Improv inspired by audience’s secret wishes

I want to be a surgeon when I grow up

Improv theater is almost always comedy.  I’ve seen good committed actors working hard at a serious long form that, despite their best efforts... turned funny. Asking the audience to share personal information can be fun, risky and produce work that is grounded in a more human experience.

Last year I asked audience members to anonymously write secretes on cards and they shared very personal feelings.  For example one said, “I didn’t go back after you.. once I broke up with you.. and I wish I did.”

And most of the secrets spoke of regret or something they’d been hiding.   It was challenging to use the secrets in a way that didn’t bring the evening ‘down’.

So I tried another idea to get audience suggestions that were personal but less ‘dark’.

I handed out index cards and asked audience members to anonymously write down a secret wish or desire.

The results were much more uplifting.  And provided the theme for the scenes that I directed. *

Here are a few of the secrets the audience shared copied here exactly as written:

  • I can fly.
  • I wish I have the ability to become invisible.
  • I always wanted to bathe in a tub of strawberry yogurt with clavichord music paying while being told I was loved beyond belief.
  • To topple an evil regimen with passive resistance
  • I’ve always wanted the ability to time travel
  • I wish I was a Victoria Secret model [exclamation with a heart]
  • I want to be small enough to fit into doll clothes!
  • I wish I was in Paris
  • Swimming through tropical oceans with colorful, supersized fishes.

We were able to use the wishes without making fun of them....well...yes...we had fun with them...but not at the expense of the person who wrote it.

It’s fun.   Just knowing that this is a real secret desire of someone in the audience right now is exciting.  It raises the stakes.

It grounds the players and engages the audience.  And those are good things.


Gorilla Theater


BATS Improv

.  Directed improv where the director declares a theme and the audience decides if he or she has successfully accomplished it.

8 RULES FOR CLOWN GAGS: Paraphrased from Kurt Vonnegut


When I saw these 8 ideas, I immediately thought that they apply to the work that improvisers do every time they step on stage.  I think they would make the basis of a good improv workshop.  What do you think of them?  ~William Hall

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the audience at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every moment must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your character, make awful things happen to them—in order that the audience may see what they are made of.
  7. Perform to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your clowning will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your audience as much information as possible as soon as possible. Your audience should have a complete understanding of what is going on.

8 Rules for Clown Gags:  Paraphrased from Kurt Vonnