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Exercises

Exercises found here are for additional workouts of specific skills. If you are finding your team needs work on specific skills, try using an exercise from the list below to target that skill (after warming them up, of course).

Characters are created in more ways than just what we say. This exercise proves that.

Rules:

Students make a backline. Director gets a suggestion related to genre (40s gangsters, sci-fi shipmates) or to character trait (the secret family, the silly family). While the director counts down from 10 slowly, the students arrange themselves in a “family portrait” related to the suggestion. Students should look at each other and make a strong character choice within that world, freezing in a tableau at the end After the countdown, we freeze the portrait and the director states what he/she thinks the characters all are. Students then un-freeze and explain who their character actually was.

Objectives:

To create believable characters; to commit; to accept and forward offers; group mind; to make non-verbal, emotional/physical offers.

Comments:

The emphasis should be on finding unique, believable characters within the suggestion, and contrasting or complimenting the characters being created by the other students. This should lead to discoveries within character/genre worlds beyond stereotypes. For example, the mobster family probably has a bunch of tough guys in it, but maybe they have a sweet little mother, too? Or perhaps a skinny, mathematician brother who’s not in the business? By using powers of observation instead of just speaking character choice, students can find new ways of approaching character.

Adaptations:

Can also be a school picture, work portrait, etc.

A game that increases narrative skill, teamwork and listening.

Rules:

Three to six improvisers form a line on the stage. The narrator/MC sits downstage of them, facing the line. The MC randomly points to players in the line. The player who is pointed at speaks. When the finger moves, the speaking improviser stops (mid-syllable if necessary) and the next improviser picks up EXACTLY where the previous one left off. If a player stutters, repeats a word or says something totally incongruous, the audience shouts “DIE!” The improviser “dies” and a new story begins. The game ends when only one person remains.

Objectives:

To develop awareness and spontaneity. To tell a complete story as a team within the restrictions of the game.

Comments:

Die with good grace: the audience takes their cue for reaction from the improviser. Keep it fun. Concentrate on the story – listen to each other and keep it simple. If the action advances out of hand, the story will lose coherence.

The act of Following is the next step in the evolution of Mirroring. Partners need not face each other in Following, which allows for an even greater range of possibilities for movement when leading and a greater amount of interpretation when following. Through this work players can communicate and connect without the need for sound.

Rules:

Players, in partners, stand next to (not facing) each other. One player leads while the other player follows the action simultaneously. Upon the moderator’s command the leader and the follower switch.

Objectives:

To flex player’s ability to communicate through movement. To allow players to express impulses through movement. To allow players to explore the boundaries of simultaneous movement.

Comments:

Players do not have to be two feet from each other, nor is it a rule that the follower must keep constant eye contact on (or with) the leader. In actual fact for the follower to get simultaneous movement they must anticipate the action instead of echoing the action. Be sure to play around with what it means to follow someone… Follow, create, enjoy!

Adaptations:

Group Following (follow the leader): 1. One player is the leader the group follows. 2. Moderator calls for a switch in leadership. 3. Group finds new leader within group by following and amplifying first movements in group until one person is left leading.

A great game to encourage players to alter their emotional states. Rules: Two improvisers start a scene with opposite emotions, and over the course of the scene they switch. Objectives: To introduce the value of emotional transfer into scene work.. To heighten awareness. Comments: Don’t jump right into the transfer – establish the opposite organic transfer WITHIN the reality of the scene.

An introduction to concepts of status in scenework.

Rules:

Divide the group into two halves, Group A and Group B. Ask both groups to walk around the space, but with certain directives. Without revealing which group is high status or low status, direct Group A to move about the space using high status indicators (maintaining eye contact with those they pass, little or no blinking, direct, confident strides, etc.). Direct Group B to move about the space using low status indicators (head lowered, rapid, darting eye movement, taking up as little space as possible, touching of the face, etc.). Have the group play out a group party scene using these directives and have them talk to at least three people at the party. Debrief and discuss. Switch groups and repeat.

