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Santa Maria's Mission Improvable

I was just directed to a Santa Maria improv group named Mission Improvable by someone from work (thanks Rick). I recognize some of the players in the group from John Kinde's days running the Theatresports franchise up there, including Jeanne Sparks who was always a political oasis for me. Several of us from the Santa Barbara Improv Workshop used to travel up and perform with John's group. They always had large and enthusiastic crowds, and we had a good time performing with their players. Michael Passarelli is the director of this group, and according to an article in the Santa Maria Times, he's also the director of a San Luis Obispo based improv group. I'll try and get more info on that for another post.

In the meantime, Mission Improvable is performing regularly on the 2nd Friday of each month, with shows posted for the following dates: October 13, November 10, and December 8. They perform at the Accoustic Lounge, which is located upstairs in the Santa Maria Town Center East. That's the S.E. corner of Broadway and Main Street (Google Map).

They also teach a class on Monday nights from 5:30 to 7:00 pm at the same location.

Experiences Finding a Game in a Scene

I want to direct you to series of posts by Ben Whitehouse in his blog Improvoker (which is a great name). He's going through a UCB (Upright Citizen Brigade) class in New York: Improv 201. At this point, there are only two entries, but the class is focusing on long form work and "finding the game". His first entry was from the 4th class in the session when he had an interesting insight into the concept of "finding" the game. Rather than it meaning he had to search out a game from the scene - artificially building a game from elements in the scene - he realized that it also meant discovering a game by chance or happenstance.

Along with that realization he thought about the concept of finding "a" game rather than "the" game. This seemed to eliminate some resistance he was having to these "cerebral" concepts in long form work. His post is well written and insightful.

His second entry focused on the second beat of a Harold scene. This second beat is the second round of scenes that follow the first set of establishing scenes. It should carry forward the games found in the the first beat, not necessarily the plots. He gives a good example of this and the post is worth a read for some more insights he has into the Harold long form.

The Harold, diagramed

Dyna Moe at Nobody's Sweetheart is putting together an Improv Infographic that explains a Harold. Roughly in the form of a flow chart, all the phases (beats) are illustrated along with an indication of the flow, timing, and points of focus. It's a pretty fun graphic although she hasn't finished it, yet. It's possible that she'll do other graphics on the elements of a scene. If she decides to make these into posters, I'm buying some!

Additional Game List Site

I've added another website with a list of improv games to the post on improv game sites. I've seen this site referenced, but the links were always broken. I've just come across the current link: The Living Playbook hasn't been updated for awhile (the current list is dated from 2001), but it is a long list of long and short form games along with a glossary.

A List of Lists

I am thinking about creating a list of critical improv aphorisms or 'rules'. But, I've come across a lot of exisiting lists that are available of the web and before I publish mine, I thought it would be a good idea to reference some other (and possibly better) lists.

The first list is The Eleven Commandments of Improv which is found on the Improv Encyclopedia website. They reference Del Close as the source. Here's the list:

  1. You are all supporting actors.
  2. Always check your impulses.
  3. Never enter a scene unless you are NEEDED.
  4. Save your fellow actor, don't worry about the piece.
  5. Your prime responsibility is to support.
  6. Work at the top of your brains at all times.
  7. Never underestimate or condescend to your audience.
  8. No jokes (unless it is tipped in front that it is a joke.)
  9. Trust... trust your fellow actors to support you; trust them to come through if you lay something heavy on them; trust yourself.
  10. Avoid judging what is going down except in terms of whether it needs help (either by entering or cutting), what can best follow, or how you can support it imaginatively if your support is called for.
  11. LISTEN

Another list at the Improv Encyclopedia is named the Ten Commandments. They didn't reference where they found this list. The commandments are:

  1. Thou shalt not block
  2. Thou shalt always retain focus
  3. Thou shalt not shine above thy team-mates
  4. To gag is to commit a sin that will be paid for
  5. Thou shalt always be changed by what is said to you
  6. Thou shalt not waffle
  7. When in doubt, break the routine
  8. To wimp is to show thy true self
  9. (S)he what tries to be clever is not; while (s)he that is clever doesn't try
  10. When thy faith is low, thy spirit weak, thy good fortune strained, and thy team losing, be comforted and smile, because it just doesn't matter.

