Mirror, Action, Object an exercise in personal active stakes

Nothing bugs me more than a scene where two improvisers meet stage center, stare only at each other and talk only to and about each other.

I get it. Your stage partner is truly the only other active element on stage with you. But, c’mon, show some imagination.

The audience likes to see us interact with things we imagine. The audience loves to see us care about things we imagine. The audience f*#king adores when what we imagine makes us feel.

If you and/or the ensemble you’re in and/or the ensemble you coach are having the tendency to do centerstage talking heads scenes then this warm-up exercise might be right for you.
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Massage Convention Hey Everybody group game

“A Massage Convention’s an HR hotbed.” –> “If OSHA says this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

With Hey Everybody mechanics in our back pocket we can confidently jump into chaos knowing that all we need to do is each stick and heighten our individual perspectives while collectively sticking to the order of individual contributions. With these tools we harness the power of the chaos, enabling it to swell and pop.

We can relax, too, in the knowledge that every player doesn’t need to nail it; they just need to participate. Especially in that first pass, what’s most important is just for each player to say/do something, anything. And if “anything” is too broad and therefore crippling then we remember that we can always align and agree with one another as well.

Watch this example. Note how the first pass gets established – who agrees with whom, who has a different perspective, who doesn’t speak. How many different perspectives would you say are in play among these 7 improvisers?


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Personal & Scenic Games in a two person scene video example

To establish sustainable scenes, it is helpful to remember that each player on stage can have at least one Personal and Scenic game at their disposal to heighten.

Personal Game  how you react to who you are, where you are or what you’re doing
* I love cake; when I eat a piece I’m overcome with joy and I sigh involuntarily

Scenic Game  how you react to who your scene partner is, what your scene partner is doing or how your scene partner is acting 
* Greg is my hero; when he criticizes me I’m destroyed and flagellate myself
* We are scared of ghosts; when we hear a noise we freak and run around

The games represent a pattern of behavior established through evolving rules. Establishing and leveraging these games A) enable players to react through rather than think through scenes and B) engage the audience, letting them know our characters through their patterns of emotional behavior and care about them.


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Two Person Musical Improv example videos

Audiences love Musical Improv.  LOVE it.  They know you’re collaborating in-the-moment to build something out of nothing AND YOU’RE FOLLOWING A TUNE AND YOU’RE RHYMING!!!

Musical Improv is hard.  It’s hard to make up with songs in-the-moment. It’s harder still to make those songs a backbone to a compelling story, with rich character and emotion.  It’s harder still to do it with only two people on stage (and one accompanist off-stage).

But Karen Lange and Jordan Hirsch‘s Vox Pop make it look easy.

Character & Relationship Trump Plot in this video example from Jive Turkey

Jive Turkey is Chris Ulrich and Joe Randazzo. They’ve been working on a two-man format where all the worlds connect.

There’s certainly a through-line of a plot here – finding one character’s spouse, trying to have a threesome with said spouses, etc. – but what I like here is that the worlds are more connected by emotional characters and their words than by the plot.

Buh-duh, buh, buh, buh,…”…enjoy it!

 

Blackout video example

A “Blackout” is a short scene with one big punchline.  In sketch, or in improv with a tuned-in booth operator, the lights would go out on stage after the punchline, designating the end of the scene and earning the name “blackout.”

Blackouts are fun.  They can help vary the pacing of a long-form show.  They can be great when it’s clear there’s not going to be a bigger laugh beyond the first big punchline, but even if there is life beyond the punchline it can be enjoyable to cut the scene “early” so you can bring it back later.  Will Hines and I had a scene where, in crossing stage, he asked if I had “a roll of quarters in my pants.”  I did, I removed it and that was the end of the scene.  Later in the show he asked if I was smuggling a zucchini in my pants; again, I was.  Repeat.

I really love this Blackout from Horse Apples’ District Indie Improv Fest Show.  Joey Tran kills it by being authentic.  Truth is he doesn’t believe he can whistle; that’s honest frustration in his “no” to my question.  And the audience believes him. So when he tries – and he legitimately tries because, again, he doesn’t think he can – and, lo and behold, he succeeds!, the surprise is also genuine.  Honest, in-the-moment, shared with an engaged audience, emotionally reactive… that’s improv as improv does best, folks.

My 200th Post: Improv & Me

I love improv and believe (when my heart and head are in it) that I’m good at it, too.  Here are some other things I love and believe myself to be good at.  They share some skills with improvisation.  Am I good at improv because I am good at these things, or am I good at these things because I’m good at improv?  Doesn’t matter; who cares.

What’s fun is thinking about how the skills involved in these activities translate into being good at improv.  Enjoy!

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