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PRACTICE GAMES

Practice games are a great way to put targeted skills into the action of a narrative. The combination of your targeted skill, the rules of the practice game and the story found within that game can have a lasting effect on the way your team can improvise. As the rules of the games that you create for your team get harder, the team will be increasingly able to realize the skills they have been rehearsing.

A game that works on making offers without hesitation.

Rules:

Get a few players up to perform a scene. At any point during the scene, the audience or director can yell out, “New choice!” and the last offer that was made, whether verbal or physical, must be remade in a different way. It can be a slight variation on the original offer, or a completely different offer. “New choice” can be yelled out as many times as necessary until the audience or director are satisfied.

Objectives:

To get students out of their heads and in the moment of creating offers without thinking too much.

Comments:

The players have to remember that even if the audience is calling, “New choice,” they are still in control of the scene and should make choices that will result in a successful scene, using the basic scene structure.

If players get into a run of remaking an offer with only a slight variation, “I’m going to get some juice out of the fridge,” “I’m going to get a pop out of the fridge,” “I’m going to get some milk out of the fridge,” etc, coach them into trying something totally different, “I’m not thirsty.” This will often result in a big laugh and a lot of fun.

You can also get specific with which offer should be redone, “New entrance!” “New emotion!” “New dance!” etc.

A game that explores an audience’s expectations when it comes to forwarding a narrative.

Rules:

Get a few players up to do a scene. They can start establishing a platform based on a suggestion, or they can start by asking “What comes first?” Either way, after the first beat has been explored, the players stop (or are stopped by the director), and ask, “What comes next?” The audience or other players decide what will happen next in the story, and the players perform what the audience tells them to. The game continues until the natural ending is found.

Objectives:

To show how the audience are great, natural storytellers and help students find ways to advance a scene that are satisfying to an audience.

Comments:

Make sure the students are exploring the beats that the audience have told them to. Do not allow them to advance without first stopping and asking, “What comes next?” The audience doesn’t have to give a lot of details, the details are handled by the players.

Adaptations:

This game can also be a great way to explore a genre for a Style Event.

A game to practice making specific offers.

Rules:

Get a few players up to perform a scene. At any point during the scene, the audience or director can yell out, “More specific!” and the last offer that was made must be redone in a more specific way. “More specific” can be called out multiple times until the players are specific enough. For example: “It’s over there.” -> “It’s on the counter.” -> “The watch is on the marble counter.” -> “The Rolex is on the brand new marble counter.”

Objectives:

To show how being specific can open up new possibilities in a scene, reveal character and make scenes more interesting.

Comments:

More specific doesn’t always mean more elaborate. Make sure the players are getting specific about the offer that was just made rather than adding in outside details. Try calling out more specific on physical offers as well.

Rules:

Two players tell a story alternating players on each word. The players act out all action within the scene while it happens. The tell the story in a first person perspective .

Objectives:

To create group mind through cooperational storytelling.

Comments:

A lot of the time this game is derailed because of offers from space, ideas that are not organically found within the story. It is important to stop stories that are not working or cannot be understood and start afresh. It is through the process of stopping scenes that you will produce an intrest in allowing the story to write itself rather than trying to force it to be written.

Adaptations:

1,2,3, Word at a time: First cycle of players says one word at a time. The second cycle of players says two words at a time, the third cycle says three words, the fourth cycle says 2 words, and the fifth cycle says one word until the story ends (perhaps even on the last player.)

A great endowment game.

Rules:

Two players stand onstage. The first player speaks a line of dialogue. Each player will state the action the other player must perform, followed by his/her own line. For example: 1. “I want a divorce” 2: “She said, while grabbing a knife from the kitchen table.” At this point player 1 needs to take a knife. Player 2 continues with his own line. “Sure Honey” 1: “He said, while turning to the sports page of the paper”. Now, it’s quite clear that player 2 should be paying more attention to the paper than to his wife. Player 1 continues with her own line. “You’re not listening to me,” and so on until the scene is complete.

Objectives:

To explore and heighten endowment; to challenge but also support your fellow player; to accept and forward offers.

Comments:

Can be quite challenging, in terms of logic; it helps if players are familiar with one another and if their “stage directions” are mostly physical offers for their fellow player. Can become “talking heady” if players are thinking too much about what to offer to their partner rather than their own action. Emphasize the five elements.

Adaptations:

Can be done with four players; 2 provide the lines, and the 2 others provide the directions, one for each actor.

