Welcome to Improv Lessons for the solo student
I have tried to lay out these lessons as a natural progression of exercises covering some basics of Improv. However, feel free to do them in any order you prefer. As with all of Improv, these are a work in progress and will be added to and updated regularly. In addition, if you have a positive experience with these exercises, or some constructive feedback, we are always happy to hear from you.
The goal of this exercise is to relax and get into the spirit of enjoying performance. Step out of criticism and self judgement and let yourself play.
Performance – Hold an invisible ball in your hand. Feel its weight and toss it up and down for a moment. Now throw this ball up in the air, or against a wall so it bounces back to you. Now, the important part, try to catch the ball and fail. You can fail as simply or dramatically as you want as long as you do not catch the ball. Now genuinely complement yourself, cheer yourself for missing the ball. This is not sarcastic or criticizing, it is genuine appreciation for what you did. Now go get the ball and throw it again. Keep doing this at least six or seven times, but definitely until you can easily miss the ball and compliment yourself for doing so.
Variation – Try playing with invisible balls of different sizes, shapes, and weights
Review – What did you experience while doing this?
What were you feeling when you missed the ball?
How easy was it to tell yourself good job sincerely?
Yes, And, Because
In Improv we operate with the idea of Yes, And, Because. The principle behind this is that we first accept the other performers reality (YES). Then we add something to it that is our own response to them (AND). We also justify our shared reality and our emotions with details about them (BECAUSE).
In order to build this pattern into our brains, we practice literally saying the words Yes, And, Because.
Find a talk radio program, or a podcast, or an audio book. Something where a person is talking. Listen to them for one full sentence, then say out loud, “Yes, and because (summary of what they said), ___________(new stuff you are adding in based on what they said) _________________.
It is not required that what you add in makes complete sense in our world, only that it can make sense in the world you are creating. Now, they will have kept talking, don’t worry about that, just wait for the next full sentence and respond to it again by saying out loud, “Yes, and because (summary of what they said), ___________(new stuff you are adding in based on what they said) _________________.
For an example of how this would work:
Radio Voice – It looks like tomorrow is going to be warmer with a good chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon
Me – Yes, and because there will be thunderstorms in the afternoon I am going to take my favorite umbrella with me to work
Variation – Go back and forth with yourself after the first response you give, for example:
Me – Yes, and because I am going to take my favorite umbrella with me to work, Karen is going to ask to borrow it again because she never brings one
Me – Yes, and because Karen is going to ask to borrow my umbrella, I am going to have to hide my umbrella under my desk.
Me – Yes, and because I have hidden my umbrella under my desk, I am going to forget my umbrella when I leave.
Reflection – What part of this did you find easy, what part was challenging?
How creative were you with your answers?
Note – While performers rarely say Yes, And, Because out loud during a scene, it is always in their mind.
Something Under My Chair
Reach under your chair, find something there. Don’t know what object you have until you pull it up and actually look at it. Explore that object, continue to discover things about it through exploration and not through pre-planning. When you’ve found something you didn’t expect to find, put it away, reach under your chair, find something new.
Look around and find an object. Say the name of the object out loud, and immediately start talking about the object. Describe it, or (preferably) talk about some experience it inspires. After ~10 seconds, without pausing, interrupt yourself with the name of a new object, and launch into another 10-second description. Continue for a while (at least 10 objects).
(Eventually, the starting words can be drawn from the ether, instead of taking physical objects in your view.)
DON’T pause. Often, people will say the word out loud, repeat the word as a buffer to give their brains time to catch up, and THEN launch into the 10-second association. The whole point here is to practice talking and catching up with yourself, honing your ability to talk about anything.
Object Day in The Life
Perform a scene playing an ordinary object and a day in its life. Use physicality to show what the object goes through.
Stand in front of a mirror
Decide upon an emotion
Express that emotion through your posture, facial expressions, etc.
Now look in the mirror and honestly state the emotion you look like you are expressing.
Change your facial expressions and posture to match the emotion you wanted to convey.
BONUS: Try variations on an emotion e.g. Different types of Happy, different types of sad, etc.
Timed Emotional Scenes
Set a timer for 30 seconds
Start it when you begin a one person scene, end the scene when the timer goes off
Now do a scene with a 45 second timer, then 60, then 20, then 15, then 10- what can you accomplish in 10 sec?
Now try 5 seconds. Try to communicate as quick as possible.
What difference do you see from the longer scenes to the shorter scenes?
More urgency- develop sense of urgency at the top of the scene asap
Now go back and do 30 second scene with the intensity of a 5 second scene.
This game flexes your mind. Walk about, point to any object, and give it another name. It can be any name you want that is not the name of the object you are pointing to, get creative.
Write some lines of dialogue on note cards or scraps of paper, one line of dialogue each, mix them up and place them in a hat or face down in front of you. Now make a decision of what emotion you will use to react to the line. Now draw a line of dialogue and read it as the first line someone else is speaking in the scene. Now you have the previously decided upon emotional reaction to the line. (“I have a dog” / “No, You Monster!”)
Add Detail / Get Specific – In subsequent rounds bring more details/specificity to your responses.