Prioritizing Character Over Plot exercises

“I love opium.”

It’s a fine line between a character evoking a plot and a character reacting to their reality. A very fine line. But I believe that attention to that line can mean the difference between a scene where improvisers force a sequence of events dependent on an audience’s satisfaction with a resolution and a scene where characters are engaged in the moment of their reality with an audience reacting to – and investing in – a character’s consistency regardless of “sense.”

The following is a series of exercises geared toward prioritizing characters in-the-moment over improvisers setting-up-situations-to-be-negotiated. 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

Jokestapositon, a warm-up

Everyone in a circle.dinge berry jersey

Starting Player starts with a Self Contained Emotional Statement through the filter of being a “crazy” character-type (a pirate, a monster, a nun.. see nonMECE list HERE.). For example, (proudly) “The full moon’s rising and with it my transformation.”

The Player to their right interacts through the lens of a “normal” character-type one affiliated with a “normal” location (a checkout gal at a supermarket, a bum in a bench, a trader in a Wall Street pit… see Life for MECE  list.). For example, (proudly) “We have a 24 hour concierge for whenever you need to stay or fetch.” Continue reading

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 

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.”
• 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