Mime is critical to improv as improv does best.  We have a blank stage to fill with objects and environment.  We have actions to commit our bodies and attentions to.  We have space between and around us that has weight, volume and density.   We have all this…if we have mime. Continue reading

SWOT #12 – Capping Patterns

A pattern is established. It pops. What if it then gets put away out of play for a while? Tension, that’s what. The ability to Cap a pattern takes restraint and can help increase the impact of the pattern once it returns to play.

A teenage boy confronts his mother with his sinful proclivities. Mom tries to be understanding but her mimed preparation of dinner grows more and more aggressive with every shared sin. In response to the son’s third admission, mom, in her aggression, cuts her finger; “Goddamn, kale,” she shouts. The son relents, going to his mother’s aid with warmth and concern. Together they dress the wound, sharing memories of when she took care of his injuries. Bandaged and soothed with a glass of water that her son poured thoughtfully, mom sighs, “My carelessness will be the death of me.” That reminds the son, “I also once fucked a corpse.” Mom shatters the water glass in her hand; “Goddamn, water!”

Our inclination upon finding something fun for us and the audience is to play it to death. We beat a dead horse until the audience, too, is dead tired of it and then we scramble for something new – an edit having never arrived because our fellow players, excited while the pattern was hot, don’t dare kill the scene in the overplayed-pattern doldrums.

A pattern put away while still hot returns like a volcano. The audience may be caught up in our new pattern and their surprise at the return of a loved reaction is that of seeing an old friend again – “I know that guy!” Maybe, even, the audience thought we forgot the character’s old habit and the return to form evokes the laughter of relief – relief being a proven source of laughter. For the improviser, the ability to cap and re-trigger a pattern – and especially the ability to cap a pattern with another pattern’s trigger – helps facilitate sustainable scenes that yearn not for an edit but rather provide multiple edit points at the nodes of oscillating trajectories.

And one does not need to wait to cap a pattern’s trajectory. “I’m a Tea Party member.” “Fuckhead.” “What’d you call me?” “Luck ahead. I said. For you. I meant.” With triggers and caps so clearly defined so early in the scene we’re quickly playing with dynamite.

Capping Patterns

If this Weakenss is identified, the following posts may prove useful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Two Person Scene theory
* Two Person Scene practical
* My 3 Rules: A Triggers and Caps Warm-up Activity

Mime exercises

Mime: Weight, volume and tension are the key characteristics of a mimed object that help players and the audience “see” the object. If nothing else, be deliberate – your commitment to engaging the environment will enable the audience to accept any weird ass thing you do.

Suggested Exercises:

INVISIBLE TUG OF WAR – Everybody has a tug of war but the rope is invisible, the rules are that the rope must look real, can’t stretch or be elastic. Have a little miming moment: “Feel the rope” etc. We aren’t playing by actual tug of war rules; the point is to have a scene where we look like we are. We aren’t on opposing teams; we’re all on the same “doesn’t this look like a real tug of war?” team.


BUILD A ROOM – With everyone else watching from the audience, a player enters a room through a door (push in?, pull out?, doorknob height?, door weight?), creates one mimed object somewhere in the space, and then leaves through the door. A second player enters, interacts with the first player’s object, creates their own new object, and then leaves. A third player enters, interacts with the first player’s object, interacts with the second player’s object, creates their own new object, and then leaves. Etcetera.
With practice, mime work becomes instinct – So practice. When you’re engaged in an everyday action (brushing teeth, doing dishes, etc.) be conscious of your movements and the objects’ characteristics. Then try to mime those activities without the objects.
Really picture what you’re creating
If something’s not clear to you, don’t avoid it, feel the responsibility to make it clearer for everyone else


DO WHAT YOU DO WHERE YOU DO IT – Have a player engage in a mimed activity they are very familiar with in a space imagined based on their actual house/work/etc. Players from the audience get to ask questions that the player has to respond to in mime (“what’s on TV?”/ “what’s in the corner?”/ “Is it dirty or clean?”).
Leveraging your personal life will make being specific easy


DO SOMETHING TOGETHER APART – Three people up at a time and silently do an action for a couple minutes: Fix your space ship, save your favorite zoo animal, build an instrument from scratch, etc. The activities are mimed and there should be little to no interaction between the players – like they are in their own world, like a split screen.
As long as you commit, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing – three players can all be doing very different things and those activities won’t be in conflict as long as the players don’t address the conflict. Don’t know how to fix a carburetor? Fake it with commitment and everyone will believe you do.