Wednesday, 29 February 2012

New Short Form Games

Sizzling Arthur show last night, we put loads of new games in and it turned out really fun. It looks like the group is going the way of putting on a totally new batch of games every month. There's quite a large repeat audience at The Miller so it's important to keep it fresh, and it's exciting coming up with new stuff. 

Many thanks to Simon Veal, Richard Verrill and Rob Grundel for coming up with some of these, really appreciate it. 

Comic Book - Get a made up name of a comic book from the audience. 3 actors immediately take a pose as if they are picture in the comic book. Another actor at the side says the narration (text at the top of comic picture). Another actor at other side provides the speech bubbles. Go through doing lots of pictures in the comic book, with actors in the middle taking a different pose each time. Also a good game for teaching justification, as the actors at the side have to justify all the different poses. Thanks again Rob for coming up with this one. 

Deleted Scenes - Actors stand in a row across back of the stage. Host gets a suggestion for a movie from the audience. Actors jump forwards and do lots of mini-scenes that are 'deleted scenes' from that movie. Sometimes it's one actor by themselves, sometimes more. It's lots of different scenes, quite fast paced. Get a few new suggestions too. When playing it's good to think what's the essence of the movie, and then play with it and flip it on its head. 

New Choice Each Other - Already quite a common short-form game but we've adapted it so the actors new choice each other. For instance:
Arthur: "Hello and welcome to my pub, would you like a pint of ale?"
Martha: "New choice."
Arthur: "Would you like a pint of lager?"
Martha: "New choice."
Arthur: "Would you like a pint of brandy?"
Martha: "Yes please, that would be great."
Arthur: "New choice."
Martha: "Yes please, pour it into my mouth!"

You can New Choice lines, actions, emotions, anything really. It's important they stay cheerful and upbeat when shouting New Choice.

Quantum Leap - We're currently working on this one, based on the TV series where Scott Bakula/Sam Beckett leaped into a different person's life at the start of each episode. There must be something in it!

The Shard - We're currently working on this one too. Multiple scenes take place on different floors of The Shard, with characters connecting by going up and down in lifts. 

Relationship Time Jump - Simon got this from doing Spontaneity Shop courses, just so you know we didn't invent it, it's awesome. Two people start a scene with a relationship from the audience and with a starting age. Eg. two brothers with the youngest one being 8. The host then moves them upwards through multiple scenes at different ages, so we see them grow up together. It's great for practicing the game of relationship and status, as whatever relationship and status is established in the first scene can be played with for future situations in other scenes. 

1 Minute Scene Challenge - Two pairs and one solo actor improvise a 1 minute scene each, based on a genre from the audience. Encourage them to play multiple characters and locations.

Deaf Replay - Two actors improvise a scene while two others look on with their fingers in their ears or with headphones on so they can't hear anything. The previously deaf improvisers then repeat the scenes with the exact same movements, but with their own lines. 

Next Arthur show is on Tuesday 6th March at The Miller, alongside new group Fluffers. 

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Monday, 27 February 2012

New Ways to Play Yes Let's

Last Monday's workshop at The Rag Factory was on 'Saying Yes'. By just concentrating on 'Saying Yes' all night there was loads of fun and laughs, it really is one of the core things of impro. It also had the effect that scenes tended to have more action in, as people were pitched into the unknown and allowed themselves to get into situations we'd usually defend ourselves from. I also enjoyed watching the effect it had on people saying yes to their own ideas, not just their partners, and surprising themselves with their own offers.

One of the games we used Yes Let's. As impro games go, this is a real classic. It's the sort of game you learn when you're starting out and love, and then years later forget about when you're going through trials and tribulations with a performing group, and then rediscover it and think 'oh year, that's what this stuff is all about, we should have been doing this every week'. I really want to do it loads more now, can't believe I've been neglecting it recently!

