“Tonight…” a warm up

Getting synced with your teammates is why we warm up. Give this activity a try!

Everyone in a circle.  One by one, in no particular order, we enter the circle.

“Tonight I’m…”

First we share our current mindset with the group. For example, “Tonight I’m feeling tired. I stayed up too late and woke up too early.”

“So, tonight I’m gonna…”

Second, we commit to bringing to stage a different energy than we’re currently feeling AND we make that energy incarnate with a character, sound, action, emotion, line of dialogue, etc. For example, “So, tonight I’m gonna go ape,” and I act like a gorilla, howl and beat my chest.

And “We’re with you!”

Third, everyone around the circle says, “We’re with you!” and mirrors your character, sound, action, etc. For example, we’re all acting like gorillas.

Then the next person goes. Repeat.

Simple. Easy. Quick. And it gives us a moment to let our fellow players into our heads and aware of our intentions. AND it gives us all a chance to show our commitment to enthusiastic agreement and collaboration. 

Try it!

1.1 – 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

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

1.2 – Collaboration


A great improvisational performance requires both a group and an audience.

It’s the collaborative building that makes improvisation exciting. The ability to riff is dependent on having something to riff off of. The definition of riffing demands that there be an “accompaniment” or “exchange.” Sure, a single improviser can riff off an audience like a stand-up comedian can. But rarely is there enough audience input to require that a performer relinquish control of the show. To my mind, performers who put up “one person improvised shows” are playing with themselves in front of a crowd – and the inappropriate connotation is intended.

Improv as improv does best requires a group. Two people. Three people. The over-flowing stage of a festival improv jam. You need people to play with. You need people to riff off of.

Creating something out of nothing with a group of people in front of a live audience is hard. There are more people on stage for the audience to watch and listen to. There are more opinions about what’s happening and what needs to happen. More things breed less focus.

The more people you’re playing with, the clearer you have to be. When initiating with the Self-Contained Emotional Statement, the individual serves the scene’s clarity by concentrating on specificity and brevity. When there’s more than the initiator on stage (and there should be), continuing to serve the scene’s clarity relies on Agreement.

Continue reading

SWOT #7 – Agreement to What IS

Agreement is a cornerstone of improvisation. We’re on stage creating something out of nothing. If I create one thing out of the ether then we have something. We want to build that something up and out; we don’t debate the validity of something made up.  Inquisition, opposition, negotiation and transaction are counterproductive on stage to our doing what the audience came to see: Improvisers exploring an invented reality.

Agrement to What IS

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Collaboration
* Heightening Emotional Agreement
* Yes, Yes I Am
* Kick The Duck Red, Rover

Emotional Matching exercise

Emotional Matching: If we agree, we can just be; we don’t have to explain or defend. Have fun just being emotional together, trusting that your commitment to the same emotion is all the context for your relationship that’s needed.

EMOTIONAL CHAIR PASS – It’s like hitchhiker, but just two people, and the suggestion is an emotion, not a character. Set up two chairs on the stage and the rest of the class in an audience. One person sits and expresses an emotion to the audience. When someone in the audience thinks they know what it is, they get up, take the other chair and match it, then sit in it for a sec. You call “scene,” the first person sits, and the second one repeats the activity with a new emotion. Someone gets up, matches, sits there for a second, feels it, then sits. Repeat.
• After 3 or so, start asking, during the “sitting in it” portion, the same Character Walk questions: What kind of person sits like this? Where are they?
• Allow students to acknowledge each other. Eventually they’ll be drawn to exchange some lines, encourage that. You will have tricked them into doing a matching scene.
If we agree, we can just be; we don’t have to explain or defend.
Trust that your commitment to the same emotion is all the context for your relationship that’s needed.

Reacting In-The-Moment class

Objective: A scripted actor’s whole job is to make an audience believe that the emotional reaction they’re rehearsed is real in-the-moment. In improvisation, we have a leg up; we are all experiencing what’s happening for the first time. So just react. Don’t be in your head thinking about how you should feel or why we should feel. Just react. React without words until the words come. React without why until the why presents itself. If you commit to your reaction, that’s all the “why” an audience needs. If you invest in your emotion, the audience will believe that you have a reason even if you don’t have a motivation in mind. Continue reading

Action Pass exercise

ACTION PASS – In a circle, a player turns to his left and executes an action, any action. The next player observes that action and attempts to recreate it EXACTLY in turning to the player to their left.
• Do it once through. Then immediately have them do it again focused on slowing down and really noticing all the nuances of a player’s action and working to repeat the action exactly.
• Call attention to what makes them laugh – straight repetition, embracing something “accidental”
Focus Outward – take the time to really see all that players are giving you. The first step in reacting to what’s happening is seeing what’s happening.
Support your fellow player’s moves – There are no mistakes/There is no “right.” There is only “what has happened” and “what’s happening now.”

“Yes, Yes I Am” acceptance exercise

YES, YES I AM – Form lay-up lines on either side of the stage. The player on stage left endows the player on stage right with a strong emotional perspective (“You think Ringo is the best Beatle”). The player from stage right accepts the perspective (“Yes, I do’) and commits through several lines of dialogue (“He voices Thomas the Tank Engine” / “I own every Thomas trinket there is”).
“Yes” is funny – there’s a surprise unique to improvisation in watching a player accept a perspective thrust upon him/her. The “Yes” of acceptance stands to be funnier than anything else even the cleverest person might have responded with.
Specificity heightens the funny of acceptance – “Have you ever eaten a train, piece by piece, after you derailed it with your penis?” “Yes – for charity.”* When we negotiate the bizarre, we (and the audience) get bogged down trying to make sense. When we accept the bizarre, we (and the audience) explore and heighten fun worlds where the bizarre is “real.” [* thank you Mr. Show]

Heightening Emotional Agreement exercise

HEIGHTENING EMOTIONAL AGREEMENT CIRCLE – A player makes a Self Contained Emotional Statement. It can be as simple as “I love it here,” “I hate the arts,” or “I’m uncomfortable.” Then progressively each person to the right heightens the perspective by agreeing with it – essentially with a “Yes, and.” “I love the beach.” “Yeah, I love the white sand.” “Yeah, I love getting my tan on.” Etc. The initiator gets the final addition. And then the person to their right starts a new SCES.
• Repeating Agreement is funny – what’s better than one person who believes something strange? Two people who feel that same way.
Agreement fosters collaborative building – many people united behind one emotional perspective will be able to heighten creative details to apexes beyond the reach of any single person.

Agree (even if you don’t). Heighten that emotion (even if you don’t personally feel that way).  I love this clip and its players enthusiastic agreement.

Performers are David Pratt and Cindy Nester.