Organic Group Games exercises

Objective: To establish and heighten organic group games collaboratively as an ensemble.

The full workshop lesson, containing didactic and exercises on pattern progressions and games’ rules in addition to what’s below, can be found here.

Ultimately, to get students practice establishing and heightening Organic Group Games, we’ll do a run of scenes built through the following steps:

1. Initiate with a Self-Contained Emotional Statement as the Offer

  • The Self-Contained Emotional Statement establishes an effect and a cause, aligning you with an emotional perspective. It’s a solid foundation on which to build the possibilities.  Connecting your emotion to an active element in the scene – Not just “I love the arts,” but, “I love THIS painting” – enables a Pavlovian reaction.
  • It’s a statement, not a question shifting the responsibility of providing information to your partner.
  • It’s an emotional statement, giving X the power to make you feel Y.
  • Being self-contained, the statement places you on solid ground without dictating the scene to your partners. Being self-contained is increasingly an imperative the larger a group you have on stage.

2. Seek to Set the progression with one of four ways to join the scene

  • Heighten with Agreement“I love the stars.”  “They’re so bright, sparkly and perfect.” Agreement allows multiple players to collaboratively heighten one emotional perspective.
  • Heighten Tangentially “I love the stars.”  “I’m more a planets man myself.” Tangential heightening enables juxtaposition of emotional perspectives and exploration of theme.
  • React “I love the stars.”  “Your astronomy prowess isn’t getting me in bed.” Emotional reactions establish a scenic game to heighten in one scene or juxtaposed scenes.
  • Disparate Initiation “I love the stars.” “Whoa, you hear that?” We don’t have to “make sense” of disparate initiations we can heighten through repetition of the sequence; first time is random, second time is purposeful, third time is expected.

3. Seek to Cement the progression

  • Clarify the game(s) by following the moves already made with a move that heightens in the established direction

4. Follow, Heighten and Evolve the established game(s)

  • Do more of what was done.  Do what was done again bigger.  Do what was done again with a different context.

5. Have fun

  • On stage you have to focus outward and follow the moment.  Hard work and concentrated thinking off stage are necessary to become better improvisers, but you can’t perform to your best ability in your head.  There is no reason to get up on an improv stage other than to have fun.


Here are the exercise I employ building to that ultimate goal –

Self Contained Emotional Statement Circle: Everyone stands in a circle. A player provides a Self-Contained Emotional Statement toward an active element – what s/he is doing (“I love filing”), what object s/he shares space with (“Ugh, this ice cream has icicles”), or what s/he is (“I’m super snazzy”). The next player around the circle then provides a brand new, unrelated Self-Contained Emotional Statement (SCES). Play continues with each player providing their own SCES.
•  As initiations, SCESs toward active scene elements immediately ground an improviser in a repeatable cause (active element) and (emotional) effect.

1 SCES and 4 Set Moves Tutorial: Have one player get on stage and give an SCES – ex: “I’m afraid of my face.”
Then prompt a player to come up to join that SCES with an Agreement line – ex: “If I see a mirror, I’ll scream.”  In agreement this player could say, “I’m also afraid of your face,” or “I’m afraid of my own face.” Remind players that anyone can have what anyone else has; if one player is pregnant, everyone can be pregnant.
Then prompt a third player to come up and join that original SCES with a Tangential line – ex: “I love this fully mirrored room,” or “I’m terrified of my voice.” There is certainly bound to be some overlap between Agreement and Tangential lines, but the nuance is that with Agreement two players share the same perspective, with Tangential two players have related but not identical perspectives.
Then prompt a fourth player to come up and join the original SCES with a Reaction line – ex: “How dare you? I’m the best plastic surgeon around.” This is the type of move we employ most often when starting any typical “two person scene.” What we’ll learn is how to build a group game on top of this interplay between characters.
Finally prompt a fifth player to come up and join the original SCES with a Disparate line – ex: “I’d kill for an apple right now.” The juxtaposition of disparate initiations can be fun. These scenes and games will continue stronger if this second initiation is also a SCES.

