Dramatic Foolery
Foolish Exercise Archive


People Can Be Stranger Than We Think

While working on my show, The Psychology of Clumsiness, I realized I wanted the characterization to be less pedestrian, more like a mask. Since this character has many distinct aspects which appear almost like different personalities, I needed a way to physicalize these psychological qualities in a unique way.

Objective: sketch out three characters

Choose one or two props
Brainstorm on possible connections between the objects, or associations you have about one object.
Go for both the obvious and the imaginative. If the object was a business card you might come up with self-promotion, a modern Ninja weapon, a face scratcher, or a playing card.

the object to the third part: you. Treat the object as an integral part of the character, something he/she/it is never with out, like Groucho's cigar, or Harpo's horn, or Chaplin's cane.

with it as if it were an actual part of the character's body. Where is it attached? Is it held in the hand? Between the toes? Pinned to your shirt? Balanced on top of your head?

Explore the physicality
of this character. Discover by trial and error how he/she/it moves, walks, gestures and manipulates the object. How does he/she/it stand or sit or shake hands?

Build the character slowly. Don't rush or force things.

If you are working with a group, you could interact with other characters, and even do a formal presentation of each character.

I'm playing with a ruler. The ruler to me suggests measurement, and linear, logical thinking. Someone surrounded by right angles and straight lines. His angular movement corresponds to this. He's curious and exploratory to an excessive degree. He hits himself on the back of the head to start movement and runs into the ruler to stop. The ruler controls all his actions. He's careful and cautious. When his analytical tendencies get strong enough, he sticks the ruler into his hat (see above) and becomes a bird-like measuring maniac whereupon his whole body becomes a ruler.


I'm working on a new show entitled The Psychology of Clumsiness. As an exercise in generating material for this show, I wanted to develop a series of ordinary activities gone wrong. This game was a solution.

Developing Physical Mishaps

Select an activity.
For this example I've chosen writing down a phone message.

Break down the activity into small parts (you can get as anal as you want here).

  • Find a piece of paper
  • Find a pen
  • Remove cap from pen
  • Write down message
  • Hang up phone
  • Tack message to a cork board above your phone

After each step, improvise something or things that could go wrong with that step.
For example, when you try to write, the paper slides. Since you're holding onto the phone with your left hand and the pen with your right and you just rented out your last paperweight, there's a problem. So, you must find a solution for that problem. At this point think clown logic:

What's the most inefficient yet creative way I can solve this problem?
You put down the phone and get your tool box. From your tool box you pull out a hammer and nail and nail the piece of paper to your desk (this of course introduces a new activity that can be broken down and then messed with ad infinitum: Zeno's Paradox).

There are now two directions you could take this piece.
As hinted, your solution could contain or else suggest new problems to be solved which then create new problems whose solutions contain new problems in ever escalating chaos. Or you could simply go through each step of the activity, creating a problem and solving it, and then going on to the next step until you're finished (Are you Murphy or are you Sisyphus?). In the first version there is a natural build while in the second you have to create that build by making each solution more imaginative, off beat, unpredictable, and expressive of character than the previous solution.

©1996 by Drew Richardson

Copyright ©1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 by Drew Richardson