Linked By Patterns

The Johnsons‘ performances account for the majority of this site’s videos. Why? I’m their coach. That means A) I love them, B) their work often reflects Improv As Improv Does Best characteristics and C) theirs are the recordings that are the easiest for me to get.genetics

But I have been a bad coach lately and have missed their recent shows.

BUT this past Saturday, 2/23/19, I saw The Johnsons perform with another Coalition house team, Detective. Detective’s coach is Scott Beckett, a Johnson.

And when they closed the show by all playing together, it was immediately clear they spoke the same language of Patterns & Games. Without hesitation they followed each other into organic group games, weaving in Tertiary Moves with varying entrances and exits. And the results were hilarious. Continue reading

10 Player Two Person Blackout

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
Continue reading

Blind Following – video example

Don’t let why keep you from following how. You don’t have to decipher what you just saw, you just have to repeat and heighten it.

And I so love when The Johnson’s do something like this that I have to showcase it even if the video cuts off the width of the stage show.  I’m sorry – it’s improv; you had to be there.

On a smaller scale…



Click and Watch This: Kids Boldly Following

My Three Rules – a pattern warm-up

MY THREE RULES – Everyone in a circle.  Here are my three rules.

  • Rule #1: To pass to your right or left, you turn to that person and say their name.
  • Rule #2: To return the pass right back to the person who just spoke to you, say YOUR name.
  • Rule #3: To pass to any player other than the players on your direct left or right, you lock eyes with that person and – in a character voice – say their name.

Have a player start with one of the rules. Guaranteed, the first time they play, they’ll use “my rules” but will not be thinking at all about establishing any rules for when to deploy each move. Continue reading

Pattern Save Example #1 – Lap Organic Game

There are no mistakes in patterns. If a progression builds A, B, C and Z, “Z” is not a mistake, it’s just something to be acknowledged and made part of the pattern. If A, B, C, and Z, then D, E, F and Y.

There are no mistakes in patterns. The clearer and cleaner a pattern builds, the faster it will heighten and the harder it’ll hit for the purpose of editing.

There are no mistakes in patterns.  Whatever happens, don’t give up on the pattern.  Follow whatever happens.

Watch the Organic Game from the Johnsons below. See how the pattern doesn’t build cleanly in a progression to a crescendo within the addition of the first four players on stage. Watch as Player Five enters stage with the proceeding pattern in mind and, rather than abandoning what’s happened, follows his predecessors with a move that secures a solid edit with the audience.

Kick The Duck, Red Rover exercise

Simplifying and Clarifying: The sooner everyone is on the same page, the sooner we can heighten and evolve collaboratively.

Our main tool of simplification is Agreement – the more players that mirror/agree, the less different stuff there is on stage to negotiate.

The more people you’re playing with the clearer you have to be. Our main tool of clarification is Repetition. The first time something happens, it’s random; the second time is purposeful; the third time is expected.

A group of people can take the stage and confidently navigate chaos by focusing outward, seeking symmetries, making differences matter and clarifying sequences of cause and effect through repetition.

Through “Kick The Duck, Red Rover,” players learn to focus outward and make the random purposeful by mirroring, heightening and supporting one another.

KICK THE DUCK, REDROVER – “On the count of three, everyone will be playing a game without words. You will collaborate to establish focus and define the rules of your game. One, two, three, go!” This game starts with impossible chaos but becomes manageable and then successful as the teacher lays on instructions with each iteration and the group feels how to build collaboratively.
• Someone will use gibberish to direct other players’ actions – Stop them and remind them to lead by following
• Ask “How did the game start?” They will tell you about the first move that was made. Remind them that the game started when you said “go.” Have them return to their positions and postures when you said “go.” Ask them to focus outwardly on what is already there at that moment.
Seek Symmetries – Are you standing near someone? Posed like someone? If you seem like you could be aligned with someone, align yourself with them; do what they do. This agreement fosters focus.
Empower Asymmetries – How do the different groupings relate? Make the asymmetries that exist matter. How does one group react to the other? What does one group do to another?
• Have the group shake it off, walk around the room and then, when teacher says “go,” start a new game focused on Seeking Symmetries and Empowering Asymmetries.
• Stop and ask them to walk you through what happened, with players explaining what they saw and what they did in response. Tease out “When X happened, Y happened.”
• “What rules were you playing by?” We want players to observe cause-and-effect and seek to clarify the “rule” with repetition. Make another X happen to make another Y happen. If you see X happen again, make Y happen again. Work to notice not only what is happening, but how what happens relates to what happened before. And pay attention to what happens after. Even if there is no inherent connection between the first set of moves, by working to repeat that sequence we begin to establish rules and clarify group direction.
Everyone is necessarily “playing by their own rules” – but if each individual is committed to simplifying and clarifying then a group direction will emerge.
• If something is not clear, don’t ignore it or play it half-assed, make it clearer – by heightening it or otherwise clarifying the move. If you’re lost, chances are the rest of the group is too. Don’t wait for someone else to clarify what’s going on; take responsibility yourself. The rest of the group will thank you.
• “Can you go back and start this game over?” When they’ve learned to seek symmetries, empower asymmetries, establish and repeat rules of cause and effect, it’s time to get them to Reset the Game Sequence. Have them go back to their initial starting positions and try to do the same game again exactly. It won’t be exact; it will evolve, but it will evolve organically because they are attempting to do it exactly.
If you’re ever lost, return to what was done before – engage a rule again. Restart the sequence. Going through a game again will build clarity and simplifies the amount of stuff in play.
• After they have a great game, they are likely to have a game become super sloppy because they got too excited and stopped leading by following.
Trust the pattern – don’t overcomplicate. The sooner everyone is on the same page, the sooner we can heighten and evolve collaboratively.  My favorite aspect of the video above is how the group clearly starts to have fun with a very simple progression simply because they know how to play and can just play.  We tend to overcomplicate unnecessarily.  And then we end up in our heads trying to figure out how to navigate all our complications.  Keep it simple and have fun with it.


Here’s a video of me teaching the group the Kick The Duck, Red Rover exercise that culminates in the clip above.  It’s long, containing many iterations of the exercise by the group with lots of rambling by me in between those iterations.  But talk about a progression!  Watch them grow: