can also guarantee that your ability to reflect on a show and wonder how your team managed to discover the tribulations of growing into womanhood from a suggestion of wrought-iron will be diminished. Be respectful of the rest of your team’s ideas. Listen to them. You, your audience, and your Sonar Operator scene partner will like what you discover.