Improv in one class

Improv in one class

Most of this popped out of my last Thursday and Saturday workshops. The Saturday theme was ‘Making Things Happen’, which I might change in the future to ‘Letting Things Happen’, and then actually defines most of what we do in improv. If I had only one class to teach to someone new to improv, it would be this one.

Improv in a nutshell:

Couple of people go on stage, they connect.

They define where they are, who they are, what they’re doing. Together they expand these things by listening to what the other person says and does, and then adding a detail to this.

They continue one offer at a time defining their world together.

If ‘mistakes’ pop up they are justified and incorporated into the scene so that they aren’t mistakes at all, and instead become important to the scene.

If something pops up that is going to happen then let it happen.

Reincorporate all the offers, right from the start, and keep reincorporating things that have been left behind, it will give you structure.

No need to be on stage ‘thinking’ what scene to play, just be there and listen to the other actor and expand where you are and who you are and what you’re doing together and a scene/story will present itself before you know it.

Some exercises to do that teach this, especially useful for people new to impro:

Two actors on stage.
One gives the other a present, defining what it is.
The other says thank you, accepts it, and adds a detail to it.
First adds a detail to what they just said.
Swap roles and repeat with a new present.

For instance:

“Here’s a CD”
“Thankyou. Wow it’s Neil Diamond, my favourite”
“Yes, I knew you used to listen to it in the car when you were on holiday in America with your family.”

Repeat exercise again, but this time without defining the present at the start so that the receiver defines it (open offers). You can adjust how you hold the thing etc.

For instance:

“Here you are”
“Wow thanks, a laptop.”
“It’s a MacBook, brand new.”

Repeat both again, but let the offers continue more. You’ll find that characters and locations pop up, that’s fine but don’t force it. Make sure they are picking up on what was last said, rather than what they think should have been said.

We start with an object/present as it’s impersonal and so easier for beginners to focus on the concepts of accepting and building as they aren’t emotionally connected.

Next step, same exercise but instead of giving a present you give a location. Together the two improvisers still add a detail at a time.

“Here we are at The Grand Canyon.”
“Wow, what an amazing place. It’s so hot and dusty.”
“Yes there are dust clouds whirling along the canyon walls.”
“And tumbleweeds caught up in it”

If they keep going they’ll probably stumble upon finding characters and playing a scene, which is great as now they are discovering rather than forcing.

Next step, same exercise but giving relationships and expanding who they are, especially who they are to each other.

“You’re my mother.”
“Yes and I’m wearing hair curlers and a nylon nighty..”
“Your name is Norma Batty and you are holding a rolling pin.”
“And you’re my son and you’re in trouble for coming home late.”

Next step, same exercise but with what you are doing. One actor starts with an action (the ‘present’) and next actor comes and defines it, and then first adds detail.

First actor is miming opening a can of drink.
“Wow, 4th beer of the day.”
“Gotta have a beer when you’re watching the game.”
“Yep, alcohol and sport, match made in heaven. Pass me one will you.”

Playing any one of these – expanding object/where/who/what and you’ll find people naturally start putting in the missing definitions. Which is great as it’s a natural way to improvise, without having to worry about story but instead expanding things and letting yourself play the story that presents itself.

After this put it all together and get people playing scenes, experimenting with different ways of starting and focusing on building a scene together offer by offer. Remind people of the things they tend to miss out (relationship, where etc).

People put blocks in the way of letting stories happen when they are under too much pressure on each line, they think they have to be funny on every line, they fear the future, are too worried about their own performance, or are in a rush to make things happen. Remind them to concentrate on the other person and build something beautiful together.

Saying all that though I just taught a group in Reading and what really got them going was playing character over everything else and when they concentrated on this everything else happened by itself, so there you go there’s no definite ‘way’!

Hoopla Impro


Fun and friendly improv classes in London. The UK’s 1st improv theatre.


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