The Johnsons’ 100% Organic Family Band Solution

300px-drfunke_1996_arrested_developmentI coach The Johnsons, so they’ve been steeped in a rich tea of group games. They know One Person Scenes. They know To The Ether Games.  They know Help Desk Games. And they know Hey Everybody Games.

And that knowledge makes them masters of the Organic Game.

And that unfortunately means sometimes they perform games that are hard for me to pick apart in a post in order to showcase the learnings. But this sucker’s a joyful exception.

Check it out.

Jessi enters. And initiates the moment she enters stage! From her first footstep on stage, she’s in character. We should all strive to do the same.

Jessi establishes something for herself. She’s drumming. She asserts a premise – “It’s Homecoming; we cannot fuck this up” – but she makes it clear with her mention of “everybody” that she wants more players on stage.

Joe obliges. Now there are three.

John‘s thinking Hey Everybody – it didn’t start with chaos, but it also didn’t start with either One Person’s shared perspective, or To The Ether’s tight heightening, or Help Desk’s pivot around a central character. So he seeks to establish his own silo of emotion: “I don’t even know what chair I’m in.”

Joe really establishes his own silo in reaction to John’s Hey Everybody Set Move: “I have a ukulele and I don’t think there’s a spot for me.”

Lauren enters. She follows Joe’s “Sorry I’m late” Help-Desk-style. And then asserts her own Hey Everybody silo: “I brought my violin.”  (Notice Lauren beautifully engaging in mime – Lauren is in actuality a musician who knows how to take off a violin backpack.)

Now…hear the laugh Joe gets when he chooses to call out – with a positive tone – that Lauren is also “string section”?  A good improviser must be aware of and follow (but not chase) the audience’s laughter.

Joe’s reaction came out of One Person Scene agreement – you and I are both strings, “yay!”  But the audience is catching on to the context along with the improvisers – this is a “marching band;” strings don’t belong.

Now…notice Jessi. Heightening her own Hey Everybody silo, she’s doubling down on the stakes of the marching band’s competition. AND she’s doing it with heightened emotion.  By being the game’s affected/vulnerable player, she’s become the fulcrum, the pivot point in this Two Person scene – them and her.

And now notice John. He was the second player on stage but the third to speak. He’s supported a Hey Everybody but now – without contradiction – follows the To The Ether pattern that Lauren Set – he brings a triangle to the marching band.  And he Cements the pattern.

Enter Jonathan – always enjoyable sporting an accent – with a didgeridoo.  He gets an added laugh by “playing” his instrument.peter-cushing-sherlock-holmes-71-1

And the game is afoot!

Shawn enters.  Now he’s a little too quick – would have preferred to have honored the Help Desk and given Jessi time to reassert her emotional stakes – but he beautifully heightens Jonathan’s didgeridoo with a less-mobile, more-playable instrument.

Now we get Jessi’s reinvestment into stakes.  “You guys, you guys,” she says, stopping the collaborative music making with clear anxiety. “At least Jeremy, hopefully, is going to bring it home. Dear God.”

Listen to the audience respond to her emotional stakes BUT ALSO to the stakes she’s placed on Scott, as the one Johnson who has yet to enter, to deliver. There’s a fun to Pimping in Improv As Improv Does Best. While in stand-up when you set up a delivery the audience expects you to deliver, in improv when you set up a player to “deliver” the audience leans toward supporting whatever the pimped player delivers.

And Scott delivers. He brings back “Sorry I’m late” Help-Desk-style in the pivot around Jessi. He calls out the To The Ether progression with, not just “I brought a sitar,” but with the “I couldn’t find my tuba” precursor.

Now, a tweak to the text and cadence – perhaps, “I couldn’t wait to destroy Garfield with my tuba……but I forgot it….so I brought my sitar” – might have totally closed the game, but the line as spoken didn’t draw the edit.

So what did?

First, collaboration – not quite One Person, but a One Person meets Hey Everybody game heightening sequence.  The team plays music together!  For a while!  Confidently!

And that buys time for our emotional center, Jessi, to react to the stakes.  Like the beat of a Help Desk after it’s been Cemented, Jessi – as the only character whose emotional dynamism we care about – noticeably feels a change; she’s affected by her fellow players. “Okay, shit, that’s awesome,” would have been enough.

But Jessi is rooted in her Character and Emotion and to her “the band being awesome” through the “I’m in the marching band” lens equals “I think we’re going to get laid this year.”

Collaboration. Heightening silos. Following progressions. Feeling more stakes. Confidently being an ensemble.

When pattern play becomes more reaction than conscious thought, that’s when the Improv As Improv Does Best magic happens.


The Johnsons are Scott Beckett, Shawn Hambright, John Hilowitz, Joe Mack, Jonathan Nelson, Jessi Schmale and Lauren Serpa



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