Here’s The Deal. Yes, And. I Know, Right? warm-up

We want to avoid conflict, debate and negotiation in our improv scenes. The audience knows we’re making it up – building something from nothing – they don’t want to see us arguing over imagined reality; they want to see us react to an accepted reality.

What’s the best way to avoid arguing? Acceptance! Agreeing to a conflict-laden declaration is the easiest way to ensure a scene’s forward momentum.

So want a warm-up that’ll engage those Acceptance muscles? Continue reading

Mirror, Action, Object’s Scenic add-on

Personal Games are the focus of the base Mirror, Action, Object warm-up exerciseMAO1 Engaged in either how they feel about themselves, how they feel about what they’re doing, or how they feel about a mimed object, players build progressions of emotional reaction triggered by active endowments. As examples: A player loves his outfit, and as he scans himself toe to head he grows more and more impressed with himself (Mirror). A player grows more insane with every monotonous saw stroke. A player becomes more and more vain with every bite of the apple.

This add-on expands the warm-up to practice Scenic Games as well.  Continue reading

Silent Games

Aaron Grant once took the stage across from me, making eye contact but planting his feet firmly just beyond the stage right wing. I mirrored him on stage left. He mimed the mimeclassic flirtatious fishing move. I played his fish but broke his line bashfully, the stage’s distance remaining between us. I danced as someone with a club; he played my seal. He loaded his heart into a gun and shot it at me. I loaded my heart into a mortar and launched it at him. He shot me with a bazooka of love. I put love in a centrifuge and then in a bomb that erupted in a mushroom cloud of hearts. He built and climbed into a B-52 bomber than rained love upon me. We both stood up from the rubble and traced out hearts to one another. Never a word was spoken.

How does one teach Silent Games? Read on! 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

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

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 

Continue reading

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