Showcasing Students

I’m wishy washy about improv class showcases.

On the one hand, if the point of going through classes is to learn to do performance-ready-level improv, then it seems sadistic to make 101 students “put it up on its feet.”

But on the other, nothing informs an improviser like improvising and all it entails – collaborating to build something out of nothing in-the-moment before a live audience. And so practice in front of a live audience should be part of each course.

So the in-between place becomes preparing each class for a performance that showcases – in grand improv style – all that they learned in class, on top of everything they’ve learned before, within bounds that keep them from stumbling into unknown territory. 

Here are examples of how to do it…from 101 to 401… Continue reading

Name Thumper warmup exercise

NAME THUMPER – Going around the circle, each person (teacher included) associates their name with an action or adjective – “Punching Patrick,” or “Pouting Patrick.”  Go around once more so everyone knows everyone else’s name and action.  Then play progresses with an individual doing their name/action and then another person’s name/action; that person then does their name/action and then another person’s name/action; etc.  You can introduce them to the starting chant – Everyone pats their thighs. You say, “I’m going to say, What’s the name of the game?”, and you’ll say, “Thumper.” Do it. You say, “I’m going to ask, Why do we do it?”, and you’ll say, “To get warmed up.”  Do it. You say, “I’m going to ask, how do we do it?”, and you’ll say, “Fast!” Do it.

Pass “Yes” Around acceptance exercise

PASS “YES” AROUND – A player points at / makes eye contact with another player who accepts by saying “Yes.” The accepted player walks across the circle to stand in the place of the player who said “Yes.” The player who said “Yes” points at / makes eye contact with another player who says “Yes” so they can exchange physical position. And repeat.
Lessons:
Choose and accept – don’t waste time worrying, over-thinking or obsessing about looking silly

Hot Spot bold choice exercise

HOT SPOT (Singing or Monologue) – Players stand in a circle. One player enters the center and begins singing or telling a true, personal story. In no particular order, players enter to take the place of the player in the center to sing a new song or tell their own story.
Lessons:
Hesitate and miss your connection – While players should be encouraged to inspire their moves based on what preceded it, players that wait too long over-thinking their move’s connection is going to miss their chance to enter.
Just start – A player needn’t know all the words to the song or how the story is going to end to enter the circle. Just get out there and start, and commit to continuing confidently.
Focus outward and support your fellow player – don’t be in your head thinking about what you’re going to do while a player is standing in the circle suffering through what they’re doing. Make them look good. Smile at them. Sing along.

Freeze, Thank You bold choice exercise

FREEZE, THANK YOU – Two players assume frozen positions on stage. From the wings, another player says, “Freeze,” confidently enters, taps a player on the shoulder to indicate that they should go to the wings, and assumes a new frozen position in relation to the remaining player.
Lessons:
Confidence sells – Don’t worry about making “sense” with your stage picture. Whatever you do confidently appears purposeful.
Acceptance is the easiest choice – Mirroring is a great default. Whatever Player One does, if Player Two also does it, too, it appears purposeful.
Take inspiration from others – Mirror exactly what they do. OR, complementary mirror what they do (she’s banging a drum; I’ll air guitar). OR, contrast – without opposing – what they do (he’s stretching; I’ll make myself small).

Yes And exercises

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.

Agreement is the improviser’s mantra: “Yes, And.” It’s not Yes “cereal” And “aliens.” Yes, “This porridge is cold,” And “it’s been sitting on the counter for a week.”

We can’t share one mind, but we can make it look like we do if we’re each making a concerted effort to unify all that’s been laid down in a collective direction. Through agreement we can minimize the amount of “stuff” on stage which facilitates focused collaborative building.

“YES, AND” STORY – Everyone stands in a circle. A player starts a story: “Billy loved his turtle.” Starting with the player to the initiator’s left, the group builds the story sentence by sentence, literally saying “Yes, and…” to begin each contribution: “Yes, and Billy and his turtle did everything together.”
Lessons:
Collaborate – a group all heightening a few ideas will reach greater heights than will a group of individuals all focused on their own ideas.
Think back, not forward – the story doesn’t need to get anywhere it just needs to explore where it is. Instead of thinking “What’s next,” think “How can I elaborate on what was just said?”
Callback as Acceptance – referencing what has already been established can be more than any one player’s hilarious new idea. Make each other look good by embracing each other’s details.

I WANT TO SEE, 1, 2, 3 – Everyone stands in a circle. One player begins with “I want to see…” (“an elephant”/ “world peace”). In no set order, players build on this desire with “Yes, and…” (“Yes, and an Asian elephant”/ “Yes, and people making love not war”). After 3 “Yes, and” additions, a player wipes the slate with a brand new “I want to see…” statement.
Lessons:
Share the air – Hesitators, contribute! Stage hogs, give someone else a chance!
Build in one direction – After “Yes, and an Asian elephant,” the group should stay focused on an Asian elephant instead of getting less specific (“Yes, and a big elephant”) or specific in another direction (“Yes, and a carnivorous elephant”).

TWO LINE OFFER AND “YES, AND” SCENES – students form two lines, one on either side of the stage. The player at the head of the stage left line enters stage and makes a statement about who they are, where they are or what else is on stage (“I love being a lumberjack”/“I hate this museum”/“That’s a scary rock”). The player at the head of the stage right line enters and delivers a “Yes, and…” statement (“Yes, and killing trees is awesome”/ “Yes, and the art looks and smells like poop”/ “Yes, and it just moved closer to us”). That’s it. Then the players move to the end of the opposite line.
Variations:
• Players can drop “yes, and” as long as they still embrace and build on each other’s contributions
• Players can have more than one line each
Lessons:
Force agreement – “yes, and” keeps us from arguing, denying, negotiating, etc.
Force choices – there’s no room for questions in “yes, and.” “Yes, and” demands that we add information to the scene.
Repetition alone is heightening – “Yes, and I am also afraid of that rock” is perfectly acceptable. The agreement should be prioritized over cleverness. “Yes, and” me, too is great collaborative building.

Cafe Scenes channeling self exercises

Without scripts, improvisers are dependent on what’s in their head – details from their lives and their personal ability to access emotion in-the-moment.  The audience loves seeing us on tom-waits-ccstage.  Let the audience see you to give them the ability to connect with you and ultimately root for you.

CAFÉ SCENES – Two players sit in chairs facing each other. They are to have a conversation as their authentic selves, trying not to worry about people watching them. Continue reading