So we made a few modifications to it, but here's how it goes:

Yes Let's In a Big Group

The whole group stood in a big circle. 
Anyone starts with a simple ordinary boring offer. For instance "Let's do some washing up".
The whole group shouts "YES LET'S" with a panto style arm swing. 
The whole group does the offer. (It's good to get them to do this quickly without hesitation)
Someone else shouts out the next obvious offer that continues from that first one. For instance "Let's feel the bubbles on our skin."
The whole group shouts "YES LET'S again. 
The group continues with people shouting out the next obvious offers and the whole group shouting YES LET'S and carrying them out. 
The idea is that the group ends up telling one big story all together. 

Yes Let's Notes and Modifications

Encourage the group not to hesitate, there shouldn't be a gap between shouting Yes Let's, doing the action, and shouting out next thing. It's quite a quick moving game. 

The panto style impro arm swing seemed important, one of the improvisers in a King/Queen Yes Let's got this to perfection, it seems to encourage a constant uplifting positive energy. 

You can also start of the Yes Let's by someone shouting out a genre, and then someone shouting out a location. For instance: "Let's be in a Chicago gangster movie. YES LET'S. Let's be on the docks. YES LET'S."

If people aren't calling anything out remind them to be obvious or to just add the smallest possible offer they can. For instance if someone mentions a car, just say what colour it is. If someone picks up a flower, say what flower it is. Adding the smallest possible as an objective can unlock frozen improvisers, and often the smallest possible offer actually turns out to be really important. 

Say Yes Let's positively and enthusiastically even if you think it's going wrong, in fact especially if you think it's going wrong and especially if you don't know what's happening next. This encourages people to pitch themselves into the unknown, incorporate mistakes, and makes it very exciting. 

Yes Let's in a Small Group

Same as above, but with 4 people in a group. It's a way of ensuring that the quieter people in the group and new people to the exercise are still getting lots of practice. 

Yes Let's in Pairs

As above but done in pairs, one pair at a time, in front of an audience. It generated scenes where lots happened, really fun.

Yes Let's Solo

I'm only thinking of this while I'm writing this blog. Why oh why didn't I think of this in the workshop? Next time gadget, next time. 

Tonight's workshop at The Rag Factory is on Platforms and Environment, next Monday is on Reincorporation.

Lots of love,

Improv workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday in London
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Friday, 24 February 2012

Scenes Born Out Of Relationships and Emotions

We did this exercise at the drop-in last night. Many thanks to Guy Fletcher for originally teaching it to me, I think he modified it after learning it at The Magnet Theatre in New York, and we modified it further last night, and so the impro feedback loop continues. 

It takes a while to get but eventually leads to scenes that are born out of relationships and driven by emotion. 

Here's how it goes:

Actor A: "You are [NAME EMOTION]"
Actor B: "I am [THAT EMOTION] and expand the concept of that emotion."
Actor A: "That makes me feel [THEIR EMOTION]"
Actor A: Yes And the situation/where etc
Actor B: We always feel like this when [NAME THE DEEPER RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO]
Play the scene, with this relationship established and driven by these emotions. 

For example:

Actor A: You are domineering
Actor B: I am domineering, I'm like a God walking among men
Actor A: That makes me feel nervous
Actor B: I always feel like this when I leave my palace and walk among my peasants
Actor A: Yes and thank you King Arthur for gracing us with your presence at my farm
Actor B: We always feel like this when a powerful being comes down among us
Actor A: We're not the only ones, people for centuries have feared the wrath of God
Actor B: Indeed, now get me some turnips, I demand turnips for the King's pot
Actor A: Of course sire, here are my prize turnips
Actor B: Whatttt?? Only six? Why I have 25 at my palace!
Actor A: I'm sorry sire, please don't hit me!
Actor B: I shall hit you, with this stick!
First Off Stage Actor: (booming) Stop right there King Arthur!
Actor B: Whattt? Who is this?
First Off Stage Actor: (booming) This is the wrath of God! Well, I am God, and this is my wrath!
Actor B: (nervous) But where are you?
First Off Stage Actor: (booming) I am down there with you. Do not hit your peasant with a stick.
Actor B: (nervous) Of course, you're down here, you're everywhere, your omnipotent. (hits himself with the stick). Ah! You hit me with a stick!
First Off Stage Actor: (booming) I am the stick! Now clear off!
Second Off Stage Actor: (shrieking) God!!!!
First Off Stage Actor: (nervous) Mother?
Second Off Stage Actor: (shrieking) Are you mucking about with them humans again?
First Off Stage Actor: (nervous) Sorry Mother!
Second Off Stage Actor: (shrieking) Take that you little bastard! (hits him)
Peasant looks on confused

So as you can see the setting, situation and game can be picked out of the relationship and emotions. The spotting and naming of other people's emotions is a very Meisner technique thing to do by the way. 