The fairy tale perspective game is a perfect first step into perspective narration.

Rules:

A famous fairy tale and the secondary character whose perspective we will see it from are solicited from the audience. The Secondary character begins a monologue which introduces them as the narrator and describes the environment and characters. As these elements of the story are described by the narrator, the other players create them on stage in preparation for the first scene. The narrator then breaks from the narration and enters the scene. The narrator moves from scene to narration to forward the story and to provide the audience with background information or to explain their inner feelings.

Comments:

This is a truly excellent and challenging game, but not the best game for a full team to be able to create a story as it relies quite a bit on the narrator. To add life to this game it is important that all of the other players focus on feeding the narrator with offers that forward the use of the audiences suggestions.

A great game to explore non-human habitual movement.

Rules:

Improvisers ask for an animal or animals to inspire their characters. The team then plays the scene as a human with that animal’s characteristics.

Objectives:

To use the Animals inherent talents and well known traits to solve problems (or create them) and create the elements of scene work. It is also important to find the similarities between animal and human.

Comments:

How does this animal character walk? Talk? Sit? Eat? How do they react to danger? Happiness? The more detail your animal character has, the more interesting you will be and the better you honour the suggestion. If you have a well rounded animal character, the scene will organically evolve from that character’s specific traits. If you do some animal character exploration with your group before you play the game, you’ll find more detail and more levels to play on. The animals that you get from the audience will (and should) be different but a familiarity with the exploration will help you create well-rounded characters.

Inner voices is a classic game normally used solely as a comic device. Teams have recently found it to be a great game to explore the life event.

Rules:

A suggestion is received from the audience (of the teams choosing.) Main characters do a linear scene about a pivotal moment. An additional player for each character within the scene “Shadows” and vocalizes the character’s inner commentary. Players give and take until the scene finds it’s conclusion.

Comments:

It is very easy for the inner voices to comment solely on the feelings of the character. It is important that the characters be allowed to show their feelings rather than have them be simply explained. The explanation can deflate a player’s ability to create characters we care about. The asset of having the inner voice is to be able to show the conflicting feelings we have in life.

Applying basic character work to scenes.

Rules:

Two or three students are onstage. Each student in the scene will be given a word. Students will use that word to inspire a character; students are given a moment to repeat the word and to find the physical/vocal elements of that character. Students are then given a general scene suggestion and perform a scene as those characters.

Objectives:

To focus on character as the starting point for a scene; to justify character choices within a world; to support your fellow player; to embrace and heighten the unexpected offers that feed scenes.

Comments:

These scenes are a balancing act, between over accepting the offers of a particular character in a (perhaps unconventional or unexpected) location/situation and creating good scene work on top of all of that. Students should discover their ability to use suggestions in ways they perhaps never thought possible or never thought would work. Embracing this ability is a great step for an improviser to take.

Adaptations:

These characters can also be “interviewed” before the scene begins to help students focus in on who these people are before they are thrust into a scene.

A justification game that challenges the “straight man.”

Rules:

Three players stand onstage. Two players will improvise a scene. The other player is one of those player’s evil twin. At any point in the scene, the twin can shout, “Freeze!” after which he/she tags out their twin, and continues the scene by doing something “evil.” Once the evil act has been committed, the original player tags back in and continues the scene. Both onstage characters must justify the evil act within the scene as though the “good” character did it. It is then the “good twin’s” job to correct the evil within the scene. Play continues thusly, with the Evil Twin tagging out whenever he/she feels like.

Objectives:

To accept and justify offers; to support and challenge your fellow player; to make choices that are true to the scene and the characters.

Comments:

Great setups for this game are things like first dates, or meeting your in-laws for the very first time. The game works best when the justification is true to the scene and the characters, not by blaming outside forces or saying something like, “I don’t know what came over me!” Can be challenging, but work at it by taking a lot of time in the setup to get used to the characters and environment. That way, the justifications can come from those two elements.

Adaptations:

Both characters can have Evil Twins if you’d like. It steps the game up a notch.

Rules:

Improvisors get audience suggestions to fill in the blanks IN A _____ WITH A _____ (WHILE_____). Scene does not necessarily begin with the suggestions,but may move toward that moment.Or it may begin at the suggestion and proceed wherever it might.

Objectives:

To improvise and justify a complete scene within the rules of the game.

