Bag O’Tricks class

Objective: Myriad standard improv moves can be used to elevate established scenes (Walk-Ons, Cut-Tos, Tag-Outs, We-Sees, etc.).  Intro Students should be made aware of these moves, their vocabulary and their execution. 


6.1  Introducing Tertiary Scene Moves – Vocabulary and Mechanics: Practice seeing the opportunity and deploying tertiary moves.

Tertiary Moves

Walk-ons – we can enter a two player scene in progress as another character, offering a move that contributes to the progression of the game(s) at play. Two high school boys are feeling self conscious in the hallway so Player 3 enters as a mean girl to point out their foibles. Two players are arguing over the value of the movie they just left, so Player 3 enters to agree with one of them and rile the other. If there is one tertiary move an improviser knows, it’s the Walk-on. Unfortunately, too few improvisers know to Walk Off. You’re a tertiary character; the scene’s not about you. A Walk-on should only be used to heighten/sharpen a game already at play. An entering character must acquiesce to those already on stage and strive not to be the focus of the scene.

“Cut-to” – when players doing a scene refer to a particular moment (from the past, future, etc.), a player comes onstage and announces “Cut to: that moment” and we see the moment.  A comfortable ensemble can perform the “cut-to” (also called flashbackshow me, etc.) without telegraphing the move by shouting “Cut to.”  As with walk-ons, a “cut to” should be followed by a “cut back.”

Tag out – a “tag out” allows the audience to see how a character from a previous scene will react to another character/scenario/etc.  To perform a tag out, a player enters a scene in progress and literally tags the player that he/she will replace on stage.  As with walk-ons, a “tag out” should be followed by a “tag back in.”

Embodying the Environment – we can be set pieces; we can be crowds.

Scene Painting/ “We See” – we can come in from offstage to describe (and physicalize) a previously unseen “visual” aspect of the scene. For example, a pompous character is painted with a monocle, “#1 Boss” button, etc. For another example, a scene with a child bemoaning having to do his/her chores is painted with a window showing a beautiful day outside, an Everest of dishes to clean, etc. This type of move is typically executed by a player entering the scene, not as a character, but, with a verbal aside directed at the audience. “These people are in clown costumes.” “We see this man has a hole through his torso.”  These are Detail moves, but they work best when they are delivered emotionally and when they connect with a character’s emotional behavior. Sometimes, while contributing his verbal add-on, Player 3 will wave his hand generally over or toward the area of stage he’s referring to; but a better Player 3 will often define what he’s describing in mime as well as words. In conjunction with “We see this man has a beard,” this Player 3 shows how big and bushy the beard is by cupping and fluffing it with his hands before exiting the scene.

Suggested Exercises:

TERTIARY OPPORTUNITIES – have two players start a scene.  Stop when you, the teacher, identifies the scene’s game.  Ask a third player to enter the scene to heighten the game you’ve identified with a tertiary move (definitions below).  Repeat to visit and revisit different tertiary moves.


TERTIARY MONTAGE – Have players force tertiary moves onto a run of two person scenes.
•       Tertiary Player Good Faith Mantra – I will only enter a scene in progress to serve what has already been established. And I will react to those who enter my scene in progress on the assumption they seek to heighten what has already been established.



6.2  Introducing Polish Moves – Vocabulary and Mechanics: Practice seeing the opportunity and deploying polish moves.

Polish Moves

Mapping – taking a familiar scenario and mapping it over an unfamiliar situation.  For example, player one is a businessman being bothered by player two, a salesman.  If in trying to get the salesman to leave him alone the businessman uses language that we all recognize from a “break-up scenario,” such as “it’s not you it’s me,” the scene will be infinitely more interesting.  If the salesman reacts to this break-up with the same emotion that any boyfriend or girlfriend would, then we really have a scene.

Split Scene – two (or more) separate scenes continue at the same time (usually on opposite sides of the stage), sharing focus back and forth.  While they do not exist in the same physical space, the scenes affect each other as the focus shifts.  A human couple complains about their house, while a mouse couple complains about their hole and a parasite couple complains about their host.

Breaking the Plane – players define where their characters are in relation to each other by choosing where to “look” for that character.  For example, in a baseball scene, rather than throwing the ball across the stage to each other, Player A throws the ball toward the audience, as if Player B is in that direction from Player A.  Player B, standing parallel to player A, then receives the ball from the audience.  Another example is a scene in which a woman looks out her bedroom window and talks to a man on the street below. Rather than trying to convey this physical scenario while looking at each other across the (level) stage, the woman faces out to the audience and looks downward as she talks (as if the man is in a hole in the stage), and the man faces the audience but looks up as he speaks, as if the woman is in the ceiling of the theater.   Similarly, an improviser can watch his fellow player go up a tall winding staircase by watching the ascent while the ascending player is really standing on the same level stage.  Rather than be confined to a set-less stage, “breaking the plane” allows improvisers to create a more interesting stage picture.

Pivot (Barn Door/Swivel) – Rather than Tag Out and Tag Back In, the Pivot allows two scenes to happen without players having to leave stage.  For example, Player A is telling Player B all about his success in last night’s date.  Player C enters stage on the other side of Player A from Player B to initiate a look into the actual date.  Player A can pivot between scenes from his central position – turning to Player C to do the date scene and then turning back to Player B to continue exalting his date prowess.  Players B and C do not have to leave stage when they’re not in play, they just have to remain frozen or neutral.

Suggested Exercises:

COURTING POLISH MOVES – have players initiate scene attempting to signal to their fellow players that a polish move is being applied.
•       Mapping – initiate a scene with subtext; “Yeah, I’ll sell you my old car, if you’re okay with sloppy seconds.”
•       Split Screen – have two players start any two person scene. Instruct two other players to heighten the context of the initiating scene with new characters.
•       Breaking the Plane – have a player initiate toward another player on a different plane of the stage.
•       Pivot (Barn Door/ Swivel) – have two players start any two person scene. Instruct a third player to engage a pivot player with a dueling situation.

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