Breaking The Plane definition

Breaking the Plane – Players define where their characters are in relation to each other by choosing where to “look” for that character.

Using this ability, there are so many different cool ways for us to fracture our improv stage – enabling new heights, depths, distances, and other spatial relationships.

For example, in a baseball scene, rather than throwing the ball across the stage to each other, Player A throws the ball toward the audience, as if Player B is in that direction from Player A.  Player B, standing parallel to player A, then receives the ball from the audience.

As mentioned in the video above, Breaking the Plane allow multiple scenes of great expanses to happen side-by-side Split-Screen style to facilitate a Help Desk type game.

Another example is a scene in which a woman looks out her bedroom window and talks to a man on the street below. Rather than trying to convey this physical scenario while looking at each other across the (level) stage, the woman faces out to the audience and looks downward as she talks (as if the man is in a hole in the stage), and the man faces the audience but looks up as he speaks, as if the woman is in the ceiling of the theater. 

Similarly, an improviser can watch his fellow player go up a tall winding staircase by watching the ascent while the ascending player is really standing on the same level stage. We can bang on the ceiling above us to be answered by our stomping on the floor below us.

We can build a whole building with each of us standing side-by-side.

There’s so much we can do!

Climb a building like Adam West’s Batman and Robin did, with players Breaking the Plane to act like people in the building.

Stand side-by-side climbing individual ladders, Breaking the Plane to indicate relative heights.

And of course there’s this old “approaching the bar” chestnut. Never stare directly at each other over a counter for a transaction ever again!

Hey Everybody, come to the bar, to the table, to me (“Got tickets! Who needs tickets?” “Popcorn, get your popcorn!” “Students, attention on me.”)

Rather than be confined to a set-less stage, “breaking the plane” allows improvisers to create a more interesting stage picture. Try something out of this world!


Cut To definition

“Cut-to” – when players doing a scene refer to a particular moment (from the past, future, etc.), a player comes onstage and announces “Cut to: that moment” and we see the moment.

A comfortable ensemble can perform the “cut-to” (also called flashbackshow me, etc.) without telegraphing the move by shouting “Cut to.”  As with walk-ons, a “cut to” should be followed by a “cut back.”

Tag Out definition

Tag out – a “tag out” allows the audience to see how a character from a previous scene will react to another character/scenario/etc.  To perform a tag out, a player enters a scene in progress and literally tags the player that he/she will replace on stage.  The player tagging in should work to be clear in his/her initiation as to what aspect of the original scene s/he is looking to heighten with a new set of stakes/characters/location/etc.

Remember that this is a Tertiary Move and, as such, the move serves what has already been established.  The new scene is not about the newest character (though s/he should also strive to be a dynamic and interesting character) but about serving the initial player.  Therefore a “tag out” should be followed by either A) a series of tag outs, each serving to heighten the progression of the established character game, or B) a “tag back in,” returning the scene to the original pairing.

Example Tag-out Videos:

Scene Painting/”We See” definition

Scene Painting/ “We See” – we can come in from offstage to describe (and physicalize) a previously unseen “visual” aspect of the scene. For example, a pompous character is painted with a monocle, “#1 Boss” button, etc. For another example, a scene with a child bemoaning having to do his/her chores is painted with a window showing a beautiful day outside, an Everest of dishes to clean, etc. This type of move is typically executed by a player entering the scene, not as a character, but, with a verbal aside directed at the audience. “These people are in clown costumes.” “We see this man has a hole through his torso.”

These are Detail moves, but they work best when they are delivered emotionally and when they connect with a character’s emotional behavior. That emotional perspective helps enhance the pattern we’re establishing – we can heighten it with agreement One Person Scene style and/or heighten a progression of emotional perspectives To The Ether style.

Sometimes, while contributing his verbal add-on, Player 3 will wave his hand generally over or toward the area of stage he’s referring to; but a better Player 3 will often define what he’s describing in mime as well as words. In conjunction with “We see this man has a beard,” this Player 3 shows how big and bushy the beard is by cupping and fluffing it with his hands before exiting the scene.

