Prioritizing Character Over Plot exercises

“I love opium.”

It’s a fine line between a character evoking a plot and a character reacting to their reality. A very fine line. But I believe that attention to that line can mean the difference between a scene where improvisers force a sequence of events dependent on an audience’s satisfaction with a resolution and a scene where characters are engaged in the moment of their reality with an audience reacting to – and investing in – a character’s consistency regardless of “sense.”

The following is a series of exercises geared toward prioritizing characters in-the-moment over improvisers setting-up-situations-to-be-negotiated. Continue reading

I Just Noticed You… exercise for active emotions

I sat with across from an executive. It was a benign conversation – a check-in meeting. Neither of us was all that engaged. rainbow folders

Looking down at his desk, I noticed he’d arrayed files on his desk in the order of a rainbow – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple (though Roy G. Biv forever, squad).

I didn’t say anything about it. But thinking about it led me to this exercise.

Looking to practice evoking emotions through engaging environment? The audience loves seeing improvisers “see” something on stage.  They love seeing us enthusiastically accept what our fellow players imagine.  And they love it when we invest emotionally in those imagined somethings.

Want an exercise that forces us to see something, say something and have that something matter to our scene partner?  Keep reading.  Continue reading

Jokestapositon, a warm-up

Everyone in a circle.dinge berry jersey

Starting Player starts with a Self Contained Emotional Statement through the filter of being a “crazy” character-type (a pirate, a monster, a nun.. see nonMECE list HERE.). For example, (proudly) “The full moon’s rising and with it my transformation.”

The Player to their right interacts through the lens of a “normal” character-type one affiliated with a “normal” location (a checkout gal at a supermarket, a bum in a bench, a trader in a Wall Street pit… see Life for MECE  list.). For example, (proudly) “We have a 24 hour concierge for whenever you need to stay or fetch.” Continue reading

World Hopping exercise

I love World Building in improvisation. With World Building in mind we can bring focus to our Organic Formats.

The first scene of a show starts in a train; the rest of the show exists in that same train.

The first scene of a show starts with Little League players. The next scene focuses on the parents in the stands. The next scene focuses on the players’ siblings hanging out in the parking lot.

The first scene of a show introduces a reality wherein people shield their improper thoughts from heaven with an umbrella.  The next scene shows angels using the same umbrellas to shield them from God’s view.  And later we see God himself hiding his own self-doubt under an umbrella.

In our efforts to build worlds though we mustn’t lose sight of Improv As Improv Does Best, which relies at its core on heightening established Personal and Scenic Games. So how’s about we build worlds around our patterns of emotional behavior?

Here is a series of exercises I ran to that purpose… Continue reading

Build Your Own World exercise

“World Building” is a noble pursuit in long form improvisation.  It can focus our creativity to try to link our scenes to a single location, time or conceit.  The Chicago-based People of Earth, for example, placed all of their scenes on the same train. Horse Apples set an entire long-form in a future where everyone had bionic limbs. The audience adores this organic world building.

It can therefore feel like a gift to receive a suggestion like “Star Wars” from the audience.  I mean, c’mon, what improv nerd isn’t itching to do their own Blue Harvest?

But it’s a trap.

While it can be tempting to recreate a well-known property on stage, doing so often has us focused on premises and gimmicks over emotion.  Think about the last time you saw an improviser bring a well-known character or actor to stage – Were they emotionally invested and vulnerable to the moment?  Too often we’re too focused on our impression to set up the patterns of emotional behavior triggered by active elements that are the core of Improv As Improv Does Best.

But we can expand from a suggestion like “Star Wars” to build a world wholly our own. Want to try it?  Continue reading

Organic Warm-ups

It’s all about the Set move.organic
Remember: Anything’s an Offer.

A group of improvisers gather pre-show. They take off excess clothes. They empty their pockets. They ask about each other’s day.
One guy tells a story about an out-of-the-blue run-in with an old friend that happened that day.
Another improviser tells her own story about an even more random out-of-the-blue run-in with an even older friend.
And an organic warm-up is off running.

An improviser notices two of his compatriots are bent down tying their shoes so he mirrors them. A fourth follows. A fifth.
And an organic warm-up is off running.

An awkward group of improvisers gravitates into a pre-show circle, wanting to find something organic, not wanting to force anything. One guy starts mirroring another’s nervous hand wringing. A girl coughs so someone else does. Someone laughs. They all laugh.
And an organic warm-up is off running. Continue reading

Sustainable Set – The Johnsons Cover Coldplay

Learn rigidly. Play loose. Wall Turkey

The Johnsons are the most dyed-in-the-wool Improv As Improv Does Best group there is. Makes sense. I coach them.

They were taught the contents of this website. They learned the mechanics of spontaneous collaboration. But the desire has never been for them to conform to one style of improv as dictated by their lessons. Rather the goal is always providing tools unique improvisers can utilize to enhance their personal approach.

The Johnsons are at their best when they Continue reading

Monologue-based Format: Here’s Laughing At You, Cancer

A monologist shares a personal story. Ideally one recreating their emotions about a specific  moment with rich details. Performers then replace the speaker on stage with a series of scenes inspired by the monologue. Ideally not just scenes reenacting the recollection but scenes that heighten the ideas of the monologue through new contexts. Maybe the monologist returns to relate another story; maybe not. If monologues separate the format into beats, ideally earlier scenes are referenced in later scenes.

That’s the Monologue-based Format.

The Armando Diaz Experience is a famous one. The Coalition Theater puts up a “Richmond Famous” wherein local public figures are invited to be the monologist.

LINC, the Legal Information Network for Cancer, puts up “Here’s Laughing At You, Cancer” annually as a fundraiser for their efforts to assist income-qualified individuals with legal and financial issues related to their cancer diagnoses (GREAT organization!).

And, yes, the show revolves around monologists sharing stories related to their cancer. Then the performers create scenes based on those monologists. Funny scenes.

And it works. Check it out.


The show’s monologists in order of appearance are: Jim Guy, Lulú de Panbehchi, Keisha Harris and Ann Hodges

The Coaliton performers are Katie Holcomb, Patrick Gantz, Matt Newman, Lauren Serpa and Jim Zarling.

Fantastic videography provided by Joey Tran and Double Take Productions.

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.

Continue reading