Friday, 29 June 2018

Hoopla teacher Rhiannon Vivian's Top Five Short Form Games for Beginners

Fun Short Form Games for Beginners

Oracle involves four people, set behind each other. One at the front sitting on the floor, one behind sat on a chair, the one behind that standing and the last one stood on a chair. That way we can see all their faces. Oracle is a brilliant low stakes word at a time short form game. The director simply takes big life questions from the audience, like 'Is there a God?' and 'Why are we here?' or 'Will England win the World Cup' and then asks the Oracle, who answers it a word at a time (per person). When Oracle is in action everyone's arms wave to the side. When Oracle is in silent contemplation everyone's hands are together in a kind of 'prayer' pose. It's funny, simple and daft. And being word at a time you can guess how wise oracle sounds. Sometimes very. Sometimes just plain ridiculous!

Pointing Story
Otherwise known as Storyteller Die. You can play this without the 'die' part for super beginners (cos let's face it, an audience yelling die at your first gig isn't the most positive experience!) About 5 people get up, stand in a line and tell a story between them, only speaking when the director is pointing at them. The title for the made up story is taken from the audience then it's up to the players to tell the story continuously, so even if someone is in the middle of a word and the director's finger points elsewhere, that next person should try and finish the half spoken word to make it seamless. Adding in different chapters with extra tasks for the players is also fun, like getting them to do Chapter 2 in a regional accent, or Chapter 3 in rhyming couplets, or Chapter 4 while dancing.

Twin Pillars
Easy! Two people are up playing a scene, with two audience members either side. The role of the audience members is simply to provide one word when tapped on the shoulder. While in the scene the players will conveniently 'forget' their words at intervals and then tap the audience (or the pillar) for a word to finish the sentence. The audience can say helpful words or if the word that pops into their head is weird or left-field that's part of the fun. The player then has to incorporate and justify this peculiar offer. A real example from some of my talented newbies recently was a scene set on a date. One of the players said, 'I don't kiss on a first date I...' then tapped the player playing the pillar who said, 'juggle!' So, I don't kiss on a first date, I juggle! I just love the new reality that gets created by one random word.

Word at a time expert
Three players stand next to each other shoulder to shoulder to play one entire person (or in this case an expert in something), who speaks one word at at time. Then another player plays the interviewer. All you need from the audience is something for someone to be an expert in (like rollerskating fish, or dancing plants) and you're away! The interviewer treats the game as if we've just zoned in on a TV channel all about that expertise and proceeds to interview our expert, who given that it's a word at a time answer, often makes sense in the funniest and weirdest of ways. Getting them to read an extract from their imaginary autobiography always goes down well.

Slideshow is perfect for players who just want to find their feet on stage. All it is, is players on the back line creating pictures or tableaus of holiday photos that two players in the front have to justify. Essentially it's like someone showing you their holiday snaps. Except the ones presenting have no idea what the back line will do. And vice versa. Both have to justify the offers each other make. So there are 3 or 4 players are on the back line and it's their task to just make tableaus that look like holiday photographs. Then two players at the front of the stage have to make sense of that tableau in relation to their fictional holiday. They can 'click' to a new photo by simple coming together on stage and pretending to use a slideshow clicker to move the image to the next one. It's tons of fun and really good for people who want to get up but not necessarily do much talking. And those presenting get a real fun time making sense of their team mates offers, and then creating scenarios right back at them to create.


Rhiannon regularly teaches for Hoopla and is part of The MaydaysDreamweaver Quartet & Bumper Blyton who all perform on the Hoopla stage at The Miller.  Next improv courses starting in September.

Monday, 25 June 2018

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 the, 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 varity improv courses, visit to find out more. 

Friday, 22 June 2018

Top Five Beginners exercises from Hoopla teacher James Witt.

James Witt shares his favourite exercises from his beginners improv course and how they help his students. 

