As a theatre nerd, I wanted to incorporate some of my favorite art form into my programming for this semester. Since I have several regulars who are interested in performing and are members of our library system’s storytelling group, I thought they would enjoy an improvisation workshop. It was very little prep on my end and pretty hassle free overall. It was also free which was a huge factor in my enthusiasm since the rest of my programs from this point on cost a bit of money. Imrpov is also really great for building confidence and creativity in teens!
When they arrived, I did a bit of an introduction to improv including what it is, how it doesn’t always have to be funny, that we do it every day, that it’s all about reacting to your partner(s), etc. Then, we went over the four “rules” of improv: 1) Never say “no,” 2) Don’t use open-ended questions, 3) Add on to what your partner is doing in the scene to move it forward, and 4) There is no right or wrong. If you’ve never done or taught improv before, there’s a pretty good teen lesson plan here that I drew from a bit.
Then, we jumped right into the games! I chose four games that occupied us for about an hour total. I’d recommend having a few others prepared in case your group goes through them quickly like mine did. We had an hour and a half program, and Freeze gets a little old after a while. The games we did were:
- Word ball
- Sentence, Response
- Story, Story, Out/Die
- Family Portrait: This is great for learning to work with others for a scene. The actors (usually a group of 5-10) are given a type of family (i.e. the farmer family, the pop star family, the mad scientist family, etc.), and they must strike a pose together that reflects that family for their portrait before the instructor says, “Say cheese.” To add a bit more difficulty, the actors must remain in contact with one another, and some part of each person’s body must be touching at least one other person in the portrait so that they are all linked.
- Freeze: Two actors begin a scene, and, when one of them strikes a pose that provides a possibility for another actor in the audience to build from, that audience member yells, “Freeze,” tags the actor they wish to replace, and starts a brand new scene from the ending positions of the last scene.
(All of the games above can be found on the lesson plan here except Freeze and Family Portrait.)
I just made up the prompts I used. Some were library-themed, others weren’t. There are plenty of books for improv prompts if you find yourself coming up short of ideas.
Other games I considered were:
- Backwards Scene: Two actors are to do an interview scene with the topic chosen by the audience (i.e. a talk show interviewing a pop star, a news reporter interviewing a witness to a crime, etc.) The catch is that they must do the scene backwards so that the first sentence they speak is the last sentence of the interview. It can get very interesting as they work their way backwards through the scene.
- The Dating Game: One actor leaves the room while the audience provides traits or a character for the three actors remaining who will play the contestants on a dating show. When the first actor returns, they must determine who the contestants are supposed to be through their answers to the interview questions they provide.
- Machines: Someone chooses a machine, real or invented, and the actors must all play a part of the machine, working together to make it come to life physically and vocally.
You might find other games on The Improv Game Encyclopedia.