Next workshop is on Status this Saturday at The Bedford in Balham, 11am - 5pm, 77 Bedford Hill, Balham, SW12 9BS.

Improv Classes every Monday, Thursday and Saturday in London

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Don't just justify mistakes, Yes And the hell out of them!

Maria Peters (Music Box, Arthur, 8 bit and more), a great improviser and friend of mine recently went to New York and saw loads of shows at The Upright Citizens Brigade. She thought they were awesome and said that people were queuing round the block to get in. 

I asked her what it was the improvisers were doing that made the shows so awesome, and she said that they just had full confidence and just didn't give a shit (in a good way). The attitude was 'hell yeah, I meant to do that! And hell yeah, my scene partner meant to do that too!' 

Absolutely everything that happened on stage was treated as if it was the best offer ever given, and jumped on and yes anded without any hesitation. So if a 'mistake' popped up instead of it creating an awkward silence or half-hearted attempt to justify before brushing off, it was instead jumped on by the cast as if it was the best offer ever made and yes anded and ended up being the point of the entire show.

I saw this myself in one of my favourite ever shows - One Night Stand the Improvised Musical. An improviser was on stage early in the show being a professor, with another improviser as a cat. We all thought he was in an office, but it hadn't be clearly stated. Halfway through the scene another improviser spent ages coming in on skis, shaking off snow, crawling through a tunnel, and then popping up next to the professor. All the way through this mime at the time the audience were thinking 'eh?' as we thought the professor was in an office, and it felt like a massive mistake. However the professor jumped on it, and immediately without hesitation his office was inside an igloo in Antarctica. Further more the next scene mentioned Antarctica, and then in fact the rest of the show become a huge adventure to Antarctica. At the end the whole audience were saying how cool it was that the show went to Antarctica, but it all came from a mistake that was jumped on and treated as if it was the best thing ever.

This was making me think that there is nothing to be scared of in impro. The worse thing that can happen is that you make me a mistake, but the mistake can create a new game, a new character, a new laugh, a new story, a new direction. So what feels like the worse thing, can actually be the best thing. Some feel before a show 'I don't want to make a fool of myself', but the beauty is that making a fool of yourself is the entire point, it's comedy and personally I don't care if people laugh with me or at me. In fact the only bad thing that can happen is actually looking scared in front of an audience, because then they think something is wrong. So don't be scared, there's no point in being scared in impro. 

This discussion lead to Maria and I doing a new warm up game before an Arthur show. Some of you might be aware of 8 things:

1. Improvisers get into a circle. 
2. One improviser jumps into circle and shout "hello everyone my name is..."
3. The circle shouts "Hello NAME"
4. Someone in the circle gives them a category. 
5. They then have to list 8 things in that category as quickly as possible. 
6. After each thing the circle shouts the number. 
7. At the end they get a big round of applause. 
8. Next person jumps in. 

For instance:

"Hi everyone I'm Arthur."
"Hello Arthur!"
"8 types of cheese"
Fish Cheese
Snail Cheese
Quail Cheese
Encourage them to not have any fear of making mistakes. Also encourage them to stay bouncy and happy while they do it, make friendly eye contact with the circle, and not put pressure on themselves to be clever or funny. Having someone just go for it is a lot more fun than watching someone err and stutter and withdraw from the group while they think of something clever. 

What we've added to this game now is that after someone has listed 8 things someone else jumps in and picks up on one of the offers that happened accidentally and makes something beautiful out of it. 

