technical stuff

Lemme in!

…I get progressively more freaked out the more people I have to play with at once.

Monoscenes, by definition, require interacting with a large group of people at once, which I’m starting to think automatically sets off my introversion/ social anxiety/ agoraphobia/ fear, and renders me useless for improv.

– Me, 7-23-14


I continue to have a lot of trouble with group scenes. So here are tips from a Real Improv Instructor on how to insert yourself into the group dialogue:


  • Verbally agree with/ repeat what’s being said— “yeah, yeah, bandanas, right!”— Because then you’re immediately a participant in the scene, not an observer.
  • Don’t be so polite! Give and take focus— If you do find a line, and you start to say it, and someone else talks over you, DON’T LET ‘EM if it’s not their turn. Also try to be conscious if you’re bulldozing the scene (‘cos that’s just as bad).


There may be more, but that’s all I can remember that Real Improv Instructor told us.

Talking + object work: Focusing on multiple things

I find it hard to talk while doing object work. It’s like patting my head and rubbing my tummy— I have trouble focusing on both, especially if the object work is complex. (I think every time I’ve frozen onstage, it’s been a brain overload while doing object work.) So I asked after class yesterday, since most of our exercises required “doing an activity” and I was havin’ a helluva time:

  • It will get easier, in general. Keep on truckin’.
  • It’s easier to do object work you’re familiar with, because some of the actions are automatic and it doesn’t take nearly as much brainpower.
  • So: go home and practice different object workings, so they’ll be familiar and take less brainpower.
  • The object work is there to give you a reason for being there, and give you something to go back to when you’re not the focus. If it’s distracting you, give it a rest.
  • People get distracted in life, too. You can say “what?” if you were so immersed in your object work that you missed what your partner said!
  • Don’t worry about getting the object work perfect. (Me and my ambiguous object work? Way ahead of you.)

Abridged notes from Monoscene class #3


  • Don’t try to solve the problem. When someone says “this is my problem,” you should respond “shit, yeah, that sure is a problem,” instead of “okay, well, if you do THIS, you can fix it, it’s not so bad.”
  • When you get a location, the first thing you’ll think is to be interacting with it as a visitor/patron/customer. Instead try to place yourself as someone who works there, behind the scenes, day in day out.
  • Even a loose monoscene has a similar structure/rules to a Harold:
    • Series of two-person scenes: even when there are lots of characters onstage, what matters is the individual relationships between pairs of characters. These are the two-person scenes that you’d have in a Harold.
    • First beat, second beat, third beat. We haven’t covered this yet, specifically, but I’m pretty sure we will.
    • Giving focus: just like you wouldn’t yell over each other in a group game, give focus and take focus where it’s needed.
    • Know each other: (especially in the beginning of the monoscene.) It helps move the scene, it helps the audience give a damn (‘cos if YOU don’t care, how can they?). The characters should somehow care about each other.


More notes about walk-ons:

They don’t have to be brilliant– just be someone who’d flesh out the universe. The conversation you have with one or both characters SHOULDN’T be directly related to what the characters were discussing before you came on, so don’t feel stuck! (In fact, I bet I could brainstorm a bunch of announcements/ conversation starters beforehand, and have ’em available as backup when I need ’em– kind of like I did/still do with “relationships”. Or a bunch of three-person relationships– boyfriend, girlfriend, boyfriend’s roommate, for example)

No likes


An amateur observation:

As soon as improvisers use the word “like” in their expositions, I mentally check out.

I empathize with the behavior. I do it myself. We’re making stuff up on the spot, and we say “like” in normal offstage conversations, and it’s a perfectly reasonable word to use. But in improv, “like” is this big neon sign that screams “I need to pump more information into this scene,” “I can’t discover right now so I’m inventing,” “I need to use a filler word until my brain catches up to my mouth.”

It shocks me out of the scene. Suddenly the charming improv I was enjoying seems like overworked sketch, where the players are trying too hard to be clever.

It’s such a small thing. I’m weirded out that my reaction is this visceral. Fuckin’ like.

(Edit for specificity: “Like” can be effective when used sparingly, as a conscious character choice.)

Notes from Magnet Level 4 Monoscene Class #1

After over a month of sadly clicking “refresh” on the Magnet class list webpage, hoping another Monday or Wednesday Level 3 or 4 would be announced, an open slot magically appeared for a closed-out Wednesday Level 4 I’d been pining for. What. After a brief assessment of my financial situation and double-checking that I could commit for the next 3 months, I jumped on that open slot. This all happened yesterday, and the first class was today.

Yay I’m taking a class again!!!

(And then I remembered I’m terrible at monoscenes! But that’s why you take classes, right? If I were already awesome, I wouldn’t need someone to teach me how to do this!)

So I’m jotting down whatever notes I can remember from class, to help me rock the monoscene as much as I can.

These are not comprehensive, and are mostly for my own use.




  • Warm-ups: Name + gesture (Superheroes), What are you doing, basic warm-up scenes
  • Warm-up scenework: Initiation + strong emotional reaction, Character matching
  • Monoscene specific:
    • Build out an environment with 3 “stations” (things to touch); then a second person comes in and initiates the speaking part of the scene while interacting with the 3 stations the first person set up.
    • Two people start a scene (in an environment); then we pause and discuss, as a class, some options for who an appropriate walk-on might be.



