Archive for June, 2007

Improv Encyclopedia

June 27, 2007

The Improv Encyclopedia has been revamped, and it looks great.

Check it out.


Compiled Improv Wisdom

June 24, 2007

David Wahl (of Creative Creativity fame) sent me this link;

Purple Crayon’s Improv Wisdom

It’s a list of about 150 bits of  improv advice.  It’s all good stuff, but I find it impossible to read so much condensed knowledge in one sitting.

Here’s something that’s well worth saying;

On getting suggestions: 1) put the audience at ease, don’t put them to a test, or on the spot. 2) define what you want. 3) encourage them to be creative and at the top of their intelligence to suggest what they want to see.

WikiHow Random page

June 20, 2007

A while ago, Erin Dean recommended setting my homepage to Wikihow’s random page.

I wouldn’t say I’ve learnt much from the experiment, but I am endlessly amused.

And every morning I think to myself ‘that would make a good askfor’.

I’ll do five random pages now
How to Dress for a Middle School Mixer: Girl
How to Watch the Neighbors’ Cat
How to Raise a Child
How to Make Bitten Nails Beautiful
How to Make Breakfast for Your Wife

Better than gynecologist, anyway.

Fire Drill

June 19, 2007

Here’s a nice little experiment;  (learnt from Ari Voukydis)

Instructor calls out two people to do a one minute scene.

As soon as they are finished call out two more people until everyone has performed.

Repeat except for a 30 second scene, then 15, then 7, 5, 3.

Note: different scenes each time, this is not like half life.

Then ask everyone two questions.

-As a performer, which scene length did you enjoy the most?

-As an audience member, which scene length did you enjoy the most?

Discussion below fold…


How to be a good improv student

June 18, 2007

1. Turn up on time, turn your phone off.

2. Always volunteer, especially for the things you’re bad at.  Ideally everyone should volunteer for everything, this makes everyone feel braver than they really are.  Too many volunteers is the best kind of problem for an instructor to have.

3. Tell the truth.  Don’t just feed the instructor what you think they want to hear.  They can teach you better if they know where you’re really at.

4. Give it a shot.  Even if you disagree with the activity, or you have no interest in that kind of improv, do your best to make it work.   If you don’t commit to it then you’re guaranteed to get nothing out of it, is your time that worthless?

5. Don’t try to impress us with how good you are.  Don’t bring out your best material, and don’t plan ahead to avoid mistakes.  Approach the workshop honestly and you’ll learn more.  Which is in itself impressive.

6. Fail with good humour.  Not only is making mistakes the best way to learn, but if you can fail with good humour, then the whole vibe of the workshop can become more positive and more supportive.

7. Work with as many people as you can.  Don’t just work with the people you know and like, spread the love.

8. Remember, everything is a muscle.  If you want to get better at something, you just gotta keep working on it.

Intro to Improv: Wimping

June 13, 2007


I’m starting to realize why I like improv so much.  It took me half an hour to plan out about 20 pages worth of comics.  But to actually make them…

Cat in a Toaster

June 11, 2007

[Sorry, closest I could get (source) ]

I can’t find any reference to this one (not even in German). But I suspect this is also attributable to Joel Dale (ed: apparently not).

Here’s the scene;

It’s Christmas Day and the player is a child who has just received two gifts; a cat and a toaster. The player doesn’t know what to do next, so he/she puts the cat in the toaster.

This is not as common as Atomic Spaghetti, but like that, once you have the concept in mind it’s very easy to spot it when it happens.

And what is happening? The player is thinking ‘connections good!’ which is true, connections are lovely. But not just any old connection, logical connections are good (it doesn’t even have to be real logic, it can be your own special brand of logic).

Not to say that putting the Cat in the Toaster is a bad move, it’s miles better than doing nothing, but it needs some emotional weight behind it. It can’t just be because ‘connections good.’

What’s it all about?

June 8, 2007

Another gem from Jane Espenson’s blog.

Is there conflict in your spec script? Yes, of course there is. You might even have a scene of two people disagreeing, arguing, maybe even screaming and throwing punches. Great stuff. But here’s a little trick to make that scene even better:

Imagine that at some point in the scene, you are required to give one of the characters this line:

Fightin’ Guy
Oh my God. Is that what this is really about?

Don’t actually give them the line, just imagine that they had to say it. What would the “that” be?

Read the whole article.

Of course, it’s not just for arguments, try ‘this isn’t really about who can cook the best chili, is it?’.

Which brings me back to the other point about Atomic Spaghetti.  Scenes shouldn’t be about spaghetti, they should be about people (possibly cooking and/or eating spaghetti), and especially the relationships between people.  Another hallmark of an Atomic Spaghetti scene is the lack of a developed relationship between characters.

One of my favourite exercises  is ‘do an activity while talking about something different’ from Truth in Comedy.  For example, fixing a car while talking about the Korean War.  It gives scenes so much more depth, and so much more room for forging connections.

Atomic Spaghetti

June 7, 2007

That last post reminded me of a great piece of improv terminology I once heard*.


Atomic Spaghetti

Imagine a scene that starts off with a guy eating spaghetti. The players seize on this idea: spaghetti! The spaghetti becomes more and more important until by the end of the scene… BOOM!   Atomic Spaghetti.

What we see is a kind of over-aggresive yesanding right from the top of the scene, which sounds great (it’s amazingly efficient to make a whole scene from one offer), but it’s like trying to make a human pyramid with only one person on the bottom layer.

You need to take some time to set the scene.  Eating spaghetti? Ok.  Are we in a restaurant? Is this a romantic dinner? A mob gathering? A romantic mob gathering?

Anyway, it’s a common problem with high schoolers, so it’s a great term to have (or better yet to coin a new term based on the first scene where the problem occurs)


Broodax: born in flesh

June 7, 2007

(from the legendary Penny Arcade, click for bigger)

I discovered this great blog (thanks to CreativeCreativity!). It’s about writing for tv, but a lot of the problems she talks about get me thinking of problems in improv.

Here’s a story I really liked. It’s from a discussion of how colourful to make one’s stage directions;

Once, in a Buffy script (Band Candy), I wanted to indicate that Giles was very embarrassed and self-conscious about something Buffy was talking about. I wrote “Giles finds something interesting on his lapel.” Several members of the production staff came to me to ask about the thing on Giles’ lapel — would it turn out to be the villain of the next week’s episode, they asked?

So be poetic, but careful. If there’s a way to read your direction as literal, someone will do it.

I often find that the kinds of metaphorical and exaggerated language that we use in everyday life will, in an improv scene, be taken literally. Which leads to situations like the above comic. Now of course, this can be awesome sometimes (it works great for the Mighty Boosh), but it’s usually either a gag, or from a misguided belief that if you don’t jump all over every offer you must be wimping. The risk is that players will stop talking like a normal person for fear of being yesanded to crazy town in every scene. (I think it goes with out saying that players talking like normal people is a good thing).

In the end, it’s a matter of developing trust between players. And also just being aware that not every offer needs to be taken so literally.