The third (and last) list at the Improv Encyclopedia is named The Rules. Again, no reference of the source, but here they are:

  • Trust
  • Don't negate or deny
  • Don't ask questions
  • Make actional choices
  • Make assumptions
  • Give and Take
  • Listen, watch and concentrate
  • Work to the top of your intelligence

The next list comes from the Pan Theater Improv Theater and is titled The Rules of Improv Part I- the First Ten . The group is from San Francisco, and the article was written by David Alger. Here's the list:

  1. Say "Yes and!"
  2. After the "and", Add New Information
  3. Don't Block
  4. Avoid Questions
  5. Focus on the Here and Nows
  6. Establish the Location!
  7. Be Specific- Provide Details!
  8. Change, Change, Change!
  9. For serious and emotional scenes, focus on characters and relationships
  10. For humor, commit and take choices to the nth degree or focus on actions/objects

David went on to write a follow up article cleverly titled The Rules of Improv Part II. The ten rules in that list are:

  1. Give information to your partner
  2. Listen to your partner
  3. Respond to your partner
  4. See the impact of the response
  5. Look beyond the words
  6. Use more than words
  7. Accept silence and being self concious
  8. Be doing but don't focus the dialogue on what you're doing
  9. Sooner is better than later- Do it now!
  10. Have fun and relax

Dan Goldstein has created a long list consisting of some basic rules of thumb. The article is titled How to be a Better Improviser and the list consists of:

  • Accept Information: Yes And
  • Add History
  • Ask Yourself "If this were true, then what else is true?"
  • Be very specific
  • When Beginning Scenes, Cut to the Interesting Stuff as Soon as Possible
  • Commence with Characterizing Actions
  • Don't Deny
  • Enter and Exit with Purpose
  • The Game of the Scene Should Rhyme and Heighten
  • Get Behind the Story
  • Get in Groups when the Number of People on Stage is High
  • Give Yourself a Suggestion when you Don't ask the Audience for One
  • Go Against the Voice of Reason
  • Go Line for Line
  • Justification
  • Keep the Focus Human and Onstage
  • Maintain your Character's Point of View
  • Don't Make Jokes
  • Mime Better, Much Better
  • Play the Opposite Emotion
  • Provide Information About the Other Person
  • Raise the Stakes
  • Take Care of Yourself
  • Questions Should Give More Than They Take

The Purple Crayon of Yale is the college's improv comedy troupe. They have a list of rules that they call Improv Wisdom. That list consists of 160 rules so I'm not going to duplicate it here. I find lists that long to be be distracting, with only a few of the rules being generally useful or unique. However, I give you the link in case you want to mine it for your own gems of wisdom.

By now you are probably cross-eyed from the all of these lists. You can see that there are some common items to all of them. The differences generally define the style of improv performed by the list maker.

What's the best list? Well, you know I'm not going to answer that directly. Instead, I'll be putting together my own. You should do the same.

Links to Improv Games

There are a variety of websites that have lists of improv games. Some are comprehensive lists that are compiled with the help of many contributors. Some are the list of games a particular troupe use for their shows. As of today, Sept. 6, 2006, this list is accurate. I will try and update this post periodically with any changes that I find. Improv games often are known by several names depending on the group referring to it. Also, the game may have several variant methods of playing it.

Unfortunately, there isn't a single site that I go to for all games. Some are more comprehensive than others (listed first, below) , and I still review small sites to find any new or unique games. New games and variations are being developed all of the time.

Improv Encyclopedia has the most comprehensive list, and provides the games either alphabetically or by categories. They also try and list the games under all known names and variants. I use this site most often.

Chicago Improv Network Wiki is a new site to me. They have three lists, Exercises, Longforms, and Shortforms. I really like the layout, but there is a problem with a lot of incomplete definitions. In several cases, a page for a game is exists but without content. I plan on spending some time exploring this site.

