Level One – Improv Class
This class is taught by Tyler Howard. Tyler has performed in several shows for the Mary C. since 2010, productions for Ocean Springs High School, including being on their Competition Theatre team. He was in an improv troupe called Lab Rats at Mississippi State University from 2012-2016, where he performed monthly and practiced weekly. He also performed twice in Atlanta at the Basement Theater, once as a Lab Rat and once of his own independent capacity. From there, he further studied improv in Chicago at the iO Theater under the curriculum of Del Close and Charna Halpern.
Every class will begin with 10-15 minutes of warm ups and exercises designed to put players into the right headspace for improvising, and building up energy to be maintained throughout the session. These exercises may include but are not limited to:
Zip-Zap-Zop: An exercise that emphasizes eye contact, passing focus, and group-oriented cohesion. Players must hold the designated pattern (usually Zip-Zap-Zop) by pointing to the player they are passing to and saying the next word in the pattern. Ex. Player One starts by saying Zip and pointing and making eye contact with Player Three. Player Three says Zap as they point and look to Player Two, who says Zop as they pass it to the next, who starts over at Zip and so on and so forth, building speed and energy.
Vroom: An exercise that emphasizes listening, physicality, and high energy. Players stand in a circle and pass the focus circularly by saying Vroom! and making an associated physical movement. Optional variants include adding Screech! which changes the direction of the circle, and Turbo! which continues the flow but jumps over the next person in the circle. As before, the players will build speed and energy as they become more confident with their anticipation of patterns.
Electric Company: A fast-paced exercise that emphasizes out-of-head thinking, group mentality, and word association. Players stand in circle and keep a rhythm through clapping or snapping. One player says a word to the person next in the circle and the second player says the first word that comes to their mind. The group repeats the two words in unison and chants a cadence in rhythm. This continues around the circle, building speed and energy as the players find the rhythm and gets out of their head.
Crazy 8s: A physical exercise that emphasizes free movement, high energy, and escalation. Players move each of their four limbs on the count of 8 until all four limbs have swung or stomped 8 times, and then repeat the process counting to 7, and then again to 6, so on and so forth. Speed naturally increases as they are switching between limbs faster between each countdown as the countdown grows smaller.
Pirates at Sea: A silly, fun, high-energy exercise that emphasizes high energy, teamwork, and breaking shyness in front of their fellow players. It is a predetermined routine with a song and choreography that increases in silliness as the song goes on. Players are encouraged to have fun with this exercise and not be afraid to look silly doing so.
Below is the framework for a week to week lesson plan bounded within the four weeks the course will run.
Week One: The Three “Rules” of Improv, Getting Out of Your Head, Three-Line Scenes
In the first week, I will go through with the players the three “Rules” of improv. These rules are not absolutes in improv, but they are important for new improvisers to understand the basics of creating an improvised performance. These three “Rules” are as follows:
Improv is founded on the support of your fellow players, and every player must know how to not only say Yes to a fellow player’s idea, but they must know to always add to the idea, to constantly be building and growing a scene. Players must be able to know that they can trust each other and not walk into a scene and be immediately shot down.
While not a cardinal sin, asking questions tends to force your other players to be put on the spot, and doesn’t inherently add to the scene. Rather than demonizing the concept of ever asking a question in a scene, this “Rule” more encourages players to be confident in their decisions and make statements rather than let their other players make all the decisions in a scene.
Don’t Go For The Joke
Improvised theatre is often associated with the more comedic aspects of the performance arts. Improv can be quite funny, however, the comedy of the craft is not derived from going for the joke of the scene, but, rather, from the maintenance of the natural flow of a scene. Going for the Joke can be a counter intuitive mindset and tends to cheapen the scene at the expense of the rest of the players. This “Rule” is not meant to disparage the comedy that will come from an improvised scene, but to emphasize that adding to a scene and taking care of your scene partners is more important than getting to a quick quip.
