As I did not take a picture at last night's rehearsal, here is a link to an image revealing how to explain the internet to a 19th century British street urchin, i.e. Oliver Twist.
Last night, while everyone else in the Bay Area was watching the World Series, we had rehearsal!
We started with a very useful exercise wherein we moved around as upper-class Dickensian characters and introduced ourselves to each other and talked as if at some sort of gathering. Not only did this allows to practice creating names but remembering them, as well as upper class social mores, accents, and posture.
Then we repeated the exercise as merchants or "middle-class", and finally as lower class.
This was a great way to sink into the different social strata, and reminded us all how difficult it is to remember a name you just said or heard.
Then we moved into some narration practice. Mandy's broken down Dickensian narration into three levels: What's going on in the larger world; What's going on in the story; and What's going on in this particular scene. The idea is to start broad and slowly narrow down to what's actually happening on stage.
We practiced this in tag-team pairs where one person would say the first bit, the other the second and the first the third, or some people went back and forth even more times adding in even more subtle gradations.
A couple of interesting things came out of this. One, we discovered how hard it is to not only remember names, but to remember place names you've just made up. We had the idea of having a book in the narrator spot where he/she can actually write down names they've just said. We're not sure if this will work or not. When writing, it's nearly impossible to clock anything else that's going on, but in theory it's a good idea.
Some people found the tag-team approach harder, some easier, and we realized that there's no reason we couldn't do that in an actual show.
Then we split into two groups and took turns with one person improvising a monologue, on person serving as the narrator, and the other person serving as the audience. The narrator then provides any necessary backstory, reveals the actors emotions, or just reinforces what's going on by repeating things.
We discovered we have a long way to go working out the give and take. It was hard not to talk over each other. In the most successful won that I did in that regard, Paul and I were trying so hard to not talk over each other, that we ended up with lots of very long dramatic pauses. I'm not sure how well that played.
We also learned, that the narrator can foreshadow future events by pointing out that a character would live to regret some decision or another. For minor characters you can even go so far as to tell the audience their ultimate fate when we first meet them ("so-and-so would die of consumption in 3 years time" etc).
Finally we moved into full-on scenes with a narrator, again with the narrator not only setting the scene but revealing backstory and emotion. It works very well. As an improvisor, you have a lot less work to do because the narrator is telling you your subtext. As the narrator all your doing is watching what's going on and pointing out the obvious subtext. After all, subtext is always easier to see from the outside.