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.
This is an improv warm-up that we developed as a hybrid between a few others (categories, pass the clap and a few more). Enjoy!
As a kid my favorite thing about playgrounds was playing make believe games with the other kids. We would team up against some unseen conflict, establish characters, and build relationships as both characters and friends. I learned a surprising amount about how other people functioned just by striking poses and copying the violence on TV with my classmates. Most of which resurfaced when I became fascinated with improvisation. Three things stick out: agreement, trust, and listening.
Sometimes as a child being told no is the worst disaster of your day; whether it was at the toy store, in the kitchen, or on the playground. When you think you think something is a good idea you want other people to side with you. That is true now and it was true then. Being told you could not have a cookie was just as bad as being told that pretending to be a Star Wars character was stupid. When you think about it, the people you played with on the playground agreed with you. The kids who loved four square smacked that ball around until the whistle blew and the kids who literally wanted to catch all the Pokemon worked together with their friends to fill that Pokedex. The kids who stuck with you agreed with you and you agreed with them. As a result you built something and probably did it again. It feels good to be told yes on the playground and on stage.
Being a kid, a preteen, a teen, an adult, or even a human is an insecure part of your life. People worry so much about other appreciating what they do all the time. It can be difficult to open up to someone at work, in a scene, and on the playground. People are easier to play and work with when you trust each other. Trust is not just agreeing with someone, but rather knowing that no matter what the other says or does, they are looking out for your best interests. If you are playing baseball and you smash old man Tomlin’s window you want the other players to run like hell with you, not rat you out. Those are the people you played with, the trustworthy bunch of youngins who knew you would never try to hurt them and you knew the same of them. This helped me learn to trust my fellow players, because I know they would run like hell with me.
Kids like it when you play by the(ir) rules. The other kids who listen to each other’s rules and follow them tend to play together more often. It’s the basic law of any sport. No one wanted to play with Keith, because Keith always skipped a few numbers counting in hide and seek or pitched the kickball bouncier than we all agreed on was too bouncy. People didn’t hate Keith, but they sure as hell didn’t want to play with him because he chose not to listen. Listening is hearing everything that has been relayed to you and proving that you heard it. That could be using the same chant in jump rope or knowing that hitting the wall between second and third base is an automatic double. Paying attention to what my peers had to say really helped me get into their games the next day when they played them again. Listening to my scene partners and using and adhering to what they said really helps me build great improvised scenes.
Improvisation is playing make believe. You establish the reality of that recess by reaching a common ground by agreeing with your playmates. You establish a relationship: you find why that astronaut is best friends with that cowboy. You then play the game. Kids have been doing this on the playground for decades and they unknowingly follow the same rules as improvisers.
By Austin Rittle
Co-Artistic Director for LIP