Here are some typical improv warm-ups, exercises and games that we use:
Pass Catch (warm-up)
Once everyone is in the circle make sure that they have enough space to move freely
without accidentally clouting each other in the head. One player in the circle throws themselves into a bizarre stance and
makes a corresponding noise along with it. This gesture is made to the player to their right in the circle. That player immediately
reflects back the gesture and noise, imitating the other player as best she can. Once she has done that she immediately turns
around and creates a new and wonder gesture and noise to the player to her right. The process is repeated and goes around
the circle for a few minutes. It is important that the players not stop to think in between the poses. The player should receive,
reflect, turn and create a new pose without pause.
Song circle (warm-up)
A very general theme is chosen, like transportation or love. Once the theme is chosen players jump into the
center of the circle and start to sing any song related to the theme. Once the player gets stuck on the song, another player
must show support and jump into the circle to help with a new song. The previous person in the center steps out. This continues
until songs start to get repeated, or things collapse utterly. The point of the warm-up is not to embarrass people in the
center, but to support the player in the center. This is done by quickly jumping into the circle once they start to have any
trouble at all.
What Are You Doing? (warm-up)
Once the circle is formed one player goes into the circle and starts to mime a
simple activity. Once the activity has been established one of the players from the circle jumps in and asks "what are you
doing?" The player doing the mime responds with some activity other than the one they are doing. If they are mowing the lawn
they might say 'filleting a soul.' The player that asked the question starts the activity that was answered (i.e., filleting
a soul) and waits to be asked what she is doing. This continues until all have tried the exercise.
Conducted Story (exercise)
The goal of the conducted story is to have the players tell a story that moves
seamlessly from one player to another. The goal of the conductor is to make the story flow as well as possible. If the conductor
moves from one player to another the new player that is speaking must continue on as though there was no pause. For instance,
moves from player "A" who said, "many children were afraid of Carl for he was known to ha.." to player "B", who would
continue seamlessly "..ve piles of library books that were overdue." The key is listening. It is a listening exercise. The
four players that are not speaking must be listening. They all must have the next word ready to go, and only if they are listening
will that word make any sense. The players must also be accepting of what is happening in the story. Forcing their own agenda
will show up quickly. Words like, 'but' and 'instead of' reflect someone denies another players offers.
Emotional Symphony (exercise)
Five of the players are lined up in a performance fashion. One person is chosen
to conduct the players in the symphony. Each player is endowed with some emotion. It is good to get a range of contrasting
emotions for the players to use. Once each player is given their emotion the conductor points from one player to another.
The players do not speak, but express their emotions through physicalization and noise. The intensity of the emotion is increased
as the conductor raises her hand while pointing at the player. The conductor moves from player to player conducting an emotional
So I'll (exercise)
This exercise forces listening and gets players taking smaller, more logical steps
with their story building. It also helps players when they draw a blank in a performance setting. The first player makes any
kind of statement. For instance, "It is a lovely day out." The next player in the line says, "WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS THAT--It
is a lovely day out, SO I WILL--go for a walk." The goal is to say the next most logical thing in the story. The next player
would say "WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS THAT--I'll go for a walk, SO I WILL--get my shoes." The story that builds should be a logical
one. It will not be a story that will win Pulitzer prizes, but it will make sense.
Word At A Time (exercise)
Each player in the circle contributes a word into the story. If the first person
to speak says "Johnny" the next person could say, "set", the next person would say "out". And so on. This is the most commonly
used of all the improv exercises.
Yes And (exercise)
In Yes And the players are constantly saying, 'yes and'. The mechanism goes something
like this. One player may start off with, "Your coat is so lovely." The response of the other player could be, "YES AND I
made it for you." The other player responds, "YES AND I have a thousand dollars for it." "YES AND I am going to use that money
to make a hundred more coats for you." The players must always have the 'yes and' at the beginning of their sentence. This
seems contrived and it is. It is remarkable how much easier it is to notice players that insist on controlling the scene.
They cannot bring themselves to accept the offer. The most common response is, "yes and but."
Alphabet Scene (game)
The actors must build a scene within 26 starts. Most places allow for the more than one sentence to follow the first
sentence. When this is done it is important that actors really punch the word that starts with the letter. Activity is important
as it allows the scene to progress independent of words. This game ceases to be a challenge rapidly.
Backwards Scene (game)
The actors start with an ending to a story. Then each actor must ask herself what
would have happened immediately before this event and then portrays the most likely thing that would have preceded. Actors
will find themselves frequently asking themselves, "she just said...so I would have..." Very hard stuff. Keep it very simple
and never talk in the future tense, that already has happened!!
Fairy Tale In A Minute (game)
This is a high energy scene where all the essential components of a well-known fairy tale must be portrayed
in less than 60 seconds.
Freeze Tag (game)
At any time during the two person scene that is taking place someone calls out
freeze. The two players immediately stop what they are doing and 'freeze' into whatever positions that they were in when the
'freeze' was called. The next player in the line immediately tags one of the players that is frozen on stage and assumes their
exact position. This ensures that the player was paying attention to the physical detail
of the scene as opposed to just the words. They must be listening with their eyes. Once they assume the position they must
start a whole new scene that justifies the position that they are in. This scene must be completely different from the preceding
one. This means that they must be paying attention to the scene, so as to assure that their new scene is completely different.
Sit, Stand, Kneel, Lie Down (game)
This scene will have four players. At no time can the players occupy the same position
on the stage simultaneously. One player must be lying down, another player must be standing, and so on.
Video Tape Machine (game)
The players will carry out a scene just like any other. The only difference is that someone
[host, audience, off-stage player] will have a VCR controller. The controller can be used to fast forward the scene, reverse
the scene, slow down the scene, or even worse. The players are recommended to have
as simple a story as possible. Everyone must listen closely for the call to alter the tape.
Sound like fun?
Then think about joining the group!
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