This was my first time attending the class, and it was slightly more along the lines of a typical class than I had expected. By that, I mean that despite being an improv class, it was planned out ahead of time and was well structured.
Getting warmed up
We began with an interesting way of introducing ourselves that I’m going to have to copy in some form or another. We played a game of “catch” (with an imaginary ball), saying our name when catching and calling the name of the person we were “throwing” to. Along with names, we also used the name of an animal beginning with the same first letter, so I was “Chris Cheetah”. Not only did this help with remembering who everyone was, but it also introduced us to the basics of all the games that were to follow.
After that, we performed an exercise for acting in general instead of being specific to improv. We walked around the room and were challenged to invent and portray a character in how we were walking. I have to say that I did pretty poorly at this since the only thing I could really think about at the time was how great a cup of coffee sounded. Still, others seemed to be doing better, and you could get some sense of what they were thinking by their posture and the specific way they took every step.
The instructor started giving us different situations, such as being hot or cold, being lost, running late to work, and finally returning to the characters we had created. We were then called to the center of the room and asked some questions, which we were to answer as our characters.
There was also a simple exercise that involved taking a bow while saying, “I fail.” Failing gracefully is important to life in general, and something you should expect rather frequently in improv because, pretty much by definition, you are not prepared for what happens.
Then, the real games / lessons began.
I cannot remember the name of the game, but it was simply repeating the actions and phrases of the person before us, going around in a circle. Since none of us repeated it perfectly and some laughed while trying or added a little bit, what started as a simple “Woo-hoo” and a wiggle / dance end up as… something else. It was kinda like the game of “telephone” in how it evolved over time and, by the end, was something quite different.
Round two of this game involved a walk across to the other side of the circle, interacting with the person. I believe the line we had was, “hey, how’s it going?”. It was pointed out that eye contact made a huge difference in how everything went, and not making eye contact with someone lead to confusion about who was going next.
I had the hang of this. Round three was to be started by whichever one of us felt bold enough to step out and do something, so I walked across the circle and gave the person opposite me a very eager greeting with a handshake. This was far from the craziest thing I could have come up with, but I went with it because it guaranteed eye contact. Round after round, this simple action became more and more interesting. The walk across the circle gained some flailing and skipping. I think you could say that twirls and dances were added. And, near the end, as it became more complex, the hesitation and uncertainty was exaggerated into long pauses that made it seem we were doing a terrible William Shatner impersonation.
Reading about what happened really doesn’t capture how much fun was had, and I wish that I had some video so that you could see. But, as an example of one of the better interactions: I was supposed to walk across the circle, giving the person opposite me a high-five and saying “hi there.” But, instead of giving her a high-five, I tried starting a round of patty-cake, to which she started laughing pretty intensely, saying “If fail. I fail.” (a reference to the earlier exercise).
Towards the end, we played a game telling a story saying only a single word at a time. Think “Three-Headed Broadway Star” but without the singing and with more people. Our story ended up being about wizards fighting aliens in space and a witch making a trophy out of bread. The point of the game, I gather, was teamwork. We all had a tendency to add something to make the story more interesting, but that more often had the effect of making the story incoherent. There is a balance that has to be found between being the person to throw wizards into the story and just following along, trying to open an opportunity for the person after you.
The final game was something that required a bit more concentration and, was ultimately dependent on everyone else to make interesting. It was called “I’ll get back to you”, and it was a game of answering a series of questions with the answer to the previous question. For example, if the previous person had asked you “what is your favorite breed of dog” and I asked “what are you going to have for dinner tonight”, your answer to my question might be “Corgi” (or whatever your favorite breed of dog is).
A few of us chose our questions carefully with the previous question in mind, creating quite a few chuckles.
Until next time
Next time, I’ll try to remember to step back for more photos and maybe a video. This post really fails at capturing just how much fun was had. But, as I said in the beginning, this was a series of planned games / lessons, and every game was teaching us something or helping our confidence and creativity in some way.
The next Drop-In Improv Class is on April 7. You can RSVP to the event on Meetup here, though the class is open to the public, outside of Meetup. You can learn more on The Upfront Theatre’s website here.