Wednesday 28 September 2016

Beginners Improv Exercises - Part 1.

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club in London, UK. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 

Hoopla's Beginners Improv Courses start every month in London: Beginners Improv Courses.

If you've done a Beginners Course our best next step is our Performance Improv Course: Performance Improv Course

This is part 1 of our write up of Beginners Improv Exercises from our recent courses. For part 2 please click here. 

I'm teaching lots of Beginners Improv Courses with Edgar at the moment and really enjoying them. A couple of the groups asked for a write up of some of our games so I thought I'd share this out to the wider improv scene. 

I'm going to write them up week by week as we go through the course, so they are roughly in the order that we do them.

Each workshop tends to feature a chat from me to set the environment, some warm ups, some exercises on certain topics, and then some fun show games or scenes to put it all into practice.

Here's the first batch, more coming on this blog soon:

Setting the Environment (things we say at start of class)

We have an atmosphere of safety, trust and support.
You are not by yourself, we're playing together as a team and supporting each other.
You are allowed to make mistakes, they often lead to the best bit in improv.
You can say the first thing that comes to you, you don't have to edit yourself, as long as you are coming from a place of fun, love and respect for your fellow improviser.
You don't have to be clever or funny or make up jokes, the humour comes naturally from the situation.
Yes And.

Warm Ups

1 Minute Life Stories: In pairs. One person says their life story in one minute. The other person listens and doesn't interupt. At the end of the minute the listener repeats back as much as they remember. Used to get to know each other and also show active listening.

Yipee: Everyone runs around the room, they run up to each other and jump up in the air simultaneously and shout "YIPEE!". Next step, they either both jump, or both not jump. Next step, if they both jump they stick together and form a unit until eventually everyone is in one big group shouting YIPEE and jumping in the air simultaneously. Learnt from Kevin Tomlinson. Used to get everyone moving and having fun.

Wild West: Everyone stood in a circle. At first they pass around "YE-HAH" by shouting YE-HAH in a Western Accent and swining their arm to the person next to them. Then if someone puts themselves into a shape of a barn and shouts "HIGH-BARN" the ye-hahs bounce back in the other direction. Shouting "BANDITS" means everyone runs and swaps places in the circle while being bandits. There are loads of other rules but ideally the teacher makes them up, and the students make up new rules over the course. Used to get everyone playing, breaking the ice, and to get everyone paying attention to the present moment.

Eastenders: Similar to Wild West above, but with Eastenders themed shout outs. With this sort of games I think it's best when the teacher and group make them up, so I won't write out all the rules here as it will take ages there are so many. If you do want our rules please buy me a pint at The Miller and I'll tell you!

Volcano: Everyone walking around the room. The director shouts out something and counts to 5 and everyone has to physically form that thing with each other before the director gets to 5. For instance "Volcano, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5! Microwave over, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!". Used to get everyone moving around and having fun and also accepting and building on each other's ideas. Learnt from Marc Rowland at Montreal Improv.

Meet & Greet Walkabout: Everyone walks around meeting and greeting each other in different ways. For instance best friends, super heroes, suspicious neighbours, old school buddies, ex boyfriends, parents. Breaks the ice and gets people used to trying out different characters without thinking about it too much. 

Danish Clapping: Fun clapping game I learnt from Chris Mead. I can't explain it with words so stop me when you see me and I'll show you it. I might make a video of it too if I get around to it. 

Creatures of the Deep: I invented this one! It's my prodest achievement. Everyone stood in the circle. The director does an impression of a creature of the deep to the person next to him. They copy what they see to the person next to them. Everyone copies what they just saw, not the original, so they gradually change like chinese whispers. The director sends out loads of creatures (squid, octopus, shark, star fish and more) into the circle and they keep going around until they change and merge and underwater fun is had. 

Yes And Exercises

Machine: Good for physical Yes Anding. Half the class on stage stoood along the back wall. The director gets suggestions for machines (tractor, typewriter, combine harvester etc) and the improvisers make those machines with their bodies as one team, without talking about it. Gets improvisers used to looking at other people's offers and adding to them (yes and) in a collaborative way. Learnt from Charna Halpern with IO and John Cremer at The Maydays.

