“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
It’s all about the Set move.
Remember: Anything’s an Offer.
A group of improvisers gather pre-show. They take off excess clothes. They empty their pockets. They ask about each other’s day.
One guy tells a story about an out-of-the-blue run-in with an old friend that happened that day.
Another improviser tells her own story about an even more random out-of-the-blue run-in with an even older friend.
And an organic warm-up is off running.
An improviser notices two of his compatriots are bent down tying their shoes so he mirrors them. A fourth follows. A fifth.
And an organic warm-up is off running.
An awkward group of improvisers gravitates into a pre-show circle, wanting to find something organic, not wanting to force anything. One guy starts mirroring another’s nervous hand wringing. A girl coughs so someone else does. Someone laughs. They all laugh.
And an organic warm-up is off running. Continue reading
Learn rigidly. Play loose.
The Johnsons are the most dyed-in-the-wool Improv As Improv Does Best group there is. Makes sense. I coach them.
They were taught the contents of this website. They learned the mechanics of spontaneous collaboration. But the desire has never been for them to conform to one style of improv as dictated by their lessons. Rather the goal is always providing tools unique improvisers can utilize to enhance their personal approach.
The Johnsons are at their best when they Continue reading
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, “I love me some Johnsons.”
Check out this great example as Improv As Improv Does Best…in the face of “mistakes.”
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.”
• Establish Siloes – What can be the filter through which your contributions come? 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
“Welcome to Crappy Car Mountain.”
“The mountain’s top is held on with duct tape.”
“Cellophane bushes rustle in the wind.”
“This one side is a different color than all the rest of it.”
Looking for a fun warm-up to get your ensemble playfully building a world together? Here’s one! Continue reading
The Johnsons have been working on building a more collective world in their long form performances.
One tool they’ve practiced is using their scene edits to establish and heighten an organic pattern progression.
And on January 16th, 2016 they did it on stage for the first time. Watch. Enjoy.
First time is random. Second time is purposeful. Third time is expected.
Hey Everybody game mechanics allow a group to build a focused direction out of disparate parts. They are so named because, though they have wider applications, they are useful to a player in navigating a scene initiated with a rush of players to the stage.
When Townsend Hart starts The Johnsons‘ group game with “Emergency meeting,” we get a rush of players to the stage. Now, instead of quickly establishing a sequence in which every player gets to contribute in the scene’s early goings, this particular Hey Everybody game starts off in the call and response category of initiator as facilitator that I caution against – Townsend speaks, then Scott speaks, then Townsend again. The danger here is that with the initiator interjecting between each other player’s comments, it can take a long time to get through players, which can seem stilted. And an audience’s eyes start to drift to s/he who hasn’t contributed yet, which can both be distracting.
How do The Johnsons surmount this potential obstacle? Watch.
Something fun happens in the Cat Pelts organic group game performed by The Coalition‘s Fall 2015 Patterns and Games class.
Four improvisers enter stage together and navigate the chaos by Seeking Symmeteries. And the audience stays with them through the initial uncertainty because they’re comfortable and committed.
I adore this scene.
In just over a minute 10 players flood the scene. They evolve by following and reacting. Even though a central player emerges, there is no leader.
Listen to the audience’s reaction. Yes, it comes at a great place in the pacing of a pattern-heavy show. Yes, the final line is a reference to an emergent theme.
But what the audience loves is the confident collaborative creation of something out of nothing. It almost doesn’t matter what Hannah says, the audience is going to love that she made a strong emotional choice to define the swell around her. They’ve been rapt the entire time – never doubting that the group was building toward something because the group never appeared in doubt. The audience is having fun because the players are clearly having fun.
And then of course after Hannah drops her line the group has the good sense to edit the scene, rendering it a Blackout, which plays beautifully into the pacing of the larger show.
I adore this scene.
Players are: Gerard Antoine, Sarah Berday-Sacks, Kevin Clatterbuck, Michael Farmer, Patrick Gaskill, Zachary Mann, Hannah Rumsey, Geoff Stone, Vince Sunga, Carter Tait and Elliot Wegman