The Improv Wiki has a small set of games, and doesn't appear to be updated very often. However, it's worth checking in on this one from time to time.

Learn Improv has a smaller list, but the descriptions are pretty good and their list is also categorized. Access their lists using the Structures box on the side.

The Living Playbook hasn't been updated for awhile (the current list is dated from 2001), but it is a long list of long and short form games along with a glossary.

Long Form Stuff Shaun Has ... is a list of long form structures that Chicago's Shaun Himmerick has collected from a variety of source. The descriptions are pretty good although brief.

Idiotica has a smaller list, and the descriptions aren't detailed, but they do try to rate the characteristics of each game. Each game is given a score between 0 and 5 for Character, Plot, Timing, Mime, and Group Mind.

Fuzzy's Game List is an older list that hasn't been updated for awhile, but is still out there and worth looking over.

Mark's Guide to Whose Line Is It Anyway, The Games is a fun site where a lot of the games seen on the Who's Line Is It Anyway TV show are listed. The descriptions are limited, but they include a sample of the dialog. It's a fun list.

The Spolin Games list games promoted by The Spolin Center. The group promotes the work of Viola Spolin, one of the founders of modern improv. The descriptions are way too short, but they do give you a sense of the games.

FNI Games is a site listing the games played by the FNI (Friday Night Improv) in Pittsburgh. A short list, but I sometimes like seeing this kind of focused list.

Improv Games for Rehearsal and Performance is an interesting site that has a short description of a large group of games. I'm not certain who put this list together, but it's a nice list.

Improv Games for Kids is a nice little list of improv games that are appropriate for kids.

The Correct Way to Improvise

Bill Arnet is an experienced improviser at I.O. Chicago (Improv Olympic) and wrote a short piece about various ways of approaching an improv scene, especially at the opening. It definitely got me thinking, and I plan on trying his "slice from typical life" opening this Wednesday during the last hour. By the way, the heading for this entry is the name of his article, not a policy of the SBIW.

Reaction vs. Response

I just read an interesting article by Jeff Miller titled Emotional Truth in Improvisation. He discusses the problem I see in a lot of improv scenes (mine very much included) where the player is so focused on an interesting response, that he or she loses any real (or believable) emotional reaction to an offer. He deconstructs the Reaction from the Response to an offer, and I think gives a good structure for getting away from over-intellectualizing in a scene. It's a short article, and well worth reading.

Improv Everywhere

I came across the Improv Everywhere website which organizes what I would call "street improv" in NYC. In their own words, "Improv Everywhere causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places". I have a real fondness for this form of guerrilla theater, and envy/admiration for what they've already accomplished. I found the court document from their No Pants Case interesting and a bit reassuring that the justice system can allow for some random acts of fun.

Improv Glossary

There's a pretty good glossary of improv terms at the Improv Encyclopedia. Some of the definitions are a little thin and some are circularly referential (what is advancing?), but overall it's got a lot of good information.

Using all you know

I had a chance to read Chris Compton's article Every Part of the Buffalo from the newsletter. It's a great discussion of not dumbing down to the audience, not getting caught up in your head, and using what you know in a piece. I particularly liked his suggestion of naming characters using the names of people you know. Using names (actually, the lack of using names) is one of the many challenges I face in a piece (okay, I suck at it).

Auction to name a NY improv group

Okay, this is wacky. A recently formed New York improv group is having trouble coming up with a name, so they plan on auctioning off the right to name the group. You can read their info at their website, The auction will take place on eBay, starting Monday, July 10, and run for 10 days. I'll keep an eye on this one.

bang. studio

I just came across this group called bang. studio. They've got a level 1 class starting up this Monday, July 10 and I wanted to post a link to it. I don't know much about them, so I can't really say how they compare. They say they've been around 10 years and provide a 'supportive, creative, fun environment'. There are a variety of shows performed at their performance space, and they produce some short videos. Check it out at your own risk!