Building an environment

When your scene partner does an action (interacting with the environment), and you have no idea what it is, just go over there and approximate what you saw your scene partner do.

Possible outcomes:

  1. You’ll understand what they were going for once you go through the motions.
  2. You’ll still have no idea what it is, but you’ll be able to name the thing.
  3. You’ll still have no idea what it is, but you don’t HAVE to know what it is, because the scene isn’t ABOUT your environment, because you don’t need to TALK about your environment ANYWAY.


Two-person scenes + walk-ons

Walk-ons are still scary! Aaaaaaaagh I am a huge scaredy cat.

The first two people in a monoscene: match! Maybe not as much as you would for a regular two-person scene, but matching accents, jobs, and/or relationships (etc.) are great tools.

The third person (first walk-on) can be whomever, but:

  1. If the entire scene is largely about some offscreen person (“I want to sleep with Jessica!” “After what she did to me?” “She’s my spirit animal!” “I’ll never forgive either of you!”), save that person’s walk-on until closer to the end. Build and heighten this Jessica character, so when she finally walks on, she’s the big satisfactory “ah” we’ve all been waiting for.
  2. Another parallel match can work well— like, again, matching accents, jobs (preferably a coworker— if you’re a boss, don’t just talk about your employees doing the job better), and/or relationships— to help flesh out the world the first two people have started building.
  3. Someone else in the world that the first two characters have set up. Keep your ears open. Where are the characters? Who else might exist in this location? Does one of the characters have a brother? A child? A teacher he/she is avoiding?



Personal notes

  • Stop being scared (but you knew that)— if the scene needs a thing, go out there and do that thing, even if you have no idea what or how to do it. (Maybe ask about how fully formed the premises/walk-ons need to be— or maybe you’ll find out)
  • Respond to the last thing that was said— even if you think you’re mostly doing that, you and your scene partner(s) may not be on quite the same page. If he/she uses a colorful word, grab on to that word and repurpose/repeat it. (Remember Sebastian’s trick of just repeating the thing the other person said!)
  • Listen! Drink coffee! My brain fogged over after 8:30, and zoning out is terrible for improv.



…I keep skimming the above section and misreading it as “fully formed penises.” Heh heh heh.


…Aight, it’s after 1am and I need to get up in less than 5 hours.

Jimmy Carrane – A Bad Day Doesn’t Have to Mean Bad Improv

Trying to answer the problem of “well I’m in a shitty mood. Nothing is funny. I’m not funny. How the fuck do I get through this?”


Improvisers think they need be in a certain “positive” mood to do improv, and if they are not, they either don’t bother to show up to class or they ignore their feelings and paint a big latex smile on their faces and muscle through with that fake energy of a birthday party clown. Then when they have a bad improv class or a bad show, they end up beating themselves up or blaming it on their bad day.

What if we looked at those so-called negative emotions as a gift? And instead of trying to push them away, we were brave enough to acknowledge them by saying them out loud to a friend, the class or the group?


…Charlie McCrackin of The Reckoning… said if you are feeling sad or angry you might want to use them in character. Charlie e-mailed me later: “The only things I can add to my thoughts on emotions is that it’s easier to make use of the strong emotions already present in you than to try to build strong emotions from out of nowhere. Plus denying your actual emotions diminishes your ability to play truthfully.”


…just because I have a bad day does not mean I have to do bad improv at night. Instead, I can use those emotions to inspire my choices and deepen my connections with my partners to make me an even better improviser.

How early is too early to make a character choice?

I’m revisiting Mick Napier’s Improvise, and I’m taking issue with one of his suggestions, because it doesn’t seem to work.

(I hate to get uppity, because I’m sure Mick Napier knows more about improvising than I do, so I’m probably not following his advice properly. But anyway.)

Even [if] you don’t initiate, snap into a character or point of view or at least an emotional disposition at the very top, right when or slightly before the lights come up. Then you have your armor for the scene, even if your partner literally initiates the content with words.  Now, when you respond to your partner, you already have something to respond through. (Napier, Improvise, p. 33)

It seems to me that it works better to snap into a character AFTER the initiator says his/her first line, not BEFORE.

I mean, I don’t see the harm in having a Plan B in your back pocket (“if I don’t have anything better, I’ll be angry/nervous/excited”), but otherwise, it feels disrespectful to the initiator— 90% of the time, there is an honest response that will make more sense than whatever you picked before the scene started— and having a pre-planned response, especially if it doesn’t work in the new context of the initiation, can make for a much more difficult scene. (I think difficult scenes are trickier to make into good improv. Is that wrong?)

You’re not committed until you DO something, but after you do it, you’re committed. So— if I were to arrogantly give advice here— if you aren’t the initiator, come into the scene neutrally, listen hard, and snap into a character/ have a deal/ have a reaction/ etc. after the first line, not before.

I might be picking nits, but it bugs me. (GET IT? NITS, BUGS?! AHAHAHAHA I’M HILARIOUS)

My inexpert $0.02.