Objectives:

To explore concepts of status; to see how physicality contributes to status in characters.

Comments:

Status can strongly define and influence both a character and a scene. Most students are already playing it to some extent before the concept is introduced; however, giving them the tools to explore it more seriously can help heighten status work in scenes. Students should be encouraged to use status in a non-verbal and physical way, as opposed to being extremely chatty in the party scene.

Adaptations:

There are many ways to explore concepts of high and low status. Take a look at some of the other status exercises on the site, and feel free to blend and adjust them to suit your group’s needs.

A classic game that explores character while encouraging listening and discovery skills.

Rules:

A bench is placed centre stage. One improviser enters and sits on the bench A second improviser enters and begins to play a scene. The scene is over when the first character slowly adopts the second character’s characteristics and leaves the stage, The character that just entered remains seated on the bench a third character enters and begins a scene which ends when the second player exits having adopted the third character’s characteristics. Repeat until all players have been on stage.

Objectives:

To develop/practice the skills of characterization and character interaction.

Comments:

Don’t let an improviser use the same character or tactic too many times, or you compromise the purpose of the exercise. Respect your fellow improvisers: the scene is over when the first person leaves, but the scene must still be played together. Even when you play an aggressive CHARACTER, remember that the good IMPROVISOR is always listening and aware of offers made and actions taken by EVERYONE on stage.

Adaptations:

More than two people can be on the stage at one time

A fundamental exercise teaching improvisers how to properly accept offers and contribute to the scene.

Rules:

Put the players in pairs. One student will start by making a statement such as, “We are going on a vacation.” The other will follow up by first saying, “Yes, and…” agreeing with the first statement and adding new information. “Yes, and we are spending a week in Paris.” The players will go back and forth making “Yes and” declarations until they reach a natural conclusion.

Objectives:

To show how simple and effective the concept of “Yes and” is in improvisation. To make a habit of always accepting with new information.

Comments:

Encourage the students to respond to what was just said and expand on that idea, as opposed to listing a series of disconnected ideas. In the example above, the students might get into the trap of just listing activities they did in Paris, “Yes and we arrive at the Eiffel Tower.” “Yes and we eat fine cheese.” “Yes and we see Versailles.”

It is more effective to explore the first idea, “Yes and we arrive at the Eiffel Tower.” “Yes and we take the stairs all the way up.” “Yes and we can see the whole city.” It allows a story to reveal itself.

Also, encourage the students to physicalize the actions of the story and make statements in the present tense.

Adaptations:

This game can also be played in a circle or in small groups.

Two improvisors become expert know-it-all’s on a subject of the audience’s choosing. The format can be an interview, talk show, lecture, debate…

Rules:

One improvisor comes up to play an expert on a suggested topic. A second improvisor stands behind the first. The front improviser wraps their arms around the improviser behind. The rear improviser puts his arms out as the front persons arms.

Objectives:

To encourage spontaneity, and the making and justifying of physical offers. Freeing the trust in ones impulses.

Comments:

The front improviser (the “voice” of the Expert) should include and justify all of the physical offers made by the “arms” (rear) improviser. The rear improviser should stay present, listen carefully to the front improviser and then add physical offers of their own. Take your time: relaxation will keep you in the moment, and that will be more interesting to watch than hurried or incomplete answers/statements. Confidence is both more interesting and more important than speed.

An exercise focusing on stakes as a part of the Five Element basic scene structure.

Rules:

The players stand in a circle, the first player gives a location, “A computer lab.” The next player gives a brief description of two characters in the location, “A hotshot student hacker and an unprepared substitute teacher.” The next player gives a problem or conflict, “The student keeps interrupting the teacher to correct him.”

