Black Box Beats warm-up

Lights come up on black-clad high school students standing on and around wooden boxes of varying heights.

You know what’s coming next.

Staccato sophomoric pretension. A wonder to laugh at, if you’re not in the actual audience and/or have to drive a performer home afterward.

Like with The Invocation, a structure of that kind of high-falutin performance can help us practice the different types of contributions we have available in service of Group Games.

Statements. Words. Sounds – emotional, mechanical, animalistic, etc. Callbacks, Call-and-Response, and Choruses. Each are available to us. Why not utilize the full suite?

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Helicopter Parent Hey Everybody group game

A solid Hey Everybody example. Watch it.  What do you notice?

1. Repetition is heightening. Laura didn’t need to do anything more than repeat “I’m a North Carolina State Mom” to get a laugh at the start of the second pass of the game.  In fact, the audience also laughs with a sense of relieved release – it has been made clear to them that the sequence they witnessed is being made into a pattern.  With the rigid repetition they know they’ve been here before and they’re along for the ride.
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1.3 – Game Mechanics


Some definitions:

Pattern – a sequence that can be repeated / a structure that can be reused

Game – a sequence of actions, related by rules of cause-and-effect, that heightens with repetition

A rocketship, A thumb and An aardvark. That’s a fine pattern. A rocketship, A thumb and An aardvark. A rocketship, A thumb and An aardvark. A rocketship, A thumb and An aardvark. A rocketship, A thumb and An aardvark. Repetition makes the sequence purposeful. And repetition alone is heightening – imagine a room filled with “A rocketship, A thumb and An aardvark” wallpaper.

But in aspiring to elevate pattern work into game play, we focus on two aspects. One, we want a relationship between the nodes of the sequence. And, two, we want a progression of subsequent relationships that heightens the sequence in a concentrated direction.

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1.4 – To The Ether Games


I like Frisbee.
I like hacky sack.
I like hitting this one stick I wrapped in ribbons with these other two sticks I wrapped in different ribbons.
I like the Grateful Dead.
I like acoustic guitar around a beach bonfire.
I like blowing into this diggerydoo I crafted in the company of native Aborigines during the Australian leg of my Peace Corp stint.
I like tie dye.
I like white-girl dreadlocks.
I like the hemp clothing, ropes and cleansing products I handmake and sell in open air markets and on commune tours with all profits going to Amnesty United.
Man, I just like being stoned.

In a To The Ether game, the progression of personal games establishes the pattern, and the scenic game is heightened in that pattern’s evolving repetition.

For focus sake, the pattern is emphasized over any need to contextualize or justify where the players are or who they are to one another. Players can literally deliver their lines into empty spaces without expectation of a conversational response. Thus, “To The Ether” games. Continue reading

SWOT #11 – Pattern Progression

To be most effective our patterns must heighten, either in a concentrated progression or through pure repetition. In building a progression, we focus on the relationship of Offer, Set and Cement moves to define how we heighten as a group. The Offer is anything, an initiation. From the Offer’s single point in space on a blank stage, the Set move seeks to define a relationship of heightening. The Cement move seeks to clarify the relationship between the Set and Offer moves through its own relationship with the Set move. If a then B then C. A heightened sequence will pop and evoke an edit (with C) and/or clarify a continued direction (…then D then E…).  But what if a then B then z? All is never lost. The only mistake we make in forging a collaborative pattern is not incorporating every contribution. Through repetition we make every move purposeful. Through repetition, if a then B then z then c then D then y.

Attention to the relationship between Offer, Set and Cement moves enables a clear, heightening pattern. While through repetition any sequence can be made into a pattern, the earlier we cement a pattern the easier it will be to heighten and evolve.  Without attention to pattern progression, sequences of moves risk becoming a string of randomness that ultimately exhausts and disengages the audience, or a categorically-related but flat run of moves (i.e. apple then strawberry then grape then watermelon then pear…) that ultimately bores and disengages the audience.

