USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘improv’
Game

Improv Game with Many Names

Informant:

Cameron is an avid improviser who specializes in long form improvisation.

Piece:

So it’s interesting in improv because the same game will have many different names based on who is playing it along with ever so slight differences in how it’s played. So like the game Pan-left pan-right which is a game where four people stand in a square with each side being a different two-person scene. And then when the caller calls either pan left or pan right, the box turns and the scene that is at the front is the one we watch. Anyways i’ve heard a bunch of different names for that same game like we call it pan-left Pan-right, i’ve heard it called switch, i’ve heard it called four square, i’ve heard it called merry-go-round, i’ve heard it called squarey-go-round, ummmm lets see i think there are a few more…….I can’t right now, but i know there are more.

Collector’s thoughts:

One of the essential aspects of folklore is that it exhibits multiplicity and variation and this performance demonstrates that. The difference in names shows how improv games spread through word of mouth rather than by “official” books or documents.

Game

My Movie Improv Game

Informant:

Cameron is an avid improviser who specializes in long form improvisation.

Piece:

One of my favorite improv games has definitely got to be My movie. The way my movie is played is that a group  A group of improvisers  get in a line in front of a caller. They  get an audience suggestion for a letter and  suggest movie titles that start with that letter as the caller points to them. If the caller wants to hear a tag line for the movie he signals for it. When the caller finds a title he likes he says “let’s watch” and a very brief scene from the movie follows. Then the improvisers return and move on to the next letter. I like this game because it is super fast paced and you get to see a lot of variety in such a short time.

Collector’s thoughts:

My movie is a game that heavily relies on references or nods to famous movies. In this way copyrighted material is acknowledged and used and also changed in a way. This works to show that even if material is copyrighted, it is impossible for the owners of the copyright to prevent the material from being used in some way or another.

 

 

Game

Second city and UCB Improv Schools

Informant:

Cameron is an avid improviser who specializes in long form improvisation.

Piece:

There are two main improv schools that teach the craft and those are Second City and the UCB but they both have very different styles. UCB is game based which means that basically they focus more on finding an action or phrase to be funny and then heightening that and using that to make the scene funny. Whereas with second nature they are super character driven and focus on making compelling characters, not really on the action of the scene itself. And I tend to think that ummm Second City has the better format and style, but at the same time Second City uses improv as a means to the ends of writing sketch scenes. But I think that improv can be an ends itself. But overall i think both schools have a lot of good skills that are worth taking.    

 

Collector’s thoughts:

Both schools have tried to, in one way or another, write canonized rules for an improv scene. In doing so they claim that they are able to create the best Improv scenes and have the best style. The reality though is that many improvisers take classes from both schools in order to be well balanced in different techniques. Improvisers take notes and ideas from everywhere and use these to synthesize themselves as a unique improviser.

Customs
Game
Humor

The catch phrase game in improv theatre

The following informant is a performer for an improv troupe at USC called Second Nature. She told me about this game they play in order to warm up when I asked her how they get ready for performances.

“There’s this game that’s been played for generations in Second Nature, where everyone has their own catchphrase, and so you go around in a circle and like I have six catchphrases and you have six catchphrases, and the way that the game is, is that I pass my catchphrase to you, so like one of my catch phrases is ‘what a DUMP!’ and one of yours might be like ‘or when are we?’ I don’t know, so they just pass like that and it’s just something that’s weird and so everyone keeps their catchphrases and its kind of passed on, like the funny catch phrases are always well-remembered… whenever you come on to the troupe, its like your duty is to learn, to come up with six catchphrases and they can be anything that you want and we play as we warm up, so like every rehearsal we warm up for 15 or 30 minutes, before and then before shows we warm up 15-30 minutes and then I’d say almost always play that game before hand. It’s always the same catch phrases for yourself. There are no written down rules, we just pass it along to each other and really good catch phrases from generations stick around ”

The above game is similar to the type of games Second Nature plays during shows, and it’s easy to see why they use it as a warmup. Different troupes have different strategies and techniques, but Second Nature’s inherited method appears to be the catch phrase game. It’s quite possible that the nature of the game itself has been transformed through the many generations, as improv is, after all, a theatrical art that is constantly changing; every performance is unique and ephemeral because of the inherent nature of improv, which is short for “improvisation.”

Customs
general
Humor

Unwritten rules of improv theatre

The following informant is a performer for an improv troupe at USC called Second Nature. She told me about some of the basics of improv, including unwritten rules, when I asked her about it.