So with the example above one of the actors might jump in immediately afterwards and say:

"Snail Cheese! It's my favourite type of cheese. It's garlic flavoured and it's made by milking snails in the Alpine region of France by tiny milk maids."

After that someone else jumps in and lists 8 things influenced by the person before, for instance '8 delicacies of the Alps' or '8 types of garlic'. 

Soon people sense that there is nothing to fear in making mistakes as they trust that they will be supported and have them turned into something beautiful. Also people stop being hesitant and learn to jump on offers, whether they happened accidentally or deliberately, big or small.

Lots of love,


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Pulling Back the Curtain of Discovery Exercise

This exercises is from the Narrative workshop a few Saturdays ago. The aim of the day was naturally improvising exciting captivating stories that make sense without worrying about narrative.

Naturally - tends to come from improvisers being intuitive, playful and discovering rather than thinking or trying to get it 'right'.
Exciting - tends to come when improvisers boldly step into the unknown without hesitation or knowing where the story is going to go once they are there. 
Captivating - tends to come from drawing the audience in, opening up to the audience, sharing believable real worlds and emotions with the audience. 
Make Sense - tends to come from people reincorporating and justifying mistakes.
Without Worrying About Narrative - not planning ahead, yes and one offer at a time, playing with characters, objectives and having fun, looking backwards and present not planning. 

The group entered a very realistic imaginary world for the entire day, because reading the notes is generating real memories of actual events for me, rather than just remembering a bunch of people in a room above a pub. As in, the stories told on the day I seem to be remembering as if they are real life.

One exercise that came out of it was a great method of teaching discovery in scenes and stories. So often improv feels a bit too intellectual, so I love exercises that are more intuitive and let people effortlessly discover things in the moment.

I adapted this exercise from Jonathan Kay and Adam Oliver. 

1. A group of five people hold hands in a line. 
2. Person at one end of the line holds up their free hand to an imaginary curtain. 
3. When ready they pull back the curtain and then name what they see in front of them - it could be something from their own life, something new. It doesn't matter what it is, whatever their mind has given them they name, unless it's something they don't want to go into in which case just close the curtain and start again. 
4. They name the location they've found and take the rest of the group into the location by hand. 
5. They continue to look around and discover things, naming things as they go and touching them. Rather than thinking things up encourage them to open their eyes and see, or just point in different places. Also they can vary between looking low, high, close and far away.
6. The rest of the group don't ask questions, they are there to support and listen. 
7. After a bit of time they close the curtain on that world, go to the other end, and someone else takes over. 
8. Repeat for the whole group. 
9. Repeat again asking them to also put in characters in the situation, or even themselves. Don't 'invent' characters, just discover. 

Before starting it's good to get the room in the mood for gentle discovery. It's fun as they effortlessly populate a whole world.  

Where this changed was when we involved the whole group in simultaneous discovery:

1. Five improvisers are all in a line, not holding hands this time. 
2. They simultaneously pull back a shared curtain. 
3. One of them names what they first see. 
4. Everyone discovers together. They walk around the space touching and naming what they see together. 
5. Encourage them to put in people. 

Were then able to go one step further as group, and use this game to then pitch us into action. The group would pull back the curtain together, discover a world together, and then someone could shout 'Be It' or 'Do It' and some of the actors would have to inhabit the world as the characters and play the scene. What it effectively did was separate out the platform building, and make it a joint group discovery, so that when the players were in the scene they had a group mind understanding of their environment. 

We then moved on further and found that at any point one of the improvisers could shout 'next scene' and the stage was cleared. They then started with the curtain again and discovered the next scene again, before shouting 'do it' or 'be it' and inhabiting that new scene. 

This rapidly created captivating multi-scene stories, with each scene starting with the curtain pulled back and the actors sharing their discoveries with the audeince. When the stories became exciting sometimes the actors were tempted to skip the discovery section, but putting it in always lead to better scenes and a greater shared understanding between the actors and audience. In fact the discovery section was great at captivating the audience and drawing them in.

Overall lots of great stories told and played. 

Lots of love,


Saturday 25th February's workshop is on Status
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