Open Forum

 View Only
  • 1.  Improv Show

    Posted 04-30-2017 12:50
    This is my 3rd year as a theater director and we are about to put on our first improv show. We are working through the upright citizens brigade handbook but are not quite ready for a full long form show. I guess my real question is How do you structure an improv show and what games do you play in front of an audience? Thanks for your help.

    Sent from my iPhone

  • 2.  RE: Improv Show

    Posted 05-01-2017 06:25
    We just had our 7th annual improv show. It has been very successful! It is games based and follows an Improv Sports layout - two teams each night. We have an every night team and then an opposing team (three nights of shows around 1 hour each). Over the years we have stopped using points at all, although we have kept the "bag on the head" for kids who are too rude on stage. We have a student host. We have had a teacher team in the show.

    We mix up games each year a little bit, but have done Dating Game, World's Worst, Lines from Your Pants, Party Quirks, Gibberish, Kids Theatre ala Jimmy Fallon, a slide show ala Practical Jokers, Infomercial, etc. Some games are "all plays" and some are played by one team only. We have auditions and end up with about 5 kids on a team.

    Suzanne Jones
    Pella IA

  • 3.  RE: Improv Show

    Posted 05-01-2017 09:23
    BRAVO!!!  Improv is a huge deal for us and I structure all of my classes around improv principles.  We cover warm-ups and short-form "cabaret" style games in my classes.  We have an after school improv comedy team which meets once a week throughout the year, and we do at least two public shows a year (one in Fall, one in Spring). This year, we have about 25 members of the team.  They are all four grade levels (9-12) and of various skill levels.

    The major draw-back to long-form improv is the audience needs to be "trained."  When done well, long-form is an amazing piece of theatre that allows the audience to forget that it's improvised.  However, when it's poor, or even mediocre, it can destroy future audiences.  Therefore, I would recommend you continue to workshop long-form in your classes, but don't perform it until you and your students really feel comfortable with it.  When I perform professionally, I only do so in venues where the audiences are either fans of improv or are open to experience something new (just like the audiences that attend Second City, UCB, Laughing Matters, and Dad's Garage).

    Due to its challenges, I have only rarely done long-form with my students' shows.  Usually, the performers are the Seniors that have received the most training.  Instead, we structure our performances to about 90 minute "cabaret" style shows, similar to what one might see on "Who's Line..."

    For our shows, I have two improv team Captains (usually one boy and one girl) to help me determine the set list and which actors will perform in each scene (this is based on skill levels and particular abilities with certain forms).  We mix it up with Verbal endowments, Physical Endowments, and focus on Characters and Story-Telling structure.  We take extra care to make sure that every player gets to perform in at least two games and that we alternate physical and verbal challenges.

    Here is a sampling of our set list (this changes from show to show).  
    1. Freeze Tag - 6-8 players
    2. That's Right Bob - 2 players
    3. Transportation - 4 players
    4. Interrogation -2  COPS, 1 CRIMINAL
    5. Genres - 2 players -  1 interloper
    6. Spelling B - 6-8 players and audience member 
    7. Levels - 3 players
    8. On book -  2 players
    9. 1-3-5 - 3 players
    10. Time Warp - 4 players
    11. Worlds' Worst/185 - Full Cast
    12. Moving Bodies - 4 players (audience members if possible)
    13. Directed Scene - 3 players
    14. Lines - 4 players
    15. Buzzer - 2 players
    16. Dance Crew - full cast
    I can give you a full description of these games, or you can find them online.  I highly recommend that you act as "side-coach" during the scenes.  It can take a lot of the stress off of your first-timers.  Also, it allows you to exploit the "Coach vs. Player" or "Game Within the Game" dynamic that is so fun for the audience.

    Besides my classes and these extra-curricular shows, we also perform improv as part of our Community Outreach and Ambassador programs.  The elementary and middle school audiences (especially their teachers!) love this stuff.  We've even developed literacy programs, which earned us some grant money, and have toured the region doing improv.  In our scripted plays and musicals, my strongest actors are - shocking! - my strongest improvisors. It's an invaluable tool.

    Break a leg!!!