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Game Mechanics
* Pattern Into Game Exercises
* The “To The Ether” Game Rubric
* To The Ether Exercises
* The “Help Desk” Game Rubric
* Help Desk Exercises
* The “Hey Everybody” Game Rubric
* Hey Everybody Exercises
* Organic Group Games
* Building Patterns of Emotional Behavior in “Two Person” Scenes

Heightening Emotional Agreement exercise

HEIGHTENING EMOTIONAL AGREEMENT CIRCLE – A player makes a Self Contained Emotional Statement. It can be as simple as “I love it here,” “I hate the arts,” or “I’m uncomfortable.” Then progressively each person to the right heightens the perspective by agreeing with it – essentially with a “Yes, and.” “I love the beach.” “Yeah, I love the white sand.” “Yeah, I love getting my tan on.” Etc. The initiator gets the final addition. And then the person to their right starts a new SCES.
• Repeating Agreement is funny – what’s better than one person who believes something strange? Two people who feel that same way.
Agreement fosters collaborative building – many people united behind one emotional perspective will be able to heighten creative details to apexes beyond the reach of any single person.

Agree (even if you don’t). Heighten that emotion (even if you don’t personally feel that way).  I love this clip and its players enthusiastic agreement.

Performers are David Pratt and Cindy Nester. 

Emotional Decision Making exercises

Emotional Decision Making: If you are to “choose one thing” entering a scene, emotion is always a strong choice.  It doesn’t matter what the choice was if you commit.  And choosing to decide without deference to “sense” can make for fun unique scenes.

Suggested Exercises:

EMOTIONAL CHOICE CIRCLE– Player One makes a decision of what emotion they will use to react to Player Two through.  Then Player Two says anything.  And Player One has the previously decided upon emotional reaction to the anything.  (“I have a dog” / “Fucking Christ!”)
A committed emotion will always trump sense – if you just feel you never have to explain how/why you feel what you do.
Any emotion works – if we try to “understand your motivation” before making a choice about how to feel, you’ll end up in a scene that’s been done a million times before. But, if you make a choice about how to feel before any context is established, then that scene has the potential to be different than any that’s been seen before (“I’m the first Johnson graduating college” / “Ooooh, my god.  I’m so scared”).


EMOTIONAL LAY UP LINES – Player One makes a decision of what emotion they will use to react to Player Two through.  Then Player Two enters the stage to engage Player One and Player Two responds through their chosen emotional perspective (“Hi” / “I love you”).  Give the scenes a few lines back and forth.
Repetition is the only justification you need – If emotional offers are not aligned (“It’s so beautiful”/ “I’m so depressed”), don’t waste your time negotiating which feelings are valid; just heighten the juxtaposed feelings (“The colors in this sunset – breath taking” / “So much pollution”; “The deep reds, bright purples…”/ “The black in our lungs”).


BLIND SCENES –  Player One starts engaged in the environment (with an action, object, atmosphere, etc.).  Player Two, starting with his back to the stage, has the first line of dialogue.
Commitment is the only justification you need – If players’ initiations don’t align, they don’t have to make sense of why they’re together.  They can just accept and heighten what’s happening.


EYE CONTACT SCENES – Players One and Two have to make statements back and forth without breaking eye contact.  For the sake of the exercise, these scenes can consist of two players standing center stage as talking-heads.
Harder to assert when pressured – We tend to want to ask questions or make weak statements when forced up against our scene partners.   We have to be (or at least “seem”) confident even in the face of demanding insecurity.

Memory exercises

Remember what you like; Repeat: We have to listen and retain so we can return to and heighten established information. Memory is a muscle to exercise. But the exercise can be fun – focus on what makes you laugh, what engages you.

Suggested Exercises:

STORY STEALING – Everyone in a circle. One at a time, players enter the center and tell a true, personal, 30 Second Story. Once everyone has told a story, the teacher tells the class that players now have to enter the center and recreate someone else’s story. Every story should be revisited once by another player.
• Don’t mock; mirror – this is not about making fun of each other, it’s about making each other look good by remembering their story
• Remember specifically – remembering a few specific details will be more powerful than remembering everything generally
• Remember reactions – our emotional reactions are improv gold; focus on those when setting other player’s stories to memory
See what’s not shown – recreating what our fellow players initially did subconsciously is great fun. How do they stand? How do they move? What do they sound like?

SCENE STEALING – Two players do a scene. Two different players redo the scene, repeating and heightening details, characters, stakes, and emotion.
• We remember the good stuff – they’ll drop questions, carry over specifics, and remember good stuff, point that out.
The bad stuff becomes good when we repeat it make each other look good! The first time is “random”; the second time is “purposeful”; the third time is “expected.
Don’t skimp on the emotion – Player Two might have been simply overwhelmed during the Offer dialogue, but Player Three and Four heighten the emotion of being overwhelmed characters.