Then, all of the players in the circle give compounding stakes, try to keep going until the group runs out of steam, “The teacher is under review and needs the students to perform well,” “The student is trying to impress a girl in class to get a date to the Spring Fling,” “The school will scrap the computer science program if the class doesn’t work out,” “Google is recruiting for lavish internships and is auditing the class,” etc. Once the stakes have been fully explored, one final student can offer a solution, “The teacher convinces the student that they should work together to make each other look good.”

Objectives:

To explore many different types of stakes: positive, negative, personal, antagonist, narrative and global.

Comments:

Make sure students are making a single problem and expanding on why it is important to be resolved. Encourage them to explore positive stakes as well as negative; what good things will happen if they succeed as well as what bad things will happen if they fail?

A simple exercise in group awareness and physical responsiveness.

Rules:

One player enters and begins a repetitive sound and action. Once that is established, a second improviser comes up and takes a position relative to the first, beginning a different repetitive sound and action. Each improvisor enters and becomes part of the machine. After the machine is established, performers may freeze and identify the machine (i.e. “Oh, it’s a top spinner and tabbouleh mixer.”)

Objectives:

To increase group awareness. To practice making, incorporating and justifying physical offers.

Comments:

When in doubt, keep it simple.

An exercise that focuses on making mundane offers more important.

Rules:

One player is on stage and another player enters, handing them a file with the dialogue, “Here’s the Johnson File.” The player who receives the Johnson File will then make a statement revealing how important this object is, “The Johnson File! The last piece of evidence that will clear my name!” Then the players switch roles and repeat the exercise.

Objectives:

This exercise shows players that any offer can be heightened and made vital to the scene. There are no bad offers, only poor follow-ups.

Comments:

Make sure the players are being specific as to why the Johnson File is important to them. Try playing the game for an extended period of time, pushing the students past the point where the ideas come quickly and allow them to get creative and absurd with their follow-ups.

Adaptations:

The game can be played with different opening offers as well, “It’s Tuesday” is a popular variation.

Because is an excellent game to show the difference between horizontal narrative offers and vertical narrative offers. Vertical narrative offers advance the scene. Horizontal narrative offers take the scene sideways, often derailing a scene completely.

Rules:

Players circle or pair up. First player makes a statement (e.g. “The dishwasher was broken.”) The second player then replys by starting with “Because…” inserts the first players’ statement… and then adds to the story with another offer (e.g. “Because the dishwasher was broken Janet was running out of dishes.”) The next player then repeats the last line, starting with “Because…” and adds another offer to the story. This continues until all of the story elements are covered.

Objectives:

To eliminate the problem of shelving caused by horizontal narrative offers.

Comments:

Make sure your group uses all of the offers, not just the last offer made, as it will remind them of the focus.

This game is a variation of Story Story Die in which each player is assigned a style in which to tell their story.

Rules:

Three to six improvisers form a line on the stage. The MC sits downstage of them, facing the line Each improviser is assigned a style in which tell the story. The narrator/ MC designates who speaks by pointing at them. When the finger moves, the speaking improviser stops (mid-syllable if necessary) and the next improviser picks up EXACTLY where the previous one left off.

Objectives:

To develop awareness and spontaneity. To tell a complete story together within the rules of the game.

Comments:

Concentrate on the story – listen to each other and keep it simple. If the action advances out of hand, the story will lose coherence.

Mirroring is often one of the first exercises improvisers learn and also, unfortunately, one of the first they discard. Mirroring is a fabulous connection device to get teams members working together. As players become more advanced expand mirroring into more adventurous territory rather than abandoning it as a beginner’s game.

Rules:

Partners stand facing each other . One player leads, the other mirrors (or imitates) the action simultaneously. Switch leaders upon moderator’s command without resetting physically.

Objectives:

To flex player’s ability to communicate through movement. To allow players to express impulses through movement.

Comments:

Players who are leading should try to allow for impulses for the entire body, using levels and different speeds. Variety will allow for greater control and focus. There is no rule that states players have to be 2 feet from each other, nor is there a rule that states that the leader cannot, after a little warm-up, alternate speeds in order to create a better mental workout for their partner. Followers should always be one fraction of a step ahead in order to keep the movement simultaneous.