Comments:

Let the scene evolve directly from the suggestions. There’s no need to invent: each suggestion contains a wealth of potential material. When working with more than one suggestion it’s a good idea to “marry” the suggestions, bringing them together in some way to help the scene find its resolution.

Adaptations:

Single blank, or any two of the three.

Rules:

Offstage improvisers provide the voices for the onstage characters and action. May be played as a Foreign Film.

Objectives:

To perform a scene with the narrative being supplied by one part of team and the physicalization by the other.

Comments:

The onstage improvisors have the option of simply moving their lips, speaking in gibberish or (if you have the option) actually conducting the scene in a language other than English. Familiarize yourself with the convention of pausing after each line of dialogue for the translation – don’t let the action of the scene stop just because nobody’s speaking. Stay present and connect to the scene physically to give it continuity.

An interesting approach to character and narration (answer an origin question, self directed narration).

Rules:

Two students are onstage. Each is given the suggestion of a different animal to play. Additionally, the suggestion of an “origin question” is given (Why is the sky blue? Where do babies come from? Why is there a moon?) Students play a scene in which they are the animal (the animals are friends; this is a non-food chain world). They seek to explain the origin question through their character using self-directed narration (i.e.: The student playing the badger would say, “Badger sits on a rock, sunning himself. He turns to his friend alligator and says, ‘Alligator, I do enjoy the sun, but sometimes I wish I could have a break from it.’”) Through the actions and narration of the animal characters, the origin question is answered.

Objectives:

To incorporate and forward suggestions; to explore characters and narration; to listen, heighten and expand; to justify choices within a specific outcome; to multitask within scenework.

Comments:

Students should view the scene as an opportunity to play the character of the animal while also telling a story through it. As this is an origin story, it’s likely that the tone of the scene will either be Biblical or graphic novel-ish in nature. Those are both fine, as long as the student plays them to the hilt. Students might need an example of an origin story to get them going. Essentially, this game is about multitasking character, targeted narrative and the five elements in one go. A good way to expand minds.

Adaptations:

Genres can be put on this exercise as well, so that we might see something like a giraffe and a hare telling the film noir story of the birth of the sun. Stacking elements on one another and seeing how many balls students can keep in the air is the fun of this game. But it’s only fun as long as some creativity can still be found in the world created by all the suggestions.

Rules:

Get photo ID cards or business cards from the audience as well as a suggestion of a location or activity. Designated players mold/match their faces to the photos. They also use the name from the ID as well. The scene is created by showing the characters within the suggestions from the audience.

Objectives:

To create full characterizations from audience suggestions, and build a scene based on their lives.

Comments:

This game thrives on discovery. The more the players explore the character they’ve unleashed the more the scene will benefit. Beware: many people don’t like to get their picture taken at the DMV so you may end up with fairly negative characters. Don’t let the character’s negativity give you the impulse to block or cancel offers. Remember to forward the action. Create fully rounded characters from the ID/business card and also from your impression of the person who donates it. Mocking them will draw an easy laugh from the audience, but it disrespects both that audience member and his/her suggestion (of themselves). Once again, a with a well-rounded character the story will evolve simply and organically from their traits, mannerisms and ideosynchrasies. You don’t have to recreate the person who makes the suggestion in exacting detail: but they are the jumping off point for YOUR character, which you will created in detail.

A game emphasizing the importance of expanding as well as advancing.

Rules:

Get two or three players up to do a scene. At certain points in the scene, the director will call out “Expand” or “Advance”. When “Expand” is called out, the players have to expand on the details of the action or idea that they are currently exploring. With dialogue and action, they can reveal details about the current beat. They can explore how they are affected by what is happening, reveal stakes, be descriptive of the environment, anything that enriches the current moment and does not forward the narrative.

When “Advance” is called, the players can then move to the next unit of action in the scene. They can allow changes to happen that force the characters to move on from what they have been exploring and take action.

Objectives:

This games gives players a sense of how much to expand on beats before moving the story forward. They will experience the balance between the two important and connected concepts of expanding and advancing.

Comments:

As the director, you can try to call out expand and advance when you think it is appropriate, or you can try experimenting and challenging the players to expand on moments they would normally gloss over. Just remind the students that the game is an exercise and in practice, they should find the moments to expand and advance organically.

Adaptations:

You can also try this game as a monologue exercise.

Rules:

A member of the audience (or one member of the team) is invited on stage to become the Word Machine. They offer random single words whenever a player taps one of their outstretched fists. The players begin a scene and tap the word machine’s hand mid-speech, the moment they need an offer. The word machine says a word and the player justifies this word in the scene.

