Mick Napier – Improv at home by yourself (4/5: Exercises to improve scenic improvisation)

Continued from the past few days, #4 in a series of 5, spreading the wisdom of Mick Napier’s Improvise. The book is much more complete than these stupid summaries I’m writing, and plus there are like another 120 pages of improv gold that I’m not even mentioning; I encourage you to buy the book.



Exercises to improve scenic improvisation

(12) Scene

Do a scene with yourself. Sit and launch into a dialogue with another character, and immediately respond as the second character. Continue the scene.

Try to make your characters as distinct as possible. You can try physically shifting your body, if it helps.

DON’T STOP. You’ll be self-conscious at first. Try setting a timer for 30 seconds and forcing yourself to power through.

You’ll likely tend towards simple question/answer scenes at first, but the scenes will grow more complex as you practice.

When you’re doing a scene with a partner, you might find yourself thinking of what to say next while your partner is talking. This exercise forces you to stay in the moment.


(13) Scene with Emotional Shift

Same as #12, but now each character has a different emotion (ex. gleeful/sad). Practice both extremes of these emotions (ex. anger = shouty) and subdued expressions (ex. anger = clenched teeth).


(14) Scenes of Status Shift

Same as #12 and #13, but instead of different emotions, shift between high/low status.

A lot of us tend to play within the same status. Status in a scene is super-important, and knowing how to handle both sides of it is a good thing.


(15) Heightening

Start a scene— a dialogue with an imaginary scene partner who is responding in gibberish (don’t actually speak the gibberish). Each of your lines should build on the previous one, heightening the energy or point of view you established in your initiation.


Hell of a weather system we’ve had this week.


I’ve never seen so much hail in one day.


True, at least it melted before the tornado on Tuesday.


At least we’ll be prepared for the frogs and blood tomorrow.

I made that up, it might not be a good example, but the point is to get you to heighten your own thing without depending on someone else to do it for you. (Napier preaches the idea of “take care of yourself first, because that is how you take care of your partner” earlier in the book.)


(16) Read a Character from a Play Out Loud

Reading plays is a great way to learn about scene construction and character attributes, and learning how to act/play roles will give your improv an edge it needs. So find a play, and don’t just read it, but read a character out loud. Don’t worry about how well you’re acting— not yet, anyway— just read it. Notice how the character’s point of the view heightens and flourishes and is unwavering. How can you bring that to your improv characters?


(17) Film Dialogue

Watch a random movie with the sound off. Improvise the characters’ dialogue.

This is more an endurance exercise than anything; you must keep talking as long as the film characters are talking. You can start just improvising one character’s dialogue, but aim to build up to improvising all the characters for at least half an hour or so.




Here’s links to all of ’em:


Part 1: Exercises for thinking faster

Part 2: Exercises for unthinking character creation

Part 3: Exercises for physical body and space

Part 4: Exercises to improve scenic improvisation [You are here]

Part 5: Miscellaneous bonus exercises



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