Everyone’s favorite part of performing or practicing improv is the warmup. Right…? Hello??? Anyway, we can all agree that warmups are a critical part of an improv troupe’s preparation and success. It helps clear your mind, alter your energy level and get the group on the same page. Here is your to do list for a great improv warmup.
1. Be prepared. Warming up is all about getting yourself in the moment. A great warm-up will take your mind off of the things that are going on outside of the troupe. You can’t let the warmup do all the work, however. You must do your best to pre-prepare. If you had a bad day at work, grab a cup of coffee between work and your rehearsal. Had a fight with your SO? Take a walk. Allow the next few hours to be an escape. If you are the troupe leader, have a plan going into practice with your end goals in mind. If the troupe had a little too much energy last time, try some calming exercises. If you had trouble playing to the top of your intelligence, bring out the expert panel.
2. Build Your Team. We all know it: improv is all about teamwork. Trust your teammates and have their back and get into trouble with each other. One warmup we typically do as a troupe at Lancaster Improv Players before a performance is ‘goals.’ We will each name a personal goal and a goal for the show. For example, someone might say “my personal goal is to play one character of very high status and my goal for the troupe is that we each initiate a scene.”
3.Stretch. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once said “let’s see what trouble we can get ourselves in to…” wait… or was that was Del Close? Anyway, work on stretching your body and your boundaries. Stretching is twofold. First, for a great practice or show you have to physically stretch your muscles so you are better prepared for that scene when you play a yoga instructor. Second, stretching your mind might be about getting out of your comfort zone. Use your warmups and practices to use your terrible French accent. Create a character that is completely opposite of who you normally are onstage.
4. Mix it up. Try something new. Warmups can be a lot of things, but they shouldn’t be routine. Don’t always do the same warmups. Have a bag of tricks that you can go to of a dozen warmups you will do each month, with another dozen that you only do a couple of times a year. Along the same lines, in an individual warmup session, switch energy levels and change your focus throughout your warmup. Alternate a high energy warmup, such as Hot Spot, with something a bit tamer like doing Tongue Twisters.
5. Have fun. Oh, that is what this is all about. Most of us aren’t going to be making a living off of our improv skills. Perhaps you are learning improv to make new friends, maybe you are looking to learn a new hobby, or perhaps you are using improv as a diversion from this endless cycle of tedium and defeat in this dark pit of despair that we call life. Regardless of your motives, improv should be fun and warming up is our best chance of success.