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!


Focusing Stage Picture exercises

Focusing Stage Picture: Staging an environment in a group game breeds potential complications as players abandon pattern for roles and over-prioritize explaining who they are and what they’re doing. But attention to the elements of stage picture can help focus a group scene and facilitate quick collaborative heightening.

Suggested Exercises:

STAGE PICTURE TABLEAUS – One by one, players enter stage, fleshing out a picture with static poses and/or repetitive motion. Teacher gives a suggestion of a location, for example, “Apple Orchard,” “Beach,” “Race Track.”
• Players tend to want to fill in all the possible roles in a location. An orchard has pickers, trees, baskets, landscapers, squirrels.
• Ask “Where’s the focus?” They won’t know.
Build deliberately with agreement – There’s no reason we can’t all be trees. A scene about five trees and one squirrel will be easier to find and heighten faster than a scene where six separate entities struggle for reason to exist.
Seek symmetries; empower asymmetries
• Ask “Is this a One Person, Two Person, or Three Person Scene?”
• Ask “Who should talk first?”
• Have them point out the groups, defining focus. Point out Upstage/Downstage distinctions for focus. Point out who can see who, and so who has to take their cues from who
• Push them to define more and more abstract environments; i.e., NASA, Hell.
• Speed loading – have everyone crowd the space quickly upon hearing the suggestion, making bold choices and seeking symmetries faster.


ONE, TWO, THREE PERSON SCENES – Player build tableaus and then get to talk. Remember, Self Contained Emotional Statements. To start, players should align their emotional perspectives with the other players they are physically mirroring/complimenting.
• Simplify and find focus through agreement in stage picture and emotional perspectives
• There’s no reason we can’t always do One Person Scenes – even if our physicality is different
When you do have groups, don’t fall to negotiations, arguments or other lines of questioning – exploring juxtaposed emotional perspectives is all the scene we need
• Have everyone pick someone to agree with before the suggestion is given – players can mirror/compliment one player’s physicality and another player’s emotional perspective; it can be fun to surrender to being forced into aligning with a perspective despite “sense”

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