Location, Location, Location: An exercise about Connecting through Characters and Relationships

GUS, the delightful and talented team from The Baltimore Improv Group, opens its sets these days by asking the audience for “Three non-geographic locations.” Asked to come up and lead a practice, I brought this exercise with me. We had a lot of fun with it. You will, too.

Have you ever been in The White House? Ever gone into space? Ever visited an old West saloon? No? Well have you ever seen a television show or movie about one of those locations that you felt was “relate-able”?

The audience relates to Characters and Relationships even in “unrelatable” circumstances. As improvisers, we can go to wackier and wackier places as long as we center our scenes in knowable characters and relationships. And, remember, we know our characters and relationships through their patterns of emotional behavior.

As an improviser, have you ever been suggested a location or activity you’re not personally familiar with and as a result you end up playing a character who is “new” to the location/activity or just openly inept?

When the audience is engaged with Characters and Relationships they care way less about the authenticity of your mime and/or details. It’s the old Back To The Future Versus The Matrix dynamic: Because we were invested in Doc and Marty as people, knowing that once 85 MPH was achieved the Flux Capacitor sent you back in time was all that we needed. Conversely, because The Matrix was mostly filled with unemotional characters, nerds ruthlessly attacked the world’s nitty gritty.

Bottom line: This exercise will allow your group to more confidently explore far off worlds by finding a connection in Character and Relationships.

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Find “Game” by Feel

Mmmm…what do these have in common?

When asked for a desired focus for a scheduled coaching session, a Duo sent me the following:

Mainly character stuff, fleshing them out versus building out more plot. Getting better at finding and sticking to the game of the scene.

What follows is some didactic and exercises that filled two hours.

DIDACTIC: How do You think about “Game” in improv?

Acknowledged ad nauseam here on Improv As Improv Does Best, the idea of “Game” gets thrown around a lot in improv.

At its most dumbed down, “Game” is “the funny thing, done more.” Though what the “funny thing” is is subjective.

At once both more sophisticated and more corny, “Game” can focus on the repetition of the cause and effect of actions. Short Form‘s blessing and curse is that its rhythms connect so quickly (helped by being made explicit) – the audience is rigged to react to anticipation but the rigging can be too tight and become stale.

Aiming for an universal answer this site’s materials are predicated on the definition of “Game” as “a sequence of actions related by cause in effect, heightening in a progression through repetition.” Holds true for baseball and Monopoly alike.

Regardless of definition, “Game” needs Emotion.  Continue reading

In-the-Moment games

I love Pattern Play. I love the way an ensemble, focused-outward on making each new move in the service of what they individually have seen come before, can make a group look like it has ESP.

Eminem meets IKEA

I love “the moment.” I love the way an authentic reaction to a moment -that in no way could have been preconceived – can connect with an audience for a big laugh.

And I LOVE when concentrated pattern play incorporates “the moment” to be something uniquely Improv As Improv Does Best, connecting the ensemble and the audience in a previously-unknowable, perfectly-found moment.

“An ensemble of players gets on stage without previously rehearsed lines or blocking and acts out, making up the show as they go along. The audience understands that this show is constructed from nothing before their eyes. In these aspects, improvisational performance differentiates itself from any other performance medium.”

– Improv As Improv Does Best

I have three examples from my latest 301 Patterns & Games Showcase show.

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My 3 Rules & The Iterative Process

I recorded the session of my Patterns & Games class at The Coalition Theater in which we tackled the My 3 Rules game I’ve previously presented as a warm-up.

One, the camera’s distance makes it hard for the viewer to really track the game in play.

Two, oh, man, looking for a drinking game? Watch me teach and drink every time I say, “Right.”

Three, My 3 Rules – like Kick The Duck, Red Rover – is a game played through iterations. With each iteration, students “get it” more and by the end are fully engaged in the mechanics and they’re laughing

In the following post, I’m going to share some clips from that night’s video showing the iterative learning process. My hope is that it’ll serve as a teaching lesson, both through how I provide instruction between iterations and how students loosen up and learn as a result of the iterations. Continue reading

Linked By Patterns

The Johnsons‘ performances account for the majority of this site’s videos. Why? I’m their coach. That means A) I love them, B) their work often reflects Improv As Improv Does Best characteristics and C) theirs are the recordings that are the easiest for me to get.genetics

But I have been a bad coach lately and have missed their recent shows.

BUT this past Saturday, 2/23/19, I saw The Johnsons perform with another Coalition house team, Detective. Detective’s coach is Scott Beckett, a Johnson.

And when they closed the show by all playing together, it was immediately clear they spoke the same language of Patterns & Games. Without hesitation they followed each other into organic group games, weaving in Tertiary Moves with varying entrances and exits. And the results were hilarious. Continue reading

Help Desk Cartoons

Building a game out of heightening the pattern of an interaction isn’t just for improv.

It’s a creation tool. At least if you’re looking to create something coherent.

Both of these cartoons appeared in The Washington Post’s Sunday Cartoon section on September 30th. Read Jef Mallett’s Frazz and Tim Rickard’s Brewster Rockit below – but also just read them in general; they’re great.

Brewster Rocket Help Desk

Frazz Help Desk

How could they not remind me of our friend The Help Desk rubric group game?

In a Help Desk Game, the progression of the scenic games establishes the pattern, and that pattern’s evolving repetition serves to heighten a personal game or theme.

What’s just beautiful thinking about these comic strips as improv scenes using the Help Desk Dynamic, is how they get to call lights before they have to get to the punchline. By setting our expectations in the first interaction, WE – the reader or audience – laugh at following the second interaction in our own heads based on the first. Our Lizard Brain laughs at the recognition of the pattern – and that’s enough for your edit!

Patterns allow us to play confidently. Thanks for the illustrations, Jef and Tim!

 

 

Susie and Rebecca – organic and meta

This was my favorite Organic game from my Spring 2018 Patterns & Games Class. There’s just so much to love.  This one could never be rewritten as a sketch, and that’s an asset to me here.  

It was born collaboratively in-the-moment with an ending no one set out to see but felt too entirely perfect in retrospect.  We’re talking Improv As Improv Does Best here, folks.  Continue reading