The Longest Shortest Distance

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

Short form is the art of creating the longest shortest distance between two actions. As Keith Johnstone would put it, our goal is to "break the routine." Find a routine, then break it; or breach an expected sequence of events. This is where a scene begins.

For example, at a workshop we played what we call Ding! (or New Choice), in which a player has to make a new choice about what they just said or did once the director "dings" them. It often results in fairly silly scenes that can be hard to ground, but it provides a good illustration of navigating the social breach or routine-breaking.

In this particular scene two players were at Disney Land. Player 1 (P1) is waiting in line, while P2 approaches and introduces himself as Goofy -- ding! -- then changes to Mickey -- ding! -- then changes to Han Solo.

Meanwhile P1 is waiting in line. She is a woman -- ding! -- no she is a child.

Han Solo confesses to the girl that he isn't actually Han Solo, just a guy who pretends to be Han Solo, and in fact he kind of hates his job. It's all a charade, you know? No, the 12 year old doesn't know this. Well, I'll give you my autograph anyway, he says. He offers to sign her book -- ding! -- then her hand -- ding! -- then on her neck (the character became kind of creepy, but the two players were dating, so take it up with the artform!).

Eventually the Han Solo actor offers the young girl to hold his prop gun -- ding! -- it's real, and loaded you know. Oh here comes her mom. She takes the gun and accidentally shoots her mom. Oh god, Han Solo has to run away, and he's not even supposed to be there that day. It's probably a 4 minute scene. All of this happens in the time in which it takes to perform a fairly routinized social action (a child getting an autograph at a Disney amusement park). Meanwhile the little girl hasn't even moved up in line.

This scene is a good representation of what I'd call the longest shortest distance. Given the game of Ding!, nearly every decision was auditioned and edited, allowing the players to focus on one decision at a time until they found a breach (like a paid Disney actor signing a 12 year old girl's neck).

In the break of a routine or the breach of social discourse we find the game of the scene and the unusual thing. The breach is the unusual thing. By virtue of being a breach, by contrast we can see what is deemed "normal" in the social order, and of human nature. Ding! allows players to analyze each decision by starting with the obvious choices, and moving into the breach with each new choice, rather than starting by trying to be clever.

Go slowly, methodically, through each turn in a scene, and ask yourself what is the least action or dialogue necessary to get you to the next turn of action or dialogue? The breach will come and you'll find a game. By continuing and heightening the breach once it's found, you lengthen the scene and draw it out as much as possible, thus creating the longest shortest distance.


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