Black Box Beats warm-up

Lights come up on black-clad high school students standing on and around wooden boxes of varying heights.

You know what’s coming next.

Staccato sophomoric pretension. A wonder to laugh at, if you’re not in the actual audience and/or have to drive a performer home afterward.

Like with The Invocation, a structure of that kind of high-falutin performance can help us practice the different types of contributions we have available in service of Group Games.

Statements. Words. Sounds – emotional, mechanical, animalistic, etc. Callbacks, Call-and-Response, and Choruses. Each are available to us. Why not utilize the full suite?

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Zoom In On Help Desk

With its focus on characters interacting, Help Desk games are perhaps the rubric most conducive to Zoom.

As such, I found myself hewing much more closely to my typical Help Desk curriculum this class.

The biggest hurdle came in navigating Pivots and Split Screens. Appearing on a Zoom screen it’s certainly not easy to “tag out” another player. But as you’ll see, the class had fun figuring that out.

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Zoom In On Hey Everybody

“Hey, Everybody,” we say as our initiation in some form. Maybe it’s “Team, take a knee,” “Soldiers. Attention!,” or the Zhubin Parang special, “People, people, [important person] is ready for your questions.”

The potential for trouble in a “Hey Everybody, get out here” initiation is high. Players may rush out on stage to support the initiation with disparate reactions that then battle for dominance; chaos ensues and awkwardness follows. Or, though players may rush out on stage to support the initiation, they await to take their cues from the initiator who becomes the facilitator in a stiff and slow series of interactions that typically revolves more around thinking and problem solving than feeling.  Hey Everybody game mechanics allow a group to quickly build a focused direction out of disparate parts.

The Keys to success following a “Hey Everybody” initiation are:

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Zoom In On Organic Games

Students were taught the 4 Key Lessons for building collaborative improv games on Day One. In subsequent weeks focused one of 4 rubric group games designed to explore the power of each of those key lessons.

At the end of the day – which really is the class showcase – the audience isn’t looking to see a perfectly executed To The Ether game. They don’t know what the hell that is. The rubrics are tools for teaching the players’ tools. All the audience cares about is watching players collaborate in-the-moment to build something together. Players need to follow the ensemble’s moves wherever they go; this is about an ensemble playing their games, not mine.

So now it’s time to put all that’s been learned together in service of Organic Group Games.

Any questions?

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Zoom In On Patterns & Games

I taught my first Patterns & Games class through Zoom.

I had been nervous going into it assuming I’d have to tweak my teaching materials significantly to work within this new world. But as I learned when approaching Silent Games, the mechanics of collaborative pattern play are applicable however Group Games are attempted.

Need proof? Check out the class’ showcase –

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Zoom In On 4 Key Lessons

When I teach Patterns & Games in-person the first class is always Kick The Duck, Red Rover. I love this game. When I say “Go,” the class is to align behind a gibberish group game.

It’s always a mess to start, and then I begin laying in the lessons and with each iteration the group gels that much more. It never fails; by the end the group has built something cohesive out-of-nothing together as an ensemble – and have enjoyed themselves along the way.

The Zoom environment is not conducive to Kick The Duck, Red Rover, but I felt it critical to still have this first class expose students to the 4 Key Lessons that form the backbone of group game work as improv does best.

  1. Seek Symmetries
  2. Empower Asymmetries
  3. Establish Rules of Cause and Effect
  4. Restart and Repeat

So this is what I did…

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Zoom In On One Person Scenes

Agreement is awesome. Don’t you think.

In class number two, we focus on that first of our 4 Key Lessons: Seek Symmetries.

Bringing characters into group games brings new opportunities for chaos. 

Simplifying character-based group scenes with balanced stage pictures and shared emotional perspectives can help a team confidently navigate the chaos. 

Here’s how we did that…

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Super Satisfying Simple Patterns

Sunday November 10th filled me with pride. My 301 Patterns & Games class performed their showcase. And it was great.

Their energy was high. Their support, unwavering. And their commitment to building collaborative patterns using the rubrics’ guidance led to hilarious moments.

Those rubrics? The One Person Scene. To The Ether games. Help Desk games. Hey Everybody games. They’re narrowly focused on different ways for a group to build a pattern together. A group doesn’t need to be narrowly focused on them to be successful; as I hope this site makes abundantly clear, a “good” game is whatever a group builds together.

But, uh, oh man, when a group keeps it simple with a quick, clear progression, it’s easier to keep the mechanics tight and more likely the game will heighten to a satisfying punch.

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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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