What warm-up games can improvisers do in a busy pub before their show?

You know the score. You’re due on stage in about 20 minutes, but there’s a show already going on, cupboard at the back is full of people singing, and the bar downstairs is full. You and your team need a space to warm up, FAST! Bright idea, you go outside, oh no this is England, it’s raining! Curses. 15 minutes left. Inside the pub is the only option but the managers don’t want improv groups warming up in the pub and scaring away the regulars.

There’s only one thing for it…..

You need warm up games you can do in a pub that don’t look like warm up games and don’t get you thrown out of the pub.

Catchy title I know.

And here they are:

Word at a time circle

Everyone sat in a circle at a table. Say a story around the circle one word at a time, as in first person says “One” next person says “day” next person “there” etc. This is a great game for focusing the group together and getting them listening to each other. Plus when done sat down at a table it looks like you are playing a drinking game, win!

Week in detail

Split up into pairs. Each tells the other person their whole week but in immense detail. Did you have to take the plastic wrap off the top off your listerine mouthwash on Tuesday morning? Tell them. Then after a couple of minutes the other person repeats back everything they said in the order they said it. Gets people opening up about themselves and sharing, and also gets people listening. Plus it looks like people in a pub just having a conversation, which is what people do in pubs anyway – or at least they used to before smart phones and facebook. Win!

Characters at the bar

Start outside the bar area. Then when you go in you go into the bar area in character and have a chat with other members of the cast who are also in character. It should look and feel totally believable so the regular pub drinkers think you’re just a couple of office colleagues catching up, or off duty policemen talking about a thief they caught. It shouldn’t look weird or whacky. Win!

Walk around the building

Whatever venue you perform in I’ve found a great pre-stage thing to do is for the cast to leave the venue and walk around it (even if that means a whole block) and then re-come in the front door and up into the show. Moving gets people out of thinking. And it feels weirdly rebellious to walk out of the building you are about to perform in. There’s also the Elvis effect of walking towards the stage from a distance and the gods of improv are activated in our souls. Win!

Unlocking Joints and Making Eye Contact

If you’re sat at the back of the room waiting to go but there is a group on and you can’t make any noise or leave then there are still things you can do. I’ve found it helpful to go through my body joint by joint from feet up and just say to them in my head “relax relax relax” and gradually let the body relax and lengthen. Joints become unlocked, arms become uncrossed, the chest opens, the eyes open and energy flows. While doing this I also like to try and make eye contact with other cast members, as it means you all connect before you go on stage. Little waves, thumbs up, gestures. Anything to keep people connected before you go up.

Coming from the audience

I’ve found it helpful to sit with the audience before going on, rather than just stomping in out of nowhere. It means we can feel their energy, see what they are seeing, and pick up how the room is. It means we come on stage from the audience for the audience rather than performing at the audience.

Mind Games

There are also various things we can do to get ourselves in a positive mindset. Different things work for different people. I like to remind myself that we’re very lucky to be on stage and do this fun thing, and am grateful that other people want to do this fun thing with me, that we don’t get to be here forever but I’m very grateful that we are here now and doing this.

I also heard a funny clown mind game recently about how the clown sees they audience. The clown walks into the back of an empty room and sees lots of people sitting in rows all staring at a blank wall and stage with nothing going on. What a shame, thinks the clown, I better go on and see what’s happening and see if I can cheer them up.

Hope that helps!


Hoopla runs shows at The Miller every Wednesday to Saturday and also run a variety of improv courses.

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