Improv inspired by true - anonymous audience secrets.


If you want variety in your improv...then you probably like different formats.... comedy, games and long form.

Consider asking audience members to write true personal secrets anonymously on cards before a show..and then use them in place of suggestions or to prompt the show along.

Here's the way it worked at BATS Improv recently.

I approached audience members and asked them if they'd like to contribute to the show.  If they said yes, I would tell them I was looking for personal secrets.

Something the people at work don't know about you.  A guilty pleasure.  Something your parents don't know.  A belief.  Something you didn't do.  Something you've always wanted to do.

Many of them took the challenge.  Others replied, "I don't have any secrets."  "Really", I thought.

The Improvisational format involved 5 director - directing each other in scenes.

My theme was to tell a story using the audiences secrets.

We started with this one.

Two actors on stage...married and happy for 3 years.  The gal confessed the secret on the card above to her husband.  He was not pleased and decided to leave her.

The following scene found the gal alone in a park reflecting on her situation.  An actor off stage provided her inner thoughts with the aid of the microphone.

Her husband came by and they chatted for a while.  Both interjecting more secrets from time to time.

In the next scene she went back to her childhood home to talk to her parents.  There were more confessions including the one below from her mom.

In the final scene she returns to her husband and they decide to confess all their secrets.  (I gave them each a stack to use).

Every time an actor used one of the secrets the audience showed their appreciation.

These aren't all the secrets used in the improv...but they will give you an idea of what it was like.

Yes I did choose not to use some secrets that were graphic or overly sexual ...or simply seemed like a gag.  But here's the thing I liked about the experiment:

  • I loved getting the audience involved in a personal way - and talking with them before the performance.
  • I loved being reminded that we all have parts of us that are personal and secret.
  • I loved that the material was not trivial.

I have been experimenting with secrets and wrote about it in an article in this blog.  You can find it here.

I found inspiration in the web site: PostSecret and by talking with the folks in Austin about what they've been doing with secrets.

Have you experimented with true secrets on stage?  Would you be interested in more of this work?  Please comment below or drop us a note.

AIN09 - 2 Improv Jam


Each year at the AIN conference there is an imrov jam where anyone from performers to people who have never done improv can get up and give it a try.  The opening reception on the first night (day of the pre-conference) was the evening for the jam. As a member of the programming committee, I volunteered to coordinate the improv Jam!

I wanted to find a way to include as many people as possible and at the same time give the performers a venue to play as well.

We started with some all-group activities led by Matt Weinstein (Playfair). Everyone was engaged and had fun, so much so that we were asked to quiet a bit to not disturb the diners in the restaurant. (Woo Hoo!)

We then moved on to some large group improv scenes.

  • String of Pearls
  • Speaking in one voice
  • Category Die

After the group scenes, we moved into scenework and games for anyone that wanted to try something.

The audience at this conference is amazingly supportive and wonderful and helped make the evening a great success as much as the 30-40 performers who got up and improvised.

Audience Size Matters

Recently I wrote about emceeing improv shows which gave some good guidelines for emceeing any show. But the venue, audience size, and even audience temperament can change things quite a bit.

The one main rule I use is simple.

Stick with the truth of the show.


Acknowledge if the audience is small, and make that fun and happy. "You will be getting a custom show" etc.  Don't wear them out or present as if the theater is full. Maybe get their names so you can talk to them 1:1 if there are only a few.


The truth in a large audience may be that they will be better off coming down together up front if they are spread out. That you need to talk to 10's of people in a different way to get the same thing across.


The truth of a very large or unruly group is that you have more crowd management (or discipline in the case of student groups, etc.) Don't let them run the show, but add some filler as you talk so by the time they are listening you are just getting the the meat of things - I call this a verbal step-down and use it in corporate work and larger classes.

Verbal-stepdown Example:

In a Theatersports show you might start with something like "Ok that closed out the round and we are ready for another challenge here as the teams come out"  if they are rowdy.  By the time you get something like that out (which really says nothing of consequence yet) they will, in most cases, be moving to pay attention and be quiet. Then you can go forward with "Team X, it's your turn to challenge Team Y for the next scene" which is the real announcement.

How to Host an Improv Show


The lights come up, there is music playing, you are sitting in your comfy theater seat and waiting for something to happen. Who is the next person you see? The MC. The emcee. The Master of Ceremonies.The host of the evening.

The emcee is like the host of a party and the theater is their house.

For me emceeing in two simple rules that cover almost everything.

The two underlying rules of emceeing

  1. Help the audience enjoy the show.
  2. You are not the focus.

Emceeing a show? Here are some guidelines that might help

  • take your time and be calm (or present being calm)
  • fill in the setup for the games if the players miss pieces, so the audience knows what to do
  • keep the stage warm/hot - fill in big spaces during transitions when the energy drops, so the audience knows what to look at
  • there is no need to "cap" each scene, or add your own jokes or comments on what we just saw
  • you can help the show by calling lights to "save" scenes
  • if things go wonky, you can help by being lighthearted and adding what is needed or just acknowledge it
  • step on the tail of the applause with the next action
  • in Theatersports jump on getting the scores and announcing the challenges
  • in Freestyle or Micetro jump on calling out the next players
  • in  Theatersports you can make emcee challenges to help with shape of show
  • help facilitate the "schtick" for players/teams in costume but also help contain it (the balance is easier from offstage)
  • add enthusiasm to the show with good presence on your emcee duties
  • being shy drains the energy
  • being gaggy or "funny" will bleed energy and distract the show
  • keep the pace of the show, move things along

That's my take on it - what is yours?

What do you think - What makes a good emcee?

Leave your comments below, we want to know!