World Hopping exercise

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

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 

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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

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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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