Move over Antiques Roadshow, I’m officially leaving you for Pawn Stars. Pawn Stars, for the uninitiated, is a fairly new reality show that follows the antics of the staff and customers of Vegas’s Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. The show bears a passing resemblance to its venerable BBC distant cousin, with one notable exception. When the expert examines the trinket in question and assigns a dollar value, they’re not talking about some airy-fairy pie-in-the-sky maybe-at-auction-if-the-weather’s-good price. Rather, they’re talking about the amount of cold, hard cash that they are willing to pay right here right now.
Where Antiques Roadshow focuses primarily on the object, Pawn Stars focuses on the people. The pawn shop guys always play the same angle, to pay as little as possible in order to sell it for a profit down the road. But what catches my attention is the sellers. We always learn how they acquired the object (family heirloom, bought at a garage sale, found in a dumpster, etc.). And we also learn why they’re selling it (mortgage payment, school tuition, wife will divorce them if they don’t get rid that old ugly thing, etc.)
What in the world does this have to do with drama and theatre education? Lots!
Here’s a great improv exercise based on Pawn Stars. You can use it as a warm-up or as part of a unit on character development.
- Gather all the “treasures” from your drama classroom. By “treasures” I mean all those strange odds-and-ends-type props you keep in boxes piled high just in case.
- Pile your treasures in the middle of the room and have the class stand in a circle around the treasure.
- One by one, have the students take an object at random and create a character around the object. Improvise a short monologue (or have another student play the “pawn shop guy” and turn it into a dialogue).
- The piece should reveal what the object is, how they came to acquire the object, and why they want/need to sell it.
- And here’s the key to the whole exercise – Discuss with the class what the characters reveal about themselves through both their connections to the object and to their need to sell it.