“There are other like, rules of improv, like the ‘unwritten code’ of improv… always say ‘yes and…’ so like you’re always adding to a scene. And you always, you can’t deny anything that anyone else says. You have to work to make the other person look good on stage. There’s some funny ones. Like you’re not supposed to ever start a teaching scene, and you’re not supposed to be a child, like if it can be avoided, you’re not supposed to be a child on stage… The UCB is a method, the Groundlings is a method, and IO is a method, and they all have very different styles, but people usually subscribe to one. UCB is Upright Citizens Brigade, the Groundlings was based in Chicago, like Amy Poller and Tina Fey got their start at the Groundlings, and IO is Improv Olympics but I think they got sued for saying Olympics, so now it’s just IO, like that’s their name. They’re like different schools of improv. So people go and take classes… they’re like theatres but they hold classes for people and they also have their own troupes that perform weekly or whatever. So our improv troupe is very much UCB because a lot of people on our troupe have gone to UCB, and so it’s very much long form and coming back to stories and I don’t know, they’re different little ways to get information that we use.”

Improv troupes seem to be very quirky bunches of people. Many of them have their own inside jokes, legends, customs, traditions, rituals… everything a folklorist can dream of. Observing their inside behavior can be quite intriguing, but still difficult to understand. I was hoping that my informant would explain a bit more about the catch phrase game, but she seemed to not understand what I didn’t understand about it, perhaps because it is so obvious to her. It’s also ironic that the IO school got sued for using the word “olympics,” because name ownership and copyrights are a topic of constant debate in the world of folklore.

 

Game

Kitty Wants a Corner

My roommate, who grew up in Michigan, told me about a theater game that she learned at a theater camp.

The game is called Kitty Wants A Corner. To play it, you stand in a circle with one person in the middle and the goal is to not be in the middle (it’s kind of like being “it”). The person in the middle goes to each person in the circle and stands in front of them, looks them in the eye, and says “Kitty Wants a Corner” as though they’re the kitten and want a spot to sit. You don’t want to give up your space in the circle, so you’ll say “No, go ask my neighbor” so the person moves to the next person in the circle and says the same thing. In the meantime, other people in the circle, mostly people behind the person who is it, will make eye contact with each other, and silently agree to switch places while the person in the middle is distracted. The person in the middle can intercept the switch and try to get a spot in the circle, and the person who didn’t make it all the way has to be in the center.

My roommate learned it at camp in Michigan, so she was surprised when they played it at her improv class at Second City in Hollywood. She thought it was strange because the person teaching the game in Los Angeles had no connection to Michigan. The informant had also only ever played the game at the camp before, it wasn’t part of her high school theater program at all. It’s likely that this game spread through actors moving around (which is common) since I have also heard of/played variations of this game, but it wasn’t exactly the same thing. If the game was an official “theater game” it would be the same everywhere, but there’s variation in how it’s played in different places.

Game
Humor

And the Nominees are: … an Actor’s Game

The source is an Acting major at USC. He’s in a small class of 17 people that have every class together for all four years, and do several plays together as an ensemble.

And the Nominees are: is a game that the male actors in the class made up, while backstage for a production of the play Moonchildren. It is an improv game that can be played anywhere, and a round of the game generally occurs any time four or more of the original players are in the same room, and have time to kill.

The game is played as follows:

One person in the group starts the game off with “And the nominees are:” they include someone’s name in the group, and then make up a movie title for that person to act off of. So a person might say, “And the nominees are: Jack Smith, for his performance in The Darkest Knight”, then Jack Smith would have to improvise a 15 second Oscar clip from the made up movie. The nominated player can include any other player in his Oscar scene, and they must play along. After a player performs his Oscar clip, all of the other players clap for him, and shout out stupid questions heard at many actor Q & A’s, for example: “What’s your process?”. After that, any player can create a new nomination for another player in the group.

Play continues until all players have performed their Oscar clip. Then, any player can declare a winner. The winner is not decided for any particular reason, as the game is not competitive, but just to end the round. The winning player then finds something to stand on top of to deliver an acceptance speech. It is good form to start the speech with the phrase, “Means the world”. Depending on how funny the speech is, the other players will allow the speech to end naturally, or start making up a song to cut the speech short.

New rounds are started, and the game can keep going into perpetuity. Generally play naturally fizzes out after 10-15 minutes, or the players are yelled at by their stage manager for being too loud, and the game is cut short.

 

This game probably caught on for three reasons. First, it allows the players to keep warm, and keep performing during large breaks in rehearsal or before shows. Second, its an effective method of ensemble bonding, as all of the players support and entertain each other. Lastly, it allows the players to joke about and make fun of the Oscars, because as actors, they most likely all have a deep desire to win an Oscar they’re afraid to talk about with each other.

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