Shared Holiday 
Talking about a shared holiday in pairs and starting every new sentence with ‘Yes And’.    This really gets the players on the same page in a fun and inventive low-pressure way.    I find it a good bonding exercise too and often my students have big smiles on their faces conjuring up these false memories.   

Written Lines 
I usually get my Beginners students to play this in the second week of their course.   I get them all to write three random quotes from film / tv / historical speech / literature.   They then do scenes in pairs and pull these out at random points.   I make sure they focus on the meaning and content of each line for at least 30 seconds before moving on.    I feel that it’s quite a challenging exercise early on, the curve balls you get given in this game are huge, but it teaches acceptance and super yes-anding.   The audience always loves it so it’s very rewarding too.    

I get my students to line up in Rolodex formation and do short scenes with varying restrictions.    
First of all, we play “Who, Where, What” three line scenes.    If the players fail to name both characters in the scene then the other players in the Rolodex sing “Say My Name Say My Name”. 
This is to drill the importance of giving each other names early in every scene.   But played with a sense of fun. 

In the next round, we play “No Questions” whenever the awaiting players hear a question in a scene they sing “Question” in the style of the lyric in the Destiny’s Child song “Independent Women”.       Once three Questions have been asked the scene is over.   The Rolodex then sing “Let us see your Halo, Halo”  or if the players make it through a three-minute scene without asking more than two questions the Rolodex sings “You’re a Survivor”.    I feel it’s important to drill no questions really early on in a beginners course because once players start making statements and not asking questions then their scenes really take off.   I find it also means that fewer scenes become confrontational and more flow more naturally.   I find that often when asking lots of questions in a scene its because we are looking to our scene partner to guide the scene when it should be a collaborative journey.     It also applies a lot of pressure on your scene partner.    
The final rounds of Beyoncé feature “no negative words” such as No, Don’t, Can’t, Won’t, Not, Shouldn’t and Couldn’t.    When we hear any of these we sing the debut Destiny’s Child song “No, No, No, No, No” and the final rule is no “Meh Words” this includes any non commital words such as “But, Maybe, Perhaps, Possibly etc..” and we sing the “uh oh oh uh oh oh oh” bit from “All the Single Ladies” if we hear any of these non-committal words.    Three in a scene and the players move to the back of the Rolodex.     These type of “meh” words are often defence mechanisms from the players scared to latch onto certain themes and story arcs in case they’re “not good enough”, but I try and drill that every idea should be embraced.

We then impose all of these rules on the final round of scenes.   Which turns into a mini Beyoncé concert.   

Character Study
In most of my courses, I will get my students to observe a person in the wild.    I ask them to observe a random stranger, who is significantly different to them.   Can be age / gender / physical build.    I ask them to imagine a backstory for that person.   I then guide them in a meditative type visualisation exercise.   They close their eyes and imagine they are the person they studied at home looking in the mirror.   I ask them to get ready for work, make breakfast and walk to work in character.    I get them to focus on both the inner and outer life on the character.   Their physicality and voice.  I then hot seat them by asking a range of questions about their hopes, dreams, fears, family, friends, hobbies, relationships etc..   I feel this Stanislavskian approach to initial character development helps bring depth across all future ones too.   

Genre Cauldron
The first thing I do before working on Genre with my students is to get them into small groups and visualise a cauldron in front of them.    I then call out a genre of play / tv / film and they imagine they’re throwing tropes from that style into a giant cauldron. 
For example if I say “Horror Movie” they could throw into the cauldron ‘Jump scares, high school jock, Phone disconnected / no coverage, red herring suspects, abandoned place, revenge, shadows, lights cutting out, tension music, blood and gore etc...’.    This really gets their neural pathways working in the right way for genre-based games such as Storyteller Die, Pan Left, Film Show and Genre Rollercoaster.   This also helps people who are more unfamiliar with certain styles and gets them thinking about the cliches of certain genres which is where much of the comedy comes from in those games. 


James regularly teaches at Hoopla, his next course starts in September. You can also see him in improv action on the Hoopla stage as part of Dreamweaver Quartet.