Also within Week One, I will be working with the players on the techniques to Get Out Of Their Head. Within an improvised setting, content comes from the players themselves. It can be difficult to continuously provide new material, but the tried and true philosophy of improv is to get out of one’s head. Someone stuck inside their own head has difficultly listening and thinking out of the box to manage a scene. Warm-up exercises, word association, and group work are techniques I will use to foment the players’ growth into extemporaneous performers.
Finally, in Week One, I will instruct the players into basic scene work with Three-Line Scenes, where players are made to create a scene that establishes who they are to each other, what they are doing, and where they are within three lines. This limitation is to warm up players to their first improvised scenes while maintaining an emphasis on the fundamentals of building a scene together. I will also introduce the element of suggestions within this exercise, so that players understand that even if they are not in a scene, they are always helping to build it.
Week Two: Discovering Relationships, Scenework, and Two-Step Suggestions
In Week Two, I will walk my players through the dynamics of scenework, the foundation of which is the relationship they discover. Being strangers is a scene is less interesting than having a prior relationship with which to build a scene around. I will teach the players basic techniques such as simply naming each other, starting in the middle of a scene and discovering it along the way, and how to end a scene. Ending a scene will involve a technique called Two-Step Suggestions, where the players will receive a suggestion and then remove themselves two-steps away from the suggestion via word association. Ex. If the suggestion is Picnic then they might associate Picnic with Ants and then Ants with Queen and they may start a scene about a Queen and find their way back to Picnic, effectively bringing the scene full circle. Exercises will include word association games, such as the Chain Game where players continuously try to build compound words with each other, or the Psychic Game where players attempt to say the same word at the same time via word association.
Week Three: Character, Environment, Object, and Body Work
Week Three will focus on how to use physicality to develop a scene and character. I will teach them how to use body posture techniques to deepen personalities, pantomiming to add depth to a scene’s setting, and maintaining consistency with object interaction and minding the environment. Exercises will include Scene Painting, where players will add things to an environment before playing in the space with the intention of interacting with everyone’s ideas and remembering the geography of the scene, as well as building an understanding of how an invisible environment can set the tone for a scene. Another exercise will be Elemental Bodies, where the players explore their physicality by mimicking characters who embody one of the four elements. We will also revisit Three-Line Scenes, except now the players will initiate the scenes with either an action or emotion.
Week Four: The Game of the Scene, Shortform and Longform
In week four, I will teach the players the “Game” of scenes, a concept that refers to a repeatable pattern that can be stretched and escalated to continue a scene or series of montage scenes. Ex. A game might be that a character constantly receives bad news, or that scenes always end when the players find a bag of beans. I will also teach the players about Shortform and Longform formats. Shortform improv is wholly based around a predetermined gimmick that gives the players a game to work with. Whose Line Is It Anyway is the perfect example of a Shortform format for improv. I will teach the players few Shortform games, such as Change, where players must constantly change the scene at the cue of an MC yelling Change!, Stage Directions, where players will write suggestions for physical actions on pieces of paper to be scattered in the play space and players must pick up these papers and justify the movement in the scene, and Three-Way Dub, where players speak for the person to their left and are spoken for by the person to their right and must act accordingly. Longform improv is essentially a completely improvised story, where sometimes templates for openers or scene structures are used, such as in the Harold or Armando formats. My Longform instruction will delve into a few opener templates, such as Invocation, where the players get a suggestion and then build on the suggestion in front of the audience via “Invoking” the spirit of the suggestion, Four Chair, where players have four chairs that represent four characters that two players will switch between, and Open Scenes, where the players just receive a single suggestion and build an open scene around it.
Instructor: Tyler Howard
September 9, 16, 23, 30
Registration Deadline: September 2nd
October 7, 14, 21, 28
Registration Deadline: September 30th
November 11, 18, 25 and December 2
Registration Deadline: November 4th
Time: 12:30p.m. – 2:30p.m.
Price: Members: $120.00/ Non Members: $130.00