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Subject:Those improv exercises I promised you (long) From:Bonni Graham <bonnig -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM> Date:Fri, 13 Jan 1995 10:04:00 -0800
I had a large enough response asking me to post the improv exercises
that I'm going to do it to the list.
Unfortunately, my improv instructor pointed out that since she does
consulting, and is writing a book on improv games, she would rather not
give this information away for free. So what I'm going to do is list a
few of my favorites that are still pretty much beginner level or teach
valuable presentation skills. If anyone wants more detailed
information, let me know and I'll put you in touch with her directly and
you two can work something out. (NOTE: This is not an advertisement,
this is an offer to refer.)
Couple of rules to start with (if you don't start out with the rules,
classes often don't learn to think in different directions, which is
part of the point):
1) Don't deny ("That's an orange" "No it's not" Yes it is, if your
partner says it is -- just go with it).
2) No cheap laughs (drug jokes, body sounds, sex jokes) unless they are
done so creatively that they don't seem like a cheap laugh.
3) Nothing is ever boring or tiring on stage. Ever, even if it would be
4) Try to avoid asking questions -- that puts all the creative burden on
5) Be specific: a thing is not "this" it's a cracker, or better yet, a
Ritz cracker or a stoned wheat cracker with Russian caviar on it.
OK, with that out of the way, here are some simple exercises:
0) WARMUP: BUNNY BUNNY
The entire class/group gets in a circle. One person starts the game and
is the center of the bunny. This person puts both hands, with the index
finger extended, on his/her head and wiggles them like a bunny ear. The
person to the right puts his/her LEFT index finger on her/her head and
wiggles it. The person to the left does the same thing with her/her
RIGHT index finger. All three parts of the bunny begin chanting "BUNNY
BUNNY BUNNY" until the center person points (with his/her "ears") to
someone else in the circle, who then become the center bunny (with the
people on either side being the side bunnies). A bunny is eliminated if
he/she does not notice that he/she is part of the bunny or uses the
wrong hand (i.e., LEFT finger on the left bunny). The idea is to do
this very quickly -- eliminate people quickly, until you're down to two
people (yes, you can do this with only three people -- but if the last
three go for more than two rounds without losing a bunny, call it
quits). Eliminated bunnies can become "bunny police", watching for
mess-up bunnies. This game has no real significance, other than that
it's SO silly it loosens people up quickly and gets them ready to play.
1) MOOD SWING
One person solicits a list of emotions from the audience. The emotions
should be as specific as possible (i.e., aggravation or rage rather than
mad, ecstatic rather than happy, etc.). You can also use states of
being (e.g., Republican, or managerial), but that gets harder for
beginners to do. Write them down. The person with the list becomes the
"caller" who periodically stops the action and assigns one of the
players an emotion. Two players get up and ask for an activity that two
people could be doing on stage, in public (this usually prevents someone
from yelling out "sex!"). The activity should be active, rather than
cerebral (i.e., building a dog house, not discussing Neitzche). The two
players begin acting out the suggestion in normal moods. The caller
periodically stops the action by clapping and yelling "FREEZE", then
assigns one of the players an emotion. The player must continue the
action IN THAT EMOTION. This contiues until both players have switched
emotions four or five times, or the action comes to a natural close
(i.e., the doghouse is done). Players should not talk about what
they're doing ("Gee dear, we're building a doghouse now" "Yes, I'm going
to nail this plank in with the hammer that's in my hand") -- they should
do it and talk about something else, much as you would in real life.
Everyone in the class should do this exercise (at least as players)
2) GIBBERISH MURDER
Four people volunteer; three of them leave the room or cover their ears
so they CANNOT hear what's being said. The remaining person gets three
suggestions from the audience: a profession, a room in the house, and
the murder weapon (usually as silly as possible, like a carrot or
something). Once he or she has the suggestions, the three can come back
in the room. The three should stand so that they cannot see the action
on stage (although they can listen). The person who got the suggestions
taps one of the three (who turns around and joins the action) and begins
acting out the suggestions, but cannot use a word of English or any
other real language. The person must communicate the each of the
suggestions in turn using gestures, actions, and gibberish (the
gibberish can sound like a language -- in fact, the more it sounds like
a language, the more fun the game is). As soon as the second person
thinks he or she understands what the profession, or the room is, her or
she should act in that manner (i.e., if the profession is a nurse, the
second person could pretend to bandage somebody or take blood pressure)
-- if he or she seems correct, the audience should clap. This tells the
actors to move on to the next item.
Finally, when the second person understands what the murder weapon is,
he or she should "kill" the first person with it (who then gets off the
stage). The first person should only leave the stage if he or she is
pretty sure the second person really understands what the weapon is.
The second person taps another player and demonstrates (using gestures,
actions, and gibberish) what he or she thinks are the suggestions. When
the second person is "killed" the third person repeats the process with
the last person.
When the third person is "killed", the last person then states what he
or she thinks the three things were. The audience indicates if a guess
is correct, but does not supply the correct answer if the guess is
wrong. If any guesses are wrong, the third person says what her or she
thought that room, profession, or weapon was, then the second, then the
first (who of course knows exactly what the suggestions were).
The idea of this exercise is to nail down the essence of a thing and
communicate it without using real words. Also, it's hard, so you have
to give youself permission to fail (I'll talk more about that in the
next exercise). Again, everyone in the class should play this. Usually
it's a good idea to put a time limit on it: five minutes to start (and
the game just stops when the time runs out, no matter if people are left
ungibbered), faster as people get better. Communicating in English
seems much easier after this game.
3) THE IMPOSSIBLE GAME
In this game, two players perform an activity. They cannot:
o ask questions
o refer to themsevles (I, me, my, mine are all forbidden words)
o talk about the activity, even indirectly (i.e., "gee, it's a nice day
today here in Texas" is OK, but "Here I (BEEP) am, making Koolaid (BEEP)
-- want some? (BEEP)" is not)
If any player does do one of these things, the audience makes a horrible
buzzing noise, and the game begins again with a new player (the unbuzzed
player stays in).
EVERYONE IN THE CLASS MUST DO THIS GAME, INCLUDING THE INSTRUCTOR. The
idea is that it really is impossible -- NO ONE can play this game well.
What this does is teach you to take the pressure off yourself when
you're "on stage". You must give yourself permission to fail without
diminishing yourself. When you can fail and realize no one in the class
is laughing at you, it's calming. In this game, people really are
laughing with you, because they KNOW they're next and that they'll
probably do just as badly. Plus, after this game, any other stage thing
is easy! <g>
These games sound harder than they are -- I'm trying to write out things
that are much more easily demonstrated. They're fun, though, and pretty
much everyone can do them. The idea to stress is thet you're PLAYING --
no pressure, you don't have to be perfect because this isn't a script,
you're making it up as you go.
Feel free to write me with any questions -- I hope this helps!
Owner, Manual Labour
bonnig -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com