Pivot definition

Pivot (Swivel/Barn Door) – Rather than Tag Out and Tag Back In, the Pivot allows two scenes to happen without players having to leave stage.  For example, Player 1 is telling Player 2 all about his success in last night’s date.  Player 3 enters stage on the other side of Player 1 from Player 2 to initiate a look into the actual date.  Player 1 can pivot between scenes from his central position – turning to Player 3 to do the date scene and then turning back to Player 2 to continue exalting his date prowess.  Players 2 and 3 do not have to leave stage when they’re not in play, they just have to remain frozen or neutral.


You can also watch this video to see a Pivot in action: Johnsons’ Antique Sex Toys

Split Screen definition

Split Screen – To heighten a two-person scene, Player Three and Player Four initiate a new scene – on the same stage, but existing in separate physical spaces. For example, a scene about a married couple fretting over money can be heightened by a couple of mice fretting over cheese.

These two (or more) separate scenes can continue at the same time (usually on opposite sides of the stage), sharing focus back and forth.  While they do not exist in the same physical space, information from one scene affects the other as the focus shifts.

Or…    The original players can fade off stage as the second set of players establishes their scene, and this second set can fade off as the third set establishes their scene.  This is especially useful with smaller numbers of players in a group and can allow themes to heighten faster with subsequent iterations.

Split Screen

Mapping definition

Mapping Exploring an idea through the filter of another scenario’s language and objects. For example, player one is a businessman being bothered by player two, a salesman.  If in trying to get the salesman to leave him alone the businessman uses language that we all recognize from a “break-up scenario,” such as “it’s not you it’s me,” the scene will be infinitely more interesting.  If the salesman reacts to this break-up with the same emotion that any boyfriend or girlfriend would, then we really have a scene.

FXX’s “Man Seeking Woman” is a master class in Mapping.  It’s their thing!

Check out this clip where the idea of out-maturing your “bro” friends is mapped over the language and objects of a “surrendering your dog to a shelter” scenario –


Check out this one where the idea of your friend prioritizing a girlfriend is mapped over the language of a “military ritual of giving condolences for the dead” scenario –


Or how about this clip where the idea of making enough money to afford “good beer” is mapped over the language and objects of a “graduation” scenario.


Now, like Seinfeld, this carefully-scripted show gives us aspirations for improvisation but in improvisation we mustn’t hold ourselves to its standard.  Obviously the show’s use of cuts, props and cinematic tropes will always enable film to do mapping with less reliance on the articulation of juxtaposed scenarios.

In “Man Seeking Woman” just about every scene is a mapping scene and each show contains at least three mapped tropes (if not singularly devoted to one trope like the marvelous “Woman Seeking Man” of second season). Good luck to any improv group attempting that feat!

But the clips above provide guidance as to how an improv group – all educated on mapping and with ears tuned for mapping’s flags – can initiate mapping

A character takes on the characteristics of a caricature – as in the “Bro Shelter” clip. A character established as a “bro” starts exhibiting characteristics of a “dog.” And that move inspires the full-on mapping of a “Bro/Dawg Shelter.”  If we are quick to establish a strong character we can add a layer with mapping that strengthens the character and provides direction for heightening.

The caricatures from the mapped reality start talking about the details of another – more relatable – reality – as in the “Negotiator v Texter” clip.  The cops (never before seen on the show / new to the scene) in cop dialogue discuss the potentially explosive situation of a guy on the verge of sending a terrible text message.  If we see a theme we want to heighten, we can bring on new caricatures to approach the established idea from a new angle.

A character’s situation gains more emotional stakes from the weight of a mapped-on scenario – as in the “Graduated to Good Beer” clip. To cap off an episode wherein Josh struggles between pursuing a career and chasing his dreams, he embraces his day job’s paycheck as in what could have been complacence but becomes triumph when mapped onto a graduation ceremony.  If characters are engaged in an activity as benign as buying beer, a host of tertiary characters can endow the activity with more emotional resonance simply by having strong emotional reactions to the activity.

God, I love mapping.

Damn, I miss “Man Seeking Woman.”