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
I’m wishy washy about improv class showcases.
On the one hand, if the point of going through classes is to learn to do performance-ready-level improv, then it seems sadistic to make 101 students “put it up on its feet.”
But on the other, nothing informs an improviser like improvising and all it entails – collaborating to build something out of nothing in-the-moment before a live audience. And so practice in front of a live audience should be part of each course.
So the in-between place becomes preparing each class for a performance that showcases – in grand improv style – all that they learned in class, on top of everything they’ve learned before, within bounds that keep them from stumbling into unknown territory.
Here are examples of how to do it…from 101 to 401… Continue reading
Learn rigidly. Play loose.
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
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.
Looking for a fun character-based Opening for your long-form improv format?
Try a Duologue or, like The Johnsons do, try several. Here are two examples –
I 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.
Looking for a fun improv warm-up with some character-building tools? Continue reading
Want to play more than one character in a single scene? You can!
It’s a powerful move. But – as goes the cliche – with great power comes great responsibility.
Let’s explore how and when to use the move and when and why to not.
A Coalition show called Strange Bedfellows pairs an actor with one half of a script with an improviser who ad libs their half. I had the honor of performing one night in the improviser’s role.
And I have never been more terrified pre-show.
In a typical show, I have at least one improv partner. I can relax in the uncertainty of improvisation knowing that, whatever happens, my partner(s) will support my choices, I’ll support theirs and any direction we go together will be successful. In this show, I can’t trust my scene partner to support my choices; they’re tied to their lines. They could be directly working against me.
Other improvisers who had done the show encouraged me to “just make a choice.” But “a choice” can be anything: a limp, a pirate accent, a yo-yo. My anxiety wasn’t calmed my the advice.
My calm came from realizing that I didn’t need to treat this any different than any other scene. And to succeed in any scene all I had to do was Feel and React.
Two Sides of the Same Two Person Scene Coin
“More of this makes me feel more.”
As a warm-up exercise or a short-form performance game, Four Corners is a fun way to explore two person scenes and subsequent beats.
Check out this wonderful example from The Coalition Theater‘s class showcase. I am particularly fond of the players’ choice to enthusiastically agree and trust in the power of emotion alone when met with the suggestion of “Trump rally.”
Performers are Sheldon King, Cindy Nester, David Pratt and Britne Walker