Story Swap: Good for verbal Yes And. One person is telling a story. When the director claps their hands and shouts swap the other person takes over telling the story exactly where they left off, and then they continue swapping throughout the story. Trains improvisers to listen, yes and, and not plan too far ahead. 

Story Conductor: Team of five improviser stood in an arc, and one improviser in front of them (Story Conductor). Whoever the Story Conductor points to starts telling the story and when they point to someone else the other person takes over. Trains improvisers to listen, yes and, and play as a team. This seems to get played by everyone but I think was invented by IO, I could be wrong about that though. 

Yeah Yeah Yeah: One person starts telling a story. The other says "Yeah yeah yeah" while nodding enthusiastically with their whole body and takes over telling the story, and then they keep swapping over as it goes, saying "yeah yeah yeah" each time. There's also a fun variation where it starts with one saying "do you remember that time...." and then they are two friends remembering a shared time. I got this from Maria Peters so thank you Maria.

Listening Exercises

Word at a Time Stories: Two improvisers tell a story a word at a time, with a different improviser saying each word. Very moment by moment and forces improvisers to stay present. As a variation improvisers can shout "Again" whenever they want to re-start with a new story, which stops people getting stuck and keeps them in the flow of it. I think this was originally invented by Keith Johnstone but now is widely used everywhere.

Wise Wise Wise: The same as above but with a large group stood in a circle trying to make up wise sayings and proverbs a word at a time. When they think one has got to the end of a saying the group says "wise wise wise" and bows.

Syncronised Clapping: Everyone stood in a circle. Two people next to each other turn and face and clap at the same time. One turns to the next person, and they also clap at the same time. This continues around the circle. If people clap twice it changes the direction, and people can also clap across the circle to someone. Gets everyone listening and in the present moment. I've seen Edgar make a group play this for 40 minutes before. There is something in it. It's so simple and yet over thinking makes it at first difficult. Ommmm.

Being Obvious Exercises

Piece of Cheese: Everyone in a circle. One person hops out and says "I'm a piece of cheese" and becomes that piece of cheese. One by one other improvisers come out and become obvious things to go with that offer, until one overall united picture is formed. Then it's repeated with different starting objects. For instance "I'm a wheel", "I'm a unicycle frame", "I'm a unicyclist", "I'm the circus they are in".  

Group Mind Exercises

Stop, Shuffle, Walk, Drop: Everyone walking around the room. If the director says stop they stop, drop they touch the floor, walk they walk, and shuffle they shuffle along. Then the director stops saying anything and the group can shout it out when they want. Then there are no shout outs at all and the group just does magically the same thing, adjusting from walk to shuffle as they go by everyone sensing what the group wants. Teaches everyone to be connected to the group and sense what the group needs. I got this one from Sophie Pumphrey so thank you Sophie.

Fun End Games

Late for Work: One person leaves the room. While they are out the audience suggests why they were late for work, how they got here, and what their job is. When the person comes back they are apologising to their boss for being late while trying to guess why they were late, how they got there, and what their job is. They are helped out by four improvisers playing their friendly colleagues who are miming actions behind the boss.  I like this game early in our beginners courses as it gets people on stage in front of an audience having fun, and also gets people physically yes anding each other.

Copy Dance: Split everyone into groups of 5 or so. They have 5 minutes to find a song they all now, practice singing it, and invent and rehearse a dance routine to go with it. At the end of the 5 minutes each group performs their piece, but also another group then gets up and immediately copies what they just saw. We use to teach optimism in performance, the fact that mistakes will happen and you're never ready but you can stay optimistic. As Mick Barnfather (who we learnt this from): No problem!

End Chat

We always try to end with a postive chat, celebrating what people enjoyed and trying to minimise people's inner critics.


This is part 1 of our write up of Beginners Improv Exercises from our recent courses. For part 2 please click here. 

Hoopla's Beginners Improv Courses start every month in London: Beginners Improv Courses.

If you've done a Beginners Course our best next step is our Performance Improv Course: Performance Improv Course.

Blog by Steve Roe, co-founder of Hoopla Improv, courses, shows and improv club in London, UK. Twitter: @HooplaImpro. Facebook: HooplaImpro. Website: Email: 


  1. Thank you for this! Looking forward to the next one.

  2. So good thanks Steve for listing this here!