    Josh Ruben
    Fine Arts Head, Northwest Whitfield Co. HS
    Tunnel Hill, GA

  • 4.  RE: Improv Show

    Posted 05-02-2017 00:11
    Thank you so much. I found most of the games listed but would love to hear your explanations of the following games if you wouldn't mind. (newbness showing)

    On Book
    1 3 5
    Directed Scene
    and Dance Crew

    Thanks everyone for your time,

    Tanner Oharah
    Choir and Theatre Director
    Buena Vista CO

  • 5.  RE: Improv Show

    Posted 05-08-2017 12:37
    Interrogation - A Guessing Game.  
    Two actors function as "Cops".  The bigger their characters, the better.  A third actor, or "accused" leaves stage and is put in isolation.  The cops or MC prompt the audience for three factors: murder victim (real or fictional - for example, Bugs Bunny), the murder weapon that has nothing to do with the victim (Ex. a Yo-Yo), and the location of the murder (the Eiffel Tower).  The accused is then lead back in and the "cops" must interrogate him/her.  Through clues given by the cops, the accused my try to figure out the three factors.  When the accused is close, the audience will "snap their fingers" letting the accused know that he/she is on the right track.  Dramatic/comedic tension is built by watching the cops struggle to give clues that a obscure enough to nudge the accused in the right direction without being too obvious.

    On Book - a Verbal Restriction Game
    Two actors.  One is given a book of some kind, this is the "reader."  He/she can only speak lines from that book, but they can add any kind of emotional inflection as they read.  The other actor must carry on a dialogue with the "reader" and must constantly justify the lines spoken by the reader.  The challenge is to make the dialogue seem logical and not merely a series of non-sequiturs.

    Transportation - Physical Restriction
    Four actors in four chairs.  Arrange the chairs close together, two downstage with the other two behind - just like the seating in a car.  Whichever actor is sitting in the downstage left chair is the "driver"; he/she will determine the type of vehicle all four of them are in.  The other actors and the audience will figure it out through dialogue, character and other details put forth by the "driver".  The other three actors must quickly become other characters that would be in the vehicle (as well as establish relationships). Then, the MC will say "Freeze-Rotate!" and the actors will move in a clockwise rotation so that they are all in different chairs with a new "driver." He/she then establishes a new vehicle and the other actors develop all new characters/relationships.  Keep going until all four actors are "drivers" in four different vehicles.  When you cycle through, each "driver" must return to the original vehicle he/she established and the other actors must return the respective characters they played in that vehicle.  It's a very fast game that allows for four different scenes played rapid succession. Examples of vehicles include: Mini-Van with a soccer mom/dad and kids, military tank, airplane, blimp, rocket ship, submarine, pirate ship, etc.

    One-Three-Five - Verbal Restriction
    Three actors create a scene.  In it, one actor can (AND MUST!!) only say 1 word of dialogue.  Another can only say 3 words, and one can only say 5 words.  The key is to play the scene as "naturally" as possible.  Once they contribute a line of dialogue (using only the amount of words required), they cannot speak again until another actor speaks in turn.

    Directed Scene
    Two or three "Actors" with another person functioning as the "Director."  The Director gives the general who/where for the scene (this can come from the audience as well).  The actors then begin the scene.  Throughout, the director interrupts (as a demanding film/theatre director) and makes changes.  (Ex. "I hated that love scene! Try it again, but this time to build the tension, I want you to do it without ever touching...ACTION!").  The director can also swap out actors or even replace one with an audience member (Ex: "You're not giving me what I need, try it as a two-headed Gorgon! You ((pointing to another actor)), jump on his back and let's see how that looks!").  A key point of concentration is that the Director must constantly challenge the actors physically, verbally and the actor must eagerly accept all offers.

    Lines - Verbal restriction
    Before the show, the audience writes short lines on slips of paper (pens, paper are supplied by your group). These can be lines from Movies, TV, song lyrics, or Commercials.  They cannot use innapropriate language.  Two or three actors then are given these lines (about 10 each) but they CANNOT read the lines before they are used in the scene.  Throughout the improvised scene, the actors must randomly pull the lines out of their pockets and use them in the scene.  They key is to justify how that line contributes to the scene.

