A few years ago I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with Keith Johnstone (hosted by the lovely people at WIT).

He used some wonderful activities that I use to this day, so I’m going to describe some of them here.


First a warm up game which he described as ‘like dolphin training’. If you want a Dolphin to do a flip, then every time it does something a bit like a flip, you give it a fish. When it it does something a bit more like a flip you give it another fish. You keep reinforcing behaviours close to what you want until you finally get exactly what you want.

It’s operant conditioning.

To turn this into an exercise, we replace the dolphins with actors, and the fish with a positive sounding ‘Ding!’ (I suppose you could use a bell, but it’s more fun to say it).

So here’s the plan;

A volunteer (the dolphin) goes out of the room.

The trainers (everyone else) decides on a trick they want the dolphin to perform (touch their nose, hide under a chair, shake Brendon’s hand, etc).

The volunteer comes back in. Trainers can give no signal other than ‘ding!’

So if we want the dolphin to touch their nose, we will say ‘ding’ every time they move their hand in the direction of their face. If they do anything irrelevant… silence.

When the dolphin guesses, applaud.

Maybe it sounds dumb, but it’s good for a laugh, and it sets in place some ideas that we’ll be using for some other activities.


3 Responses to “Ding!”

  1. David Wahl Says:

    I’ve done this with Johnstone as well. There was an interesting thing that happened in our class, someone discovered the only way to fail at this game. Don’t do anything.

    Which is also the surest way to produce uninteresting improv.

    Here’s a question. Does the ding equal auidence approval? Does it train improvisers to go for easy laughs if they listen too closely to the audience?

  2. David Wahl Says:

    PS: Great blog!

  3. improbable Says:

    Thanks David!

    There’s a story about BF Skinner (probably not true) that one day all of his students agreed to look interested when he was to the left of his lectern, and bored when he was to the right.
    Apparently by the end of the lecture he was pressed against the left wall and unaware as to why.

    I think the Ding game can be used as a kind of warning about how easily we can be manipulated by feedback. In ‘Storytellers’ KJ theorizes that Michael Jackson’s audiences trained him to grab his crotch by screaming every time he put his hands near his groin.

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