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Posts from the Improv Games & Warm-ups Category

Getting the hang of Harold takes time, and third beats tend to be trickiest. Really, it’s about mashing up characters and making connections in the world you just invented. It’s that second part – making connections – that can seem scary, leading to hesitation on the sidelines.

Here’s a way to help get past the fear. This warm-up shows how putting two things together is just plain fun, however it turns out.

Photo © New York Musical Improv Festival

Part One: Freak Tag

First, play a regular game of Freak Tag. Someone is “It” and they try to tag people. Once you’re tagged, you maintain whatever physicality you were in at the time you were tagged, until you tag someone else. Then you can resume your regular posture.

This continues until the Coach calls it.

Part Two: Zombie Tag

Again, just a regular ol’ game of Zombie Tag. One person is a Zombie, and they slowly lumber around trying to tag people. Once you’re tagged, you too are a Zombie. Unlike Freak Tag, everyone stays a Zombie until the last person is undead.

Part Three: Freaks & Zombies

Now let’s connect them.

One person is designated a Zombie to start. When they touch someone, that person stays in whatever physicality they were in (and makes any sound they were making) at the time they were tagged.

They’re now part of the Freak-Zombie Army, as it were, and must tag others in their lumbering freakish way until everyone is a brain-eating superfreak.

Variation

Take your own two favourite warm-ups and put ‘em together.

Love Big Booty? Got a fondness for Beastie Rap? Combine the two and see what happens. It’ll probably be a total headfuck, but that’s half the fun of warm-ups. Try it at your next rehearsal.

 

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Confession time: I love The B-52s. So it’s no surprise that Hey Fred Schneider, What Are You Doing? is one of my favourite warm-ups (second only to Beastie Boys Rap).

And now Thomas Middleditch has both explained and immortalised it for us on Conan.

For the record, my all-time favourite answer was from my friend and teammate, Matt Wolodarsky. His response?

“I’m filling out crosswords like Pamela Anderson!”

Matt Besser has said that the only good warm-up is One-Word Pattern Game. Matt Walsh insists it’s Eights. Wherever you stand on warm-ups, you’re going to do a lot of them in your improv life.

If the thought of doing Big Booty again makes you look for the nearest exit, why not skip a structured warm-up and just talk with your team instead? Not in clusters of two or three, but as a group. This is really important.

Almost all teams have sub-cliques, which are obvious once the team hits the stage and the same two or three go into scenes together who always do.

If you missed rehearsal or don’t see other team members very often, it’s important to stay connected with each other’s lives.

You can stand in a circle outside the theatre or sit in the green room, then take turns saying one thing that happened to you that day or week. It can be good, bad, sad, exciting, or boring. Even the most mundane things can suddenly float to the surface, turning up later in a scene or group game.

It can simply be something you observed. I snapped the photos below from the streetcar. “To-ne Sushi” made me think of “Tony Sushi,” and together with “Cameron House,” struck me as funny names for characters…but your inspiration could be anything. Maybe you went to Queen Video, and that inspires a scene about a store that only sells videos of the rock group Queen.

Sharing anecdotes about your job, your family, your life is one way to get to group mind faster. The most important thing about any warm-up is to loosen you up and get you ready to have fun together.

Go team!

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Channel your inner Django with this fast and fun ice breaker. Like Knife Throw, it’s great for a group of people who don’t know each other, and helps sharpen awareness and reaction times.

To begin, everyone stands in a circle with one person in the centre.

That person points at someone else in the circle and yells “Draw!”

The person being pointed at must duck down as quickly as possible to avoid being shot. At the same time, the person directly on either side of him has to shoot him while yelling “Bang!”

If the person doesn’t duck in time, he (or she) dies. If they duck down before they are shot, they’re safe.

If the players on either side shoot each other simultaneously, they’re both safe. But if one says “Bang!” after the other, he or she is dead.

If you think you’ve been shot, own the shit out of it and die a dramatic death. It’s not about being Superman, it’s about the fun of accepting whatever happens.*

When only two players remain, they stand back-to-back for a duel to the death. The Coach/Director yells “Draw!” and both players turn and shoot. The quickest on the draw wins.

Oh and by the way: this is one time when it’s OK to mime a “finger gun.”

*(Thanks to Jet Eveleth for this tip.)

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This game uses physicality to find a character, heighten and explore it. Our thanks to Todd Stashwick for teaching us.

To begin, players walk around the room in a neutral gait. As you walk, become aware of what part of your body you normally lead with. It may be your nose, forehead, chest, shoulders, hips, knees… Whatever it is, heighten it.

Stay in this exaggerated walk for a minute or so, then be the complement to that walk. For example, if you were walking with your shoulders slumped and stomach protruding, throw your shoulders back and suck your stomach in.

Walk in your new character for a while, then be the complement to that walk. After 30 seconds or so, become the complement to that walk.

Staying in this last physicality, stop and find something in your environment. Reach out and shape the space in front of you. Feel space push back as you work with the object.

What have you found?

Is it heavy or light, large or small, rounded or angular? Feeling the weight and shape of the object, think about your name, age and occupation.

Remember your physicality and newfound characteristics as everyone takes a seat. At the front of the room are two chairs, angled towards each other. The Coach/Director sits in one. He or she will play the Interviewer, whose task is to hire a super spy.

