Improv ideas in stressful situations


You are stuck in the airplane for hours with little information, you are waiting for traffic piled up in front of you, or a false alarm fire bell empties your building to the parking lot. These are times when big changes happen to everyone's routine and people get stressed out.

Right now I'm in the first case. I the middle of my flight to Munich we diverted to Boston because the main cabin lost all power. Sleepy travelers, who have not been given much information find various ways to cope or find some control.

This is a time when I hope that everyone on the airplane has taken an improv class.

Accepting offers you are given: often they can't be changed so accept them and move forward with what has been given.

  • we are diverting to Boston
  • we are sitting on the tarmac

Making your partner look good: makings things better or easier for others make you both feel better.

  • the flight crew can't change things, taking it out on them doesn't help
  • helping other unhappy passengers get bags, move past, eases tensions

Serve the story: what can you do to make the situation the best for everyone instead of focusing just for yourself.

  • Don't be the loud person who has to get off right away
  • The story changed so focus on what comes next to tell the story as it is now, what is the next flight I need now.

The principles of improv are great for life every day, and really come into clear relief when the pressure goes up.

What are situations where you have used these ideas yourself, or what have you seen where you wish others had taken an improv class?

Accepting offers in life and in scenes

One thing I love about teaching improv, is that I am constantly learning from the students. I had planned a whole day of characters and then scenework. But, the students discovered more by themselves - and I just had to go along with them. We warmed up and did character exercise right up to the break halfway through class. Before jumping into the scenes I introduced the concept of Story Spine by Kenn Adams, the author of How to Improvise a Full Length Play.

Story spine is a simple seven line form for telling a story:

Once upon a time... And, every day... But, one day... And, because of that... And, because of that... Until finally... And, ever since that day...

Sometimes it's fun to add a morale to the story with "The morale of the story is...."

After telling about a dozen stories typical of story spine -  some funny, some interesting and a few that just "didn't work" -  I was about to move into scenes when a student made an observation.

These stories are all Fairy Tales, this wouldn't work for a contemporary story like about two people by the water cooler.

So, accepting that offer I urged him to start a story with "Once upon a time.." but repeating his proposed opening. The class agreed that the story worked fine that way, and wanted to try more.

We told stories in several genres - Horror, Film Noir, Trashy Romance, Adventure, and even Documentary. Some were easier than others and each time they talked about how and when the genre became clear.

Just when I was about to turn back to scenes, a second offer came from the class in exploring platform.

By simply sitting back letting them go where they were inspired, I  watched a great discussion about which comes first - Character (Who),  Location (Where) or an event (What) should come first in a story.

We tried them all and learned that it is important to establish Who the story is about, and Where the story takes place quickly and the order didn't really matter.

Time flew by and we never got to the scenework I planned, but we got something even better. Inspired students finding their own way into learning improv. Mission Accomplished!