Experiments in Teaching

I recently taught my second drop-in class for EndGames. The drop-in classes are open to improvisers of all levels, and the ones who’ve attended mine have included those for whom the class was their first improv experience all the way through to those who have been improvising for a couple years. Since these drop-ins are an opportunity to gain experience with long form improv, I’ve set up the classes I’ve taught so far to allow students to run a set by the end of class.

In the first class, I wanted to get everyone comfortable enough to try out Detours by the end. Detours explores mistakes in the attempted repetition of a scene, so I thought it would be interesting to use exercises that would get people out of their heads. I borrowed an exercise from Craig Uhlir and Katie Rich called the “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” game, one from Kevin Mullaney to create scenes without any gaps in the dialogue, one via Marcus Sams in which people did a three-line scene but were forced to stay up on stage for an entire minute, and one from Jimmy Pennington in which the improvisers had to gift themselves before they were allowed to look at one another. By the end, the students were running through Detours with little to no hesitation, which was pretty cool to watch.

I started to wonder if it would be possible to teach elements of JTS Brown’s philosophy so that by the end of a drop-in, the students could run a set that incorporated those elements. One of the challenges with the JTS Brown style of play is that everyone on stage is in the scene. Another is that some students would be unfamiliar with edits while others would be unfamiliar with how edits differ in the JTS Brown style of play. As I was thinking about this, it felt like one way to resolve these issues would be to have each person draw a card out of a hat that offered an instruction: all cards required the improvisers were required to adopt a physicality, but only some could talk, others could only form parts of the background, and still others could only mirror. To transition across scenes, improvisers exchanged cards with one another.

To get people comfortable with using cards, I added a few unrelated exercises with two-person scenes in which the improvisers were given special instructions on cards that the other one couldn’t see. One of these was based on an exercise from Max McCal with the twist that since the improvisers didn’t know what was on the other’s card, they weren’t on the same page as to what the exercise was about a priori. Another attempted to break the improv rule that rejects questions but adds a strategy whereby questions could still create an entertaining scene. Each exercise ended with a short class discussion to pull any insights others had about what the exercise was about and what people discovered, which I hope was as helpful for the students as it was for me.

By the end of class, students were sufficiently comfortable enough with what was on each of the JTS Brown cards that I told them to make transitions by mentally choosing one of the cards. The coolest part of the class was to see students recognize that a transformation was taking place and then watch a new scene unfold organically. I was really happy with the outcome and want to continue exploring these teaching tools.

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2 Responses to Experiments in Teaching

  1. Frankie G. says:

    I really love making sure people get to actually improvise in a class or coaching sesh! Dope.

  2. krish … this is wonderful!
    YAY scene transitions that are transitions!

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