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.

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

Conversation Party channeling self exercise

CONVERSATION PARTY – Players stand on stage in multiple groups of two or three people. Players are “at a party” as themselves, speaking as themselves to other who are also themselves. The teacher conducts focus from one conversation to the next.
Lessons:
Be specific – You don’t have to try so hard to be funny. You just have to be specific. The surprise inherent to improvisation is made even more satisfying when we’re specific in-the-moment.
React – The audience reaction of “I would have said that,” or “I know a woman who would have said that,” is such a satisfying response for any performance medium. In improvisation, that power is compounded as the audience knows that your reaction was “your” reaction in-the-moment.
Connect – don’t just sit in your head waiting for your next turn to speak, listen to what’s going on around you, let it seep in and affect you.
Juxtapose – we don’t have to discuss our differences or negotiate out one “truth.” A party group who loves cats standing next to a group that loves dogs doesn’t need to engage in a fight. The audience sees both groups and wants both heightened next to each other.

“Here’s What I Know” self channeling exercise

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW – One player takes the stage with everyone else in the audience. Audience, with teacher moderating, asks the player very technical or nonsensical or just hard questions. The player presents him/herself as an expert in all areas and is therefore able to confidently respond to all questions.
Lessons:
• Emotions are always trump – A maniacal laugh. A dismissive ‘pshaw.’ Even an awkward misdirection. All of these non-informative but emotional responses keep a player in control.
Decisiveness is king – struggling to the right answer is rarely as satisfying as quickly deciding on any answer.
Commitment is all the sense you need – players can get hung up on thinking through responses that “make sense.” Forget sense. Just make a choice and stand by it confidently. Commitment to making a decision despite sense will make your response sound “right” even if it isn’t and/or it’ll focus the scene on your “wrong” character instead of the Q&A “stuff,” which is awesome.
Committed, You Can Stand By Yourself – you can be on stage alone for 30 seconds or for five minutes. Commit to yourself. Don’t rely on meeting your scene partner center stage before the scene starts. You can be alone.

I Am Superman self channeling exercise

I AM SUPERMAN – Everyone stands in a circle. One at a time, each player will enter the circle, say “I am [NAME] and for the next 30 seconds, I am Superman” at which point the teacher will start a timer and the player does whatever they want until the time is up at which point everyone claps and the next player takes the circle. Players around the circle are NOT to interact with the player in the center. The player in the center should be encouraged to do something they’ve been told they need to do more of on stage. Do mime. Be emotional. Stand still. Doesn’t matter.
Lessons:
• Surrender to your group – let go of ego, let your team know that you’re ready and willing to commit to being awkward in front of them.
• It sucks to be alone – don’t let your fellow players suffer on stage alone. Get out there and support each other.