The qualified applicant must know twelve languages, be a mixed martial arts expert, have excellent sniper skills, be able to crack codes and hack into enemy computers, etc. etc. Think James Bond meets S.H.I.E.L.D. on steroids.

The Interviewer buzzes an off-stage assistant to bring in the next job applicant. He or she then interviews as many unqualified applicants as there are players.

Each person’s unsuitability for the job will be revealed as the Interviewer questions them about their experience (or lack of), physical (dis)abilities,  personality and other quirks or tics.

When the Interviewer can take no more, he buzzes in the next applicant.

As you can see from the photos, it’s more fun than a season of The Americans. Try it at your next rehearsal.

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All photos © Mark Cotoia

We all have emotional reactions to things.

Certain things just make us smile, or give us chills, or make us fly off the handle. It can be something as big as who won the election, or as small as our internet connection being slow.

Unfortunately, we often leave all that behind when we walk on stage. There’s tendency for improvisers to just stand around talking. But when you feel on stage, the audience will respond emotionally, too.

Oscar Moment is a great game for reminding us that anything can provoke an emotional reaction.

To begin, two people start a scene, with or without a suggestion.

The scene proceeds normally, then the Coach/Director (or an audience member) yells “Oscar Moment!”

That’s the cue for the last person who spoke to snap into high gear and heighten, emotionally. Think Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, The Last Detail, The Shining, or, well, just about anything.

Player A: I watered the plants.

Player B: Oh right, I forgot.

Audience Member: Oscar Moment!

Player B: I’m always forgetting. Stupid, stupid, stupid! It’s like someone took a vacuum to my head while I was sleeping, and sucked my brain right out of my earhole. I’m a big, fat, fucking, forgetful loser! I’ll always be a loser!

Or whatever.

The more banal the line that leads to the Oscar Moment, the funnier the results. Once the player has reached their emotional limit, the scene continues until the other person gets called on to emote.

You can choose which emotion you want to heighten in the moment. Mr Forgot-To-Water-The-Plants could have gotten angry, frightened, even lusty, for example.

Variation:

You could also play the game à la William Shatner – however you want to interpret that.

(Thanks to storyteller Sage Tyrtle for the link.)

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

I started to write about Pattern Game* and asked Cameron for his opinion. Of course, his answer was much more interesting than an explanation of how to do it.

And so, POV was born: Point Of View. People On Video. Party On…Valium?

Stay tuned for more POVs with your favourite improvisers. Click here or below to watch.

*For a detailed description of pattern games, see page 29 of Truth In Comedy.

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This short-form game is great for getting out of your head because the constant movement means you don’t have time to plan. It’s also a fun reminder of how body language informs character and dialogue, and the importance of play (something we sometimes forget).

All you need are three players and a chair. As the name suggests, one player must always be sitting, one standing, and one bending over.

Get a suggestion (say, a location that fits on the stage, or a relationship for the three players), then start your scene.

There’ll be a little scrambling as each of you chooses a stance and either sticks with it or changes if someone else already has the same one.

As the scene unfolds you’ll find yourself changing posture either naturally, or on purpose just to mess with your teammates. Half the fun is forcing your scene partners to justify their new posture, or being forced to change and somehow justify yours.

Click here or below to watch improv maestros Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady show us how it’s done.

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This is a short-form classic.

You probably remember it from Whose Line Is It Anyway? Ryan Stiles was usually a hapless chef, forced to mix and eventually eat disgusting concoctions prepared with the “help” of Colin Mochrie.

Even without props, this exercise is a great reminder of the power of body language.

To begin, choose four players. Two people stand with their arms clasped behind their backs. The other two thread their arms through the “holes” on either side, then perform a two-person scene as normal. The players in front do all the talking, while their “helping hands” do all the gesturing.

The contrast between what the audience sees (someone scratching their nose, stroking their chin, or twiddling their thumbs for example) and what’s being said is half the fun.

Here’s a great example (sans words) using dogs. Click below to view.

This warm-up is very physical and a lot of fun. It requires a good-sized floor space for maximum efficacy. It also requires an odd number of players.

Begin by walking around the room, imagining you are all ants, walking on the top of a giant graham cracker that’s floating in a glass of milk.

The object is to keep the cracker balanced at all times. In order to do this, players must try to fill the negative spaces between them evenly.

Start by walking slowly at first, then gradually get faster. The Director may coach people “There’s a space! Somebody fill it!” etc., to keep the cracker from tipping over.

When everyone is almost running across the surface of the graham cracker, the Director tells players to partner up.

One person will be left without a partner. The group is then told to move away from that person and look at them.

The Director asks the lone person how they feel. The answer may be “bad,” “lonely,” “left out,” “stupid,” or something along those lines.

The group then runs the exercise again. This time when the Director says “Grab a partner,” people will tend to do so faster, because they don’t want to be left alone.

The third time around, everything will be faster still, and people will practically claw each other to get a partner.

The Take-away:

• We begin to become more aware as the game progresses – there is no phoning it in.

• Despite silly circumstances or rules, we begin to play the game (scene) more seriously and with real emotional attachment, both to the balance of the cracker, and to not being left alone.

• Because we started to feel something real (tired, frustrated, giddy, joy, etc.) during this, we then have to trust we can do the same things on stage if we take the scene and let it affect us.

(Thanks to Greg Hess for his help with this post, and to 500 Clown for the exercise.)