    Two actors, a third is the "Buzzer"
    As the actors improvise the scene, the Buzzer (either with his/her voice or using a bell or other sound effect device) buzzes whatever is said or a physical activity.  Whichever actor is "buzzed" must quickly change whatever he/she said or did.  They may get buzzed several times, or only a few.  When the dialogue/action stops getting buzzed, the scene continues.  (Ex. "I love a PB and J for lunch - BUZZ - I love a bagel on rye - BUZZ - I'm a vegan - BUZZ - I've gone gluten free and have never felt better")

    Dance Crew - Physical Restriction
    Also known as Mirror Ballet
    Divide your troupe into groups of four, and have one student function as the DJ.  Each group is a Dance Crew.  They come up with their own name and identity (yes, this can be planned out ahead of time).  They will now "battle" the other crews.  One at a time, each crew will assume a "dance position" (the more serious and dramatic, the funnier it will be).  They should also be in a diamond pattern with one dancer downstage, two on either side and slightly upstage, and the fourth about 6 feet upstage from and directly behind the downstage dancer.  As in mirror ballet, once the music starts, whichever dancer has his/back to the others is the Leader.  The other dancers copy the Leader's moves.  At some point, the Leader will "pass the Lead" to one of the dancers on the side and so one so that all four dancers become the leader at some point (when the upstage dancer leads, all four should have their backs to the audience).  The conceit of the game is that the dancers DO NOT KNOW what music is going to be played.  The DJ should prepare a list of songs on a phone/computer/cd that is as 
    eclectic/random a mix as possible.  Each Dance Crew will perform approx. 1 minute of whatever song the DJ plays.  Then, have the audience judge which crew did the best interpretation of the song that was played.

    Josh Ruben
    Fine Arts Head, Northwest Whitfield
    Chattanooga TN

  • 6.  RE: Improv Show

    Posted 05-01-2017 09:25

    This is my first year at my new school.  We started improv here as well. 


    What I would recommend is doing game improv first.  What games do they do well?  Those are the ones to do.


    Additionally, selling improv to the public as a takeoff of "Whose Line" is much more attractive.  Once they buy into what you are doing, they'll be ready for long form, and so will you! 


    I hope this helps!


    Raymond A. Palasz

    Munster Auditorium Director / Theatre Company Director

    Munster High School

    8808 Columbia Avenue

    Munster, Indiana 46321




  • 7.  RE: Improv Show

    Posted 05-01-2017 14:50
    I've been doing improv with my kids for nearly a decade. It's a great way to get some extra money into your program and introduce theatre to the kids who've never thought of it before. It's become part of our school culture by this point. 

    Are you heading to ITF this year? I'm teaching both a beginning and intermediate improv workshop that will include a breakdown of how we structure our shows. If you're there come check it out :^)

    Shira Schwartz
    Chandler Unified School District
    Chandler AZ

  • 8.  RE: Improv Show

    Posted 05-01-2017 18:35
    If your troupe doesn't feel ready for long-form yet, don't worry about it. Plenty of good games and scene structures can provide a good variety filled "short form" show. We have had great success with things like Shift Left, Panel of Experts, Expand & Collapse, New Choice, Last Line/First Line, My Movie, Lines from a Hat, Good/Bad Advice, etc. We usually start with a scene montage based on a single prompt (which we strive to push toward long-formish) and end with Freeze (incorporating as many call-backs from the show as possible). I have students rehearse transitions between bits, so they share the load of introducing our bits and audience engagement. Good for you including improv and improv performance in your program!

    Keith Burns
    Theatre Arts Director
    Paradise Valley AZ

  • 9.  RE: Improv Show

    Posted 05-01-2017 19:33
    "This is my 3rd year as a theater director and we are about to put on our first improv show. We are working through the upright citizens brigade handbook but are not quite ready for a full long form show. I guess my real question is How do you structure an improv show and what games do you play in front of an audience? Thanks for your help." 

    Congratulations on your upcoming show!  

    First improv show . . . well, what will be successful for the players? THAT is where I would start. Anything that scares them off might lower their confidence to improvise.

    Improv is risk-taking. And they are NEW to this. The job to ensure their safety is completely up to US in helping create the atmosphere where these trust relationships can grow and flourish. If they feel confident and safe, they'll gladly give birth to alien creatures in a vat of pudding. But if a scene or game comes up that they don't understand or are not ready to play in front of an audience, that form or exercise might not fare well in the future. You're looking at LONG FORM . . . 

    My advice on a great way to help prepare?

    contact THIS guy -- 

    Sam Haldiman at Second Beat Improv Theater in Phoenix. I'm sure he can answer anything you need to know.