Adaptations:

Follow the Follower: Players start by alternating leaders on the command of a moderator until the moderator calls out “Follow the Follower.” Each player, in fractionally anticipating the other players moves, will amplify their partners unconscious movement until the chain reaction creates fully extended movement. 

Mirror With Sound: Players can add sound when they feel they are ready. Sound should be as varied as the movement.

The Transformation Game was the birthplace of the game we now know as Freeze. Unfortunately what is missing from Freeze is the Transformation Game’s amazing morphic energy based in physical communication and focus. The game is rooted in the transformation of the Who and the Where. The Transformation Game is also a great teamwork exercise in movement and listening.

Rules:

A group of players (3-8) start on stage performing a group activity based on a suggestion. Within the first scene a player will find a connection within their movement (or the groups movement) that will allow them to transform the scene into a new scene. The players will then continually transform the Who and Where until they arrive at a predetermined (by suggestion) final activity.

Objectives:

To teach group communication skills through movement.

Comments:

Players should make sure to connect the original movement as closely as they can. This can also be played as a partner exercise.

Putting a character/genre in the hot seat.

Rules:

One student stands on stage and is given a character trait or genre of theatre/film by his/her fellow players. The player then emerges as though at a press conference, and introduces him/herself, his/her project, or whatever information the character wants to convey. Other students then act as the press, introducing themselves and their publications and then asking questions, which are answered in character. Take turns with a few students, taking on different traits or genres each time.

Objectives:

To create and make character/genre offers; to expand and heighten on characters through offers made by fellow players; to explore genre within a specific game.

Comments:

Students should be very mindful of supporting each other in this game, as one of them has been put in the hot seat. A good opportunity to teach students about making each other look good (i.e.: asking questions that elevate, not stump, the player on stage). Works best when the character trait/genre is echoed—complimented or contrasted—in some way by the “members of the press,” i.e.: If the character trait is nervous, a press member might be from the “Relaxed Gazette” or the “Paranoid Press.

Adaptations:

Can also be played as an audition, where a panel (consisting of director, producer, etc.) auditions characters for a “part” one by one. A quicker version, as a line of auditioners should be waiting in the wings to go next.

The Five Element game trains and creates natural impulses for story telling.

Rules:

The players get in groups of 3. Two players create a one minute scene while the third player calls out the elements of the Basic Scene Structure as they are created. One player starts by exploring the physical environment of an activity. The observer calls out “Setting.” The second player enters as a complimentary character, thus creating a relationship. Once this relationship is created the watching player calls out “Characters.” The scene partners then find a problem or obstacle to overcome. They raise the stakes, motivating a solution. Finally, the players find a solution (preferably one that arises from the environment or the characters.) At each step the watching player calls out what element of the Basic Scene Structure is created.

Objectives:

To create the instinct to tell stories within the Basic Scene Structure by focusing solely on advancing between elements.

Comments:

Because of the one minute time limit, this exercise often results more in the narration of action rather than true physicalization. Although this is normally a bad thing, the value lies in the ability to reduce the amount of gags and gossip encountered in the creation of the scene. Raising the Stakes is normally the first element to be forgotten in the heat of the moment. It is therefore one of the elements you must be the most stringent about. You should also be looking for an organic solution. An organic solution comes from within the world of the scene; Deus Ex Machina is the improvisor’s easy way out.

Adaptations:

Five Element Freeze: The Five Element game done with freeze called at the end of every scene and a new player taking a position of one of the frozen players. The player then justifies the position into a new environment/activity.

Gibberish 5 Elements: The Five Element game done while only speaking gibberish.

Silent 5 Element: The Five Element game done in silence (no sound effects.)

An excellent game for creating shared environments.

Rules:

The first player enters a room and mimetically creates an object that defines the location. The next player enters the room, uses the first object and then creates a second one found in that location. One by one the rest of the players enter, use the previously created objects and create a new one.