IO West Writing Programs

I just came across this notice from the IO West (the west coast Improv Olympic franchise) about their writing classes. They've got two different level classes starting up this weekend in LA: ================ Last chance to register for the Writing Level 1 class beginning





WRITING LEVEL 1 offers a great foundation for all types of comedy writing, sketch comedy, screenwriting, writing for television, etc. In this class you learn the basics of comic structure, premise, writing point-of-view, monologues, finding the joke, satire, parody, writing for ensembles, and establishing a writing routine. If you're starting your writing career or need a great refresher of the essentials, this class is for you!

JOHN HINDMAN is the founder of the I.O.West Writing Program, now in its fourth year. John has written for TV & film, and as a story consultant has provided analysis & feedback for studios, producers, and his students. His latest screenplay "The Dream of the Romans" is currently in development at Endeavor.

================ SITCOM SPEC WRITING





SITCOM WRITING teaches you the ins & outs of writing your own sitcom spec script. From conception of the show idea to pitching the story to writing the drafts - all the way to the final draft and staged reading! This class yields a sitcom spec script suitable for submission to agencies, networks, and producers.

MICHAEL MCCARTHY has written for 'Saturday Night Live' (for which he was nominated for an Emmy), 'Sesame Street', 'The Drew Carey Show', and numerous other Comedy Central and network shows. He is an alumnus of The Second City Chicago Mainstage and helped start their writing program. He currently teaches the Writing 2, Writing 3, and Sitcom Writing classes for I.O.West's Writing Program.

================ TO REGISTER:



Ask a Ninja

Here's an interesting site where my worlds collide. Ask a Ninja is a site of very funny videos put together by a couple of LA improvisers. Each video is from 2 to 5 minutes long, and consists of the NINJA answering a submitted question. A new video comes out every couple of weeks. I've watched these for a while, but I recently heard the creators talk about their start at the LA Second City, and how much of their work is improvised. They're a pretty successful web content site and they report a viewership of about 350,000. Their stuff is very creative and funny, and they put it together on a shoestring. Check it out.

John Kinde, Humor Power

John is a magician, improvisor, teacher, speaker, businessman, and all around damn nice guy. He's also a prolific writer and marketer. Part of his improv education happened with SBIW, but he's someone who went out and actively educated himself on improv, and then built an environment in which he could continue to learn and perform. The Santa Maria improv group that he ran had some of the biggest improv audiences I'd worked with up to that time, and the performances were great. He was always welcoming, and encouraged the Santa Barbara group to come up and participate. I was sorry to see him move to Las Vegas, but could count on him to put together a significant improv community. So I was pleased to be toodling around the Web and discover his web site, Humor Power. I just subscribed to his newsletter and read some of his articles. He does a good job of pulling together what he's learned into a very approachable style. Check out some of his articles.

And, whenever you are in the Las Vegas area, check out his group's public shows.

Applied Improv Network

I came across this group a couple of weeks ago, and they're doing interesting work with improv. They are the Applied Improv Network, and the're focused on applying improv skills in organizations. The key sentence from their mission statement is:

Our members are business professionals and academics who use improv tools, experience, and theory for human development and training in communities and organizations.

They've been around a few years and their blog has recent entries. They also have a conference coming up in San Francisco, scheduled for Novemeber.

LA Based Online Improv Magazine is an online magazine that's focused on the LA improv scene. It has class and performance calendars from a variety of groups, some of which are outside of the LA area. There are quite a few articles and short videos, a forum, and an Amazon based bookstore. All in all this is a fairly diverse and interesting site.

The New Improv Page

The New Improv Page website tries to keep current with improv groups, festivals, and workshops all over the world. Their games list is actually a set of links to other sites that maintain their own game lists. They've also got a pretty handy RSS feed to notify you of any additions or changes to their lists. Pretty cool reference site!

Improv Encyclopedia

One of the more complete lists of improv games that I've found on the web is at I use it as a resource for planning a class or a show. You can download a PDF of the games, but since they're still adding content, I browse and perform searches right on the site.