SCES and Set Move Lay-ups: Have players split into two lines with one on either side of the stage.  One line will initiate with a SCES. The other line will join with one of the 4 Set Moves – whichever they want.  After these two lines are given, the players are wiped, each to go to the back of the other line.

SCES, Set and Cement Move Lay-upsThe player at the head of one line initiates with an SCES.  The player at the head of the other line joins with one of 4 Set moves.  Then either player now at the head of the lines can join the scene in working to establish the progression of the game.  This third player can – but does not have to – enter after only two lines are given.  For example:
1 – “I’m afraid of my face.” 2 – “If I see a mirror, I’ll scream.” 3 – “Look at the polish on this floor; No, don’t – aaaahhhh.”
1 – “I’m afraid of my face.” 2 – “I love this fully mirrored room.” 3 – “I love it, too; Everywhere you look, there you are.”
1 – “I’m afraid of my face.” 2 – “How dare you? I’m the best plastic surgeon around.” 3 – “I’m afraid of my breasts.”
1 – “I’m afraid of my face.” 2 – “I’d kill for an apple right now.” 3 – “Did someone say they had an apple? I’d slaughter the innocent for one.”
Remember: Simplification and Clarification. A third person must only enter a scene to serve what has already been established.  To add a third perspective or to be a third totally unrelated person risks over-complication.  Simplify with Agreement, by adopting one of the two perspectives already in play.  Clarify with Repetition, by heightening the emotional reaction and stakes already in play.

Organic Group Games: Everyone get on the wings.  Anyone is able to contribute the SCES, the Set Move, to add on in seeking to cement a game and/or to add in serving to heighten a game.
As an instructor, you have to pay attention to the progression of made moves so as to be able to talk about how each successive addition affected the trajectory of the scene.  There are no mistakes, but there are complications; every new add becomes something else that needs to be folded into the pattern.  Encourage simplicity.
You can direct, by stripping back a game that went awry to the last moment it was stable, or by side-coaching a player into a particular move.  But I try to keep this to a minimum as you don’t want to kill their momentum, only open their eyes.
There are so many paths these games can take that it is tough to outline any “standard” paths.  But here are a few examples from workshops that worked particularly well:

Player One enters miming a rod and saying, “What a great day for fishing.”  Player Two enters with a pronounced hunchback and says, “Ah, what a great day for fishing.”  Player One looks at Player Two with a large resigned sigh and says, “Hi, Bob.”
A progression of fishermen enter, each with an even more exaggerated physical and verbal disability, and a variation of “What a great day for fishing.”  With each entrance Player One gets more and more deflated but still manages a polite “Hi,” naming each entrant.
Player Six enters stage as a happy fish, saying, “What a great day for swimming.”  Player Seven enters as a disabled fish…

Player One enters as an old lady proud to say, “Yep, everything I need is in this one bag.”  Player Two joins and says sadly, “I think my mother hates me.”  Player One responds, “Best get your bag packed.”
Player Three enters on the opposite side of Player One as Player Two, pivoting attention to Player Three and signalling that Player Two should leave.  “I think my wife hates me,” Player Three says.  “Best get your bag packed,” Player One responds.
Player Four enters on the opposite side of Player One as Player Three, pivoting attention and Player Three leaves.  “I think my baby hates me,” Player Four says.  “Best pack that baby’s bag,” Player One responds.

Player One enters in fear.  “Oh, my god,” she says.  “I can’t see anything in this cave.” Player Two enters in mirrored agreement, also scared of the dark cave.  Together they freak out.  And they worry aloud about the threat of bats.
Player Three enters as a bat and says, “Marco.”  Player Four also enters as a bat and says, “Polo.”  As the bats play, the initiating players heighten their freak out.
Players Five and Six enter as other scared people.
Players Seven and Eight enter as bats.  Player Seven says, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Thomas on over.”  The people all scream…


I love Organic Group Games.

Make emotional choices.  Establish cause and effect.  Follow.  Agree.  Repeat. Have a ton of fun.

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