Objectives:

To increase the ability to create detailed environments, and to eliminate the problem of having players “walk through tables.”

Comments:

Mimetic abilities are a great tool for the improvisor to create environments on stage. Players should work to achieve a level of clarity in expression without feeling that they need to master the art of mime. Some players tend to create elaborate stories in order to use all their objects, often times destroying the objects or combining the use of two objects in improbable ways. The focus of the exercise is to create a shared environment, not to be funny and creative (often a mask for a desire to avoid the exercise.)

Adaptations:

Have players remain in the environment as characters after they have created their object. Allow players to interact as their characters.

Rules:

Players form a circle facing the center. One player begins by creating and manipulating an imaginary object (without the use of sound.) The player next to them takes the object and begins to use it in the same way. The player then slowly transforms the movement until a new object being manipulated in a similar yet different way is created. The next player in the circle takes the object and the game continues until the circle is complete.

Objectives:

For players to become aware of movement and their own physical space. This, in turn, prepares players to be conscious of their activities within scene work. This exercise can also be use as a Justification exercise.

Comments:

Players should make sure to connect the original objects movement as closely as they can. This game can also be played as a partner exercise.

Adaptations:

Transformation Game (See Movement Exercises.)

A great exercise in spontaneity and impulse.

Rules:

Students form a backline. Two players come on stage and approach each other with a crisis, and an object unrelated to the crisis. After each has presented his or her crisis and object, the other solves his/her partner’s crisis with his/her own object. Replies must be instantaneous. For example: Player A: I failed the big test and I just have this bouncy ball. Player B: I crashed my car and I’m stuck with this teddy bear. Player A: Here’s my bouncy ball, you can use it to distract someone so you can steal their car. Player B: Here’s my teddy bear, he’ll console you while you study for the makeup exam.

Objectives:

To connect with impulse and spontaneity; to accept and forward offers; to justify offers.

Comments:

Students should not be afraid of coming up with silly responses, as long as the offer is accepted and justified.

The next step in status work—observation and changing of habitual status.

Rules:

Students create a backline. Have each improviser enter the playing area with an obvious status choice. Once you feel they have clearly established status, ask the next improviser to take a turn. Have each student try high and low status at least once.

Objectives:

To use simple physical changes to indicate status; to establish strong status at the beginning of scenes.

Comments:

Director should push students to play a status they are uncomfortable with or use the least. More advanced students can try playing a low status character who behaves in a high status way and vice versa, to show the subtleties of status and how it can manifest in scenes.

Two of five elements, drilled.

Rules:

Two students are brought up onstage. Players take approximately 30 seconds or so to set up the first two elements of the Five Elements (WHERE AND WHO). Exercise ends when students have established a clear Where and Who.

Objectives:

To establish a clear Where and Who; to learn about the beginnings of Five Element scenework; to give and accept offers.

Comments:

This is an opportunity for students to explore the beginnings of scenes without the pressure of finding problems and resolutions. Students should avoid hesitation and jump right into position, even if they don’t have an idea. It’s not about being funny, it’s about clarity—the clearer the scene start, the clearer the scene will be. The humour will come out of specific characters in a specific place interacting.

A classic reinterpreted for character purposes.

Rules:

Played with four students. One leaves the room (or plugs his/her ears). Other students provide character endowments for the three others, like “nervous doctor,” “arrogant astronaut,” etc. The fourth player returns and asks three questions, with each of the three “contestants” answering. After the questions the “bachelor/ette” should guess what the endowments were.

Objectives:

To hone character; to make offers and accept them in character; to play the game of the scene.

Comments:

A fun and fast character game, which works best when played in the game show style. Feel free to add a “host” character to keep things moving.

Adaptations:

Several rounds can be played, and the game can be adjusted to include other “games” (seeing the first dates, Jeopardy-style rounds, etc.).