Showcasing Students

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

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

Body Snatcher & Double Body Snatcher tertiary moves

Ask your troupe what they want to work on. A comment by Alan Volmer during a Johnsons rehearsal led to this move being added to the group’s bag of tricks.

THE BODY SNATCHER:  A third player takes over either Player One’s or Player Two’s character. If Player Three chooses to take on Player Two’s character, for example, Player Two then exits.

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Four Corners video example

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 

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Invocation exercise

Mirroring/repeating language, details and rules heightens a group’s work while keeping it cohesive.

INVOCATION – Players stand in a half circle. On the count of three, a “god” appears before them that they will worship in three phases: First, they will describe it physically; “Oh, God, with your fowl beak.” Second, they will address its less tangible qualities; “Oh, God, who tastes like everything.” Third, they will ask it to do unto them; “Oh, God, henpeck my enemies.”
Lessons:
• Be clear about what “it” is – don’t be vague for artsy sake; the sooner everyone knows what “it” is the sooner everyone can dig deep into the details
Unite behind an emotional perspective on “it” – “what we hate about Microsoft” will collaboratively heighten faster than “what we know about Microsoft”
Simplify with mirrored language – switching between phases is clearest when there’s a defining cadence to phase one (“Oh, God”) and a new cadence to phase two (“Sweet, Jesus).
Callback – What does a detail from phase one signify in phase two and can be used for in phase three?
Establish rules of reaction – Y follows X: “…who is never afraid,” “You’re a chicken who’s not chicken;” “…who never stops going,” “You’re a chicken who’ll always win at chicken.” I’m the guy who: said, “Eyes as red as flames” so I’ll say, “Heart as black as coal.”
• There are no mistakes – seek to fold in everything; don’t drop things that seem out of place

Performers are Becki Heckman, Ian Johnson, Suzi Makarem, Robert Nickles and Jordan Walker Continue reading

News Reel… endowment warm-up

newsreel_logo2

USSR 1730…

Vladimir Toma invents a heating device…

“Yah, so, this I call…vodka…”

The difference between one actor delivering all three of those lines and three improvisers delivering one of those lines apiece is huge in terms of audience reaction. When the audience sees that a player is accepting a choice given to them – as opposed to making their own choice in a vacuum – the audience will reward the attempt above the delivery. Forcing another improviser to own an endowment (aka pimping) can leverage improv as improv does best by emphasizing collaboration and minimizing the pressure on an individual to be clever. 

It’s wonderfully counter intuitive. If I “pimp” another player into reciting the poem they just wrote, that other player may feel a lot of pressure to provide a clever/funny response. But, with the audience knowing the situation has been forced on the player, whatever the player commits to will be accepted. Improvisers need to feel that being forced into a corner is  not confining, it’s freeing.

And, accepting a bizarre reality is more affecting than creating a bizarre reality.

This warm up exercise will make a team more comfortable forcing a situation on one another and more empowered being forced into an endowment.  Continue reading

Mirror, Action, Object an exercise in personal active stakes

Nothing bugs me more than a scene where two improvisers meet stage center, stare only at each other and talk only to and about each other.

I get it. Your stage partner is truly the only other active element on stage with you. But, c’mon, show some imagination.

The audience likes to see us interact with things we imagine. The audience loves to see us care about things we imagine. The audience f*#king adores when what we imagine makes us feel.

If you and/or the ensemble you’re in and/or the ensemble you coach are having the tendency to do centerstage talking heads scenes then this warm-up exercise might be right for you.
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