Objectives:

To justify the word immediately and create a full scene.

Comments:

The game is most fruitful if the word machine is used for finding the ideas to establish the elements of the Basic Scene Structure. It is especially great for creating problems and solutions. It is very important that all offers from the Word Machine are used within the scene.

Adaptations:

Pillars Two word machines stand at either side of the stage ready to call out words.

A fun and fast scene that heightens listening.

Rules:

Two or three players do a scene. At any point in the scene, the director can call, “Fast forward!” The students in the scene then “fast forward,” like an old-school VCR (bodies in fast motion, voices sped up, etc.) When the director calls “Stop!” the scene continues in the future. Scene continues, taking advantage of the fast forward whenever appropriate, and continuing the scene as though everything has been fast forwarded to a new point.

Objectives:

To hone listening and offers; to use physicality; to adapt in the moment.

Comments:

Listening is key here, and students should be extra-aware of offers in the scenework, as once things have been “fast-forwarded” they can’t get that information back, but will be expected to incorporate it in the “future” of the scene. More advanced groups can begin to play with the idea of “pimping” here, in that they can manipulate use of the fast forward to their own aim. For example, “Grandpa, why don’t you tell that really long story about the war?” Which would probably prompt the director to yell “Fast forward!”

Adaptations:

More advanced groups can add other “tape directions” to their scenes, such as rewind, pause, chapter skip, etc. Even things like “menu,” “record” and “special features” can be added if the group is up to it.

A simple introduction to games/rules in scenework.

Rules:

Three students stand on stage. Each is given the suggestion of a rule that will govern their scene, for example: “Sarah can’t say the letter S, Dan can only use the right side of his body, and Marika screams whenever someone talks about the weather.” A regular scene then occurs, with the rules incorporated.

Objectives:

To incorporate rules and games into regular scenework; to justify rules within a scene; to listen; to accept and forward offers within rule-based scenes; to support but challenge fellow players.

Comments:

Students should play all rules to their maximum ability. The scene is also an opportunity for students to challenge and play with one another’s abilities while also being supportive, and conversely is an opportunity for the director to show how this done well.

Rules:

Each player is given a word, number or famous phrase (preferably not something said in every sentence.) Whenever the player’s word is spoken within the scene the player must justify an entrance or an exit.

Objectives:

To improvise and justify within the rules of the game while creating a scene.

Comments:

Players should be asked not to say their own word unless necessary to avoid the trap of “saying it for laughs.” Be sure to remember to create an activity and find a common focus for the players within the scene. You can also try to forward the story with each entrance and exit.

A painless entrée into the world of musical improv.

Rules:

Students perform a straightforward open scene. At any point, the director (or audience, depending) can shout, “Sounds like a song!” (Usually this happens on a line of dialogue.) The student who spoke the previous line or did the previous action must then sing a song using that line/action as a suggestion for the song. Songs are short, 30 seconds or so. Scene continues from there, until “Sounds like a song!” is shouted again.

Objectives:

To justify within a scene; to over-accept offers; to hone singing skills; to listen.

Comments:

Students are urged to throw themselves into the songs, Broadway-style. This is not to say that every song should be a huge, bombastic, Fosse-inspired dance number, but that every song should be performed at 120%. Ballads and torch songs are fine, as well. The emotionality of the song should be related to the story and character. Some improvisers are terrified of singing onstage. A good warm up to this game is Hot Spot (see warm ups).

Rules:

Object is chosen from a member of the audience. Scene is played using that object. It may or may not be used as what it really is (eg: credit card may be used as a pocket TV…).

Objective:

To improvise and justify a complete scene within the rules of the game. This game focuses on the teams abillity to create a story about the object.

Comments:

Let the object tell the story in one way or another. If the story isn’t about the object, the object should be a main character, or the solution of the problem, or the ultimate goal, or Big Brother, or…

A great way to play with many different styles

Rules:

Team plays a short neutral scene. The team replays the scene 2 more times coloured with the elements of a particular style or genre.

Objectives:

To improvise within many different styles. Create and practice the understanding of using an element of a style to prove a section.

Comments:

Many of the scenes will end up as mimicry and parody of the style, however, this game is excellent for finding a style the team enjoys. Experiment with many different styles, so that the team gets a feel for exploring the conventions of each one. Sometimes those conventions will call for a radical departure from the original neutral scene, but attempt to retain the key structural elements – even as you play with their detail and presentation.

A game that helps students incorporate stakes into their scenes.

Rules:

Before the game, write or have the students write down many lines of dialogue that introduce stakes on slips of paper. These lines will often revolve around consequences. Some examples, “If we don’t eat soon I’m going to get hangry, and you won’t like me when I’m hangry!” “This is my last chance to win the lottery, once and for all!”

Once you have enough lines of dialogue, scatter them around the stage. Have some students begin a scene, after they have established a platform, have them choose slips at random and speak them as dialogue, justifying and incorporating the stakes into the scene.

Objectives:

To get students in the habit of stating their stakes clearly, and to make to stake important to the characters.

Comments:

Remind students that while this game can be a lot of fun and great for exploring stakes, it is important in your scene work to keep stakes organic to the platform. In practice, your stakes should come from motivations that make sense to the characters and setting you’ve established.

Rules:

Four players begin a scene. One player must always be sitting, one standing, one lying down, and one kneeling. When a player changes position the player whose position they’ve adopted must justify their movement into a new position. No two players are allowed to be in the same position at once.

Objectives:

To improvise and justify within the rules of the game while creating a scene.

Comments:

A great game for reminding players of the use of levels and to be observant of their team mates movement.

This is the classic third person narrative game.

Rules:

Get a suggestion from audience (e.g. Fictional title for a story.) One player is the writer and narrates the story. The other members of the team perform the actual scene that is being told including the dialogue. Players pass the advancing of the story back and forth between narrator and stage until the story has been told.

Objectives:

To explore the principle of narration and work as a team to advance a story.

Comments:

One of the first hesitations a new team will have is to take over the scene from the stage. Most new players will just want the narrator to tell them what to do thus ridding themselves of any need to create a story. It is very important to get all of the players to advance the scene.

Rules:

Players begin a scene on a suggestion from the audience. A moderator the calls out different Styles or Emotions. When a new Style or Emotion is called out the players must continue the same scene justifying the new element.

Objectives:

To justify the transitions while creating a scene.

Comments:

Try and keep the continuity of the scene steady and with purpose or this will become a listing game of the players knowledge of the different styles. When the style changes the characters will be altered slightly as well, do not allow this alteration to change who the characters

Rules:

Audience members or team-mates provide the locomotion for the improvisers on stage. Improvisers may not move any part of their own bodies (except to provide dialogue by moving their mouths). Movers should put the “puppets” in challenging positions, and puppets should challenge the puppeteers with their verbal endowments.

Objectives:

To improvise and justify a complete scene within the rules of the game. This game focuses on the team’s story telling ability.

Comments:

Be ready for anything. Tell a STORY: this game risks becoming a series of justifications with no through line. Focus on the elements of story structure, while staying within the rules of the game.

Rules:

The team creates an entire story/scene in reverse, starting with the conclusion of the story and improvising their way to the beginning.

Objectives:

The team must know the “Basic Scene Structure” so well they can forward the action in reverse (I guess that would be “reverse” the action). Resolution, raising the stakes, problem, characters, environment. Example: “I’m leaving – goodbye forever” “What will you do now?” “I can’t take this anymore!” “Nothing’s ever good enough, is it.” “God, how I hate carrots!” “Here’s your dinner, hon.” “Isn’t dinner ready yet? I’m diabetic.” “Welcome home dear, have a seat. I’ll just be a minute.”

Comments:

You don’t have to speak backwards – just unfold the story in reverse order. Take your time: this game is liable to disintegrate entirely if it’s rushed.

A restriction game.

Rules:

This scene has 26 lines. Each line of dialogue must begin with the next sequential letter of the alphabet. There is no real need to start with ‘A’. Ask for the starting letter from the audience.

Objectives:

To work within the limitations of the rule and still create a full story.

Comments:

Don’t allow the rules of the game to dominate the scene – the “stunt” version over emphasises the letter progression. The challenge is to create a full STORY in which each consecutive line of dialogue just happens to begin with the next letter of the alphabet. Trust yourselves.

Adaptations:

Every line spoken on stage must start with the next consecutive letter of the alphabet. This challenges the tendancy with this game to use long paragraphs of exposition to advance the story to avoid the structure of the game.

Each character on the stage gets a letter: all of their lines must begin with this letter.

Alliteration: each character gets a letter, then has to use that letter as many times as possible within the scene.