Comic Strip Based Subsequent Beats exercise

Objective: To focus on strong initiations that heighten established games with new stakes, situations, characters and relationships.

Comic Strip Based Subsequent Beats: Using the comics’ setup, players are forced to heighten situational and character stakes in initiating scenes which is good practice for initiating subsequent beats that prioritize games over plot.  To prep for this exercise, go through the comics section of a newspaper and cut out those with a clear joke (one example is played out below; other examples of good comics to use are included at the end of this post).  Comics based on word play or those that depend on an understanding of the characters and/or their world beyond the set of panels are not as good for this exercise as those that focus on situational humor or a character’s choice.  Give all the gathered comics to the group of improvisers to peruse.  Each player should choose one comic that they will attempt to heighten with a scene initiation.  Improvisers are instructed to formulate initiating lines that will heighten the joke of the comic strip with new stakes, situations, characters and relationships.  The second improviser joining the initiator on stage needn’t know the referenced comic, but only play the scene inspired by the initiation to the best of his/her ability.


•  Player One perceives the joke of the comic to be: Character who has extensive experience with X (needles) feels differently toward X given a new situation (doctor’s office)
•  Player One heightens this joke with this initiation: “Evel Knievel don’t jay walk.”
•  Player Two joins the scene with this agreement: “I hear you, Evel.  Amazing Dave always respects the crossing signal.”
• Players One and Two continue the scene by exploring their dare devil characters who refer to themselves in the third person and are exhaustively cautious about pedestrian safety (they always look both ways, they hold hands to cross, etc.)

•  New characters and situations help insure against Rehashing.   Too often subsequent beats revisit old characters in the same old situation with the same old stakes.  In this exercise, improvisers are forced not to portray the characters from the comic strip.  Given this instruction, players are forced to heighten the jokes of one character and/or situation with a new character and/or situation.  This should be their goal in initiating subsequent beats – heightening established games so they can sustain a show and not go stale.
•  Support “crazy” with agreement; don’t poke holes in it with questions.  In the given example, Player Two could have said, “But Evel, you’re a dare devil; what do you mean you don’t jay walk?” And Player One might come up with a clever justification. But the scene also might get bogged down in explanation, with the scene’s weight wholly on the shoulders of an improviser brave enough to make a bold choice and now prosecuted for that boldness.  Accepting and exploring are more active choices for an improviser to make.  Don’t question crazy choices; help them grow.
•  Preparing subsequent beat initiations does not undermine improvisation. Coming up with initiation lines that heighten established stakes while on the wings is not cheating it’s helping.  The pacing and intensity of a show should build as it progresses and a well-formulated subsequent beat initiation can ensure that participating players get on the same page quickly to heighten – and improvise – from there.

Additional Examples of Comic Strips for Use in This Exercise –

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