I have a new solitary pre-game ritual/warmup that I’ve been enjoying while commuting to improv practices/ shows, and thought I’d share. I’m calling it Character Alphabet.
Cliff’s Notes version: make sentences where all words start with the same letter of the alphabet, and do each sentence as a different character.
With the Dada Monologue, you’re trying to come up with random words on the fly; you start forming your mouth into a letter, and you just trust that the rest of the word will follow (like grabbing something out of the air). Which is fine. But I kept falling into the same default emergency starting consonants. “Fffffutile dinosaurs c… c… cracked generic pastries, and c… classic ffffffrankfurters p-p-partied with five piranhas.”
Plus I realized I was using a lot of the same words from day to day. “Potato” kept popping up a lot.
So to force myself to get more words and letters into my brain, I started doing short four (or more)-word sentences that cycle through the alphabet. Words can ONLY begin with the letter you are on. Start with a different letter every session so you don’t overwork the same section of the alphabet. I try to make the words as visual and specific as possible (avoid abstract vocabulary like “freedom,” “incidentally,” “existentialism,” etc.).
“Narcissistic newts nipped nine Norwegian nails.”
“Orange octopuses orated occasionally.”
“Pentagonal pterodactyls pined peacefully.”
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE
Whenever I’ve tried Napier’s “Solo Character Switches” exercise, I blank out of words to say, and I never get through more than about 2 minutes of the exercise (covering probably about 3 characters instead of the 12 I should be covering with 10-second switches).
So I’m combining Character Switches with Alphabet Soup. Do a different character for each 4-word sentence. (I base the character off the first word of the sentence.)
While I’m not brave enough to break into full-out characters on a New York City subway, I have no problem mouthing words in public, silently positioning my throat and lips exactly how they’d need to go to create the voice of this character. I can visualize what sound would come out of me if I were to activate my vocal cords. It’s as close as I can get to full-out characters without becoming a public nuisance.
To me, characters are one of the most fun parts of improv (which I always forget), and coming up with words on the spot is one of the hardest parts of improv. This exercise isn’t the most challenging warm-up in the world, but it’s a pleasant wake-up for the bits of my brain that need to get woken up.