Etiquette for starting an improv scene

Whoever makes the first move to edit, should get the first chance to initiate. It doesn’t matter how awesome your idea is. If they were a half second ahead of you, let them start an activity first and let them say the first line.

Perhaps one of these have happened to you in an improv show.

It’s time to edit a scene. One player makes a sweep edit, and everyone else hesitates before joining. Finally someone joins, but the first player doesn’t see them, and waves for someone else to join the scene too. Now there are three people in the scene. They each make fumbled initiations, and the scene stumbles forward as they try to make it work.

Or perhaps you’ve done this. You walk on stage and start doing an activity. You say nothing. No one joins for a really long time, perhaps because they can’t make sense of what you’re doing. Finally someone does come on stage and immediately says something that contradicts what you have created. You freeze because you’re not sure if you should drop your initiation or clarify what you’re doing.

Maybe you have done this. Continue reading “Etiquette for starting an improv scene”

Just try nodding yes

I came across an extremely simple idea to help improvisers who have trouble with agreement, which is just about everybody. Just nod your head yes when you are listening to your scene partner. I tried it in a class recently and it works quite well. You don’t have to think specifically about yes anding what they say. Just nod yes a couple of times, especially right before you speak. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to agree to what they’ve initiated.

I thought of trying this because of two things. First, I had heard of a study that asked some people to nod yes while they listened to an editorial. Afterwards, they were more inclined to say they agreed with the editorial than people who were encouraged to shake their head no while listening. The difference was rather large, not just a statistical blip. It suggests that nodding your head up and down causes something in your subconscious to make your conscious thoughts more agreeable. Second, I watched the video of a show that my class had performed. I was looking for things we could work on for the next class. In the first moment of the first scene, before anyone started talking, one of the students was shaking his head no… even before he heard the initiation of his scene partner. Watching that made me think of that study. And that made me think, “I’m going to make my students nod yes constantly and see what happens.”

And you know what? It worked. They actually were much more agreeable. I suppose that doesn’t really prove anything. This was directly after I gave them several notes about how they weren’t agreeing very well in their show. So perhaps it was simply a physical reminder to be more agreeable, but it sure seemed to work.

There were a few students who struggled with it. They didn’t like nodding. Perhaps it felt a little silly or artificial. But if they really tried nodding, they had no problem agreeing.

The day after the class Robert, my assistant teacher, pointed out that he thinks that more than a couple of great of improvisers do this unconsciously and he gave a couple examples. I think he’s right, and I’m going to do it regularly too until it becomes an unconscious reflex for me.

Update September 17, 2016: Today in class I encouraged students mix affirmative words and utterances while nodding. For instance saying things like yes, uh-huh, right, and yep while their scene partner was talking. It really does work.

Emotional Yo-yo

Emotional Yo-Yo is an approach to creating dynamic, interesting improv scenes with games that are playable, surprising and funny.

Last week I wrote about reacting strongly to innocuous lines from your scene partner to immediately create interesting moments. It’s quite easy. Just listen to your scene partner, take what they say personally, and respond in way that is specific, strong and believable. That’s a great way to create a single moment, but to make a great scene you need to learn how to play with it.

Here is an exercise called Emotional Yo-yo:

  • Start a simple scene: like two people involved in an everyday activity. Don’t prethink it too much. Just start talking.*
  • One player should choose to react strongly to something from the other player. Once someone reacts in this way, they are the yo-yo and the other player is the hand.
  • If you are the hand, you should play with the yo-yo. Your job is to do and say things that either provoke the yo-yo or placate the yo-yo.
  • If you are the yo-yo, your job is to be affected. Every reaction doesn’t have to be absurdly strong, but often it is. Sometimes the hand will push you away, sometimes the hand will pull you back, sometimes the hand will spin you around. You should be flexible and let yourself be moved.

Some hints and notes

Continue reading “Emotional Yo-yo”

IRC Podcast with Rachael Mason

I’ve posted a new episode of the IRC Podcast. Rachael Mason, Second City teacher, talks about giving gifts, emotional responses vs. clever lines, 10 minute scenes, playing against type, deconstructions, invocations, bad habits and stage combat.

IRC Podcast with Paul Grondy

I’ve posted a new episode of the IRC Podcast. The guest is Paul Grondy who has been teaching at iO in Chicago since 1997. He teaches students how to do the Harold and so we talk about Harold structure, the principles of group work, being tender and heartfelt, knowing what you know, and group things.

Two links I mentioned in the intro:

IRC Podcast with Megan Johns

The latest episode of Improv Resource Center Podcast is up. I interview Megan Johns, a teacher at The Annoyance and a member of the New Colony. We talk about improv newbies, hybrid improv classes, and using improv to write plays. Megan’s latest show with the New Colony is 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche which runs through the end of July.

Get it into your body

I’m learning to play guitar. It is a tough, slow process. If I have a new chord to learn, it takes a lot of repetitions before that chord becomes second nature. I have to practice that shape with my fingers many times. I have to practice changing from chords that I already know to the chord I’m learning. The goal is to play that chord as quickly and as easily as I might say a phrase or sing a melody. But it doesn’t come with one lesson or with one or two practice sessions. It takes many sessions over many days and weeks and sometimes months for me to learn to play a chord with that kind of ease.

Sometimes I think we expect improv to work differently. Continue reading “Get it into your body”

IRC Podcast with Joe Bill

The latest episode of Improv Resource Center Podcast is up. Joe Bill teaches Power Improv workshops in Chicago and around the country. He is one half of BassProv with Mark Sutton and one half of SCRAM with Jill Bernard. He also teaches at iO and has taught at the Annoyance before that.

I first got to know Joe Bill back in the 1990s. He was teacher over at the Annoyance when I was at iO. He coached Georgia Pacific, a very talented team at iO and eventually joined that team. Similarly he joined Inside Vladimir after some of the original members had moved on. I joined not long after that and it was then that we first really got to know each other. It’s always fun talking to him, because he has lots of experience and plenty of passion when it comes to improv.

IRC Podcast Live in New York

This past weekend, I was in New York for a visit. It was a fun whirlwind of events. I arrived on Friday in time to rehearse with my 3 on 3 team and play in one of the first round shows on Friday night. On Saturday, I taught a workshop and performed four times, once in a jam in the basement of a bar on seventh avenue, once at the Magnet Theater with Theory of Everything, and two more shows at the UCB–we made it to the finals of the 3 on 3 Tourney. Sunday, was all about my podcast.

Continue reading “IRC Podcast Live in New York”

IRC Podcast with Evan Linder

I uploaded episode 15 last week on Thanksgiving.

I first met Evan Linder after going to see 11:11 by The New Colony, a play that he co-wrote for the company. He also performed in the play. I asked him about their development process and what he told me surprised and delighted me.

The play was a good one, interesting and funny, but what I really liked about the production was how connected the actors were to the material. It was as if they knew what they were doing at every moment of the play. Every line made sense and had purpose. That’s not a small feat for a new theater company filled with young actors performing a new script. After Evan described the extent to which the writers collaborated with the actors through improvisation, it all made sense.

If you are in Chicago, be sure to check out their new show, Pancake Breakfast, which opened on Sunday. I’m going to see it tonight!