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

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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Blackout video example

A “Blackout” is a short scene with one big punchline.  In sketch, or in improv with a tuned-in booth operator, the lights would go out on stage after the punchline, designating the end of the scene and earning the name “blackout.”

Blackouts are fun.  They can help vary the pacing of a long-form show.  They can be great when it’s clear there’s not going to be a bigger laugh beyond the first big punchline, but even if there is life beyond the punchline it can be enjoyable to cut the scene “early” so you can bring it back later.  Will Hines and I had a scene where, in crossing stage, he asked if I had “a roll of quarters in my pants.”  I did, I removed it and that was the end of the scene.  Later in the show he asked if I was smuggling a zucchini in my pants; again, I was.  Repeat.

I really love this Blackout from Horse Apples’ District Indie Improv Fest Show.  Joey Tran kills it by being authentic.  Truth is he doesn’t believe he can whistle; that’s honest frustration in his “no” to my question.  And the audience believes him. So when he tries – and he legitimately tries because, again, he doesn’t think he can – and, lo and behold, he succeeds!, the surprise is also genuine.  Honest, in-the-moment, shared with an engaged audience, emotionally reactive… that’s improv as improv does best, folks.

Breaking The Plane definition

Breaking the Plane – Players define where their characters are in relation to each other by choosing where to “look” for that character.

Using this ability, there are so many different cool ways for us to fracture our improv stage – enabling new heights, depths, distances, and other spatial relationships.

For example, in a baseball scene, rather than throwing the ball across the stage to each other, Player A throws the ball toward the audience, as if Player B is in that direction from Player A.  Player B, standing parallel to player A, then receives the ball from the audience.

As mentioned in the video above, Breaking the Plane allow multiple scenes of great expanses to happen side-by-side Split-Screen style to facilitate a Help Desk type game.

Another example is a scene in which a woman looks out her bedroom window and talks to a man on the street below. Rather than trying to convey this physical scenario while looking at each other across the (level) stage, the woman faces out to the audience and looks downward as she talks (as if the man is in a hole in the stage), and the man faces the audience but looks up as he speaks, as if the woman is in the ceiling of the theater. 

Similarly, an improviser can watch his fellow player go up a tall winding staircase by watching the ascent while the ascending player is really standing on the same level stage. We can bang on the ceiling above us to be answered by our stomping on the floor below us.

We can build a whole building with each of us standing side-by-side.

There’s so much we can do!

Climb a building like Adam West’s Batman and Robin did, with players Breaking the Plane to act like people in the building.

Stand side-by-side climbing individual ladders, Breaking the Plane to indicate relative heights.

And of course there’s this old “approaching the bar” chestnut. Never stare directly at each other over a counter for a transaction ever again!

Hey Everybody, come to the bar, to the table, to me (“Got tickets! Who needs tickets?” “Popcorn, get your popcorn!” “Students, attention on me.”)

Rather than be confined to a set-less stage, “breaking the plane” allows improvisers to create a more interesting stage picture. Try something out of this world!

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Transformation Edits

In a long-form improvisational performance that is not a “mono-scene” there is a need to be able to communicate that one scene is ending and another is beginning.  An “Edit” is that move communicating a change in scenes.  At its core, a “successful” edit need only clearly communicate that transition, but beyond that there are myriad ways to execute an edit.  Continue reading

1.1 – The Self Contained Emotional Statement

THE SELF CONTAINED EMOTIONAL STATEMENT

How do you start an improv scene? My answer was forged from the perspective of giants’ shoulders.

Mick Napier, of The Annoyance Theater, says we start with just one thing.

– Assume a posture.
– Grab an object.
– Start a motion.
– Engage your environment.
– Embody a character.
– Emote.

What do you do with that one thing? Expand, says Napier. Discover through “if this
than what” extrapolation. Build that one thing out, or draw a line to another point of the
scene.

The direction I believe you should expand to – the scene start structure most conducive to
good improvisation – is the Self-Contained Emotional Statement.

It can be as simple as:

– I love it here.
– I hate the arts.
– I’m uncomfortable.

The Self-Contained Emotional Statement aligns you with an emotional perspective. It’s a solid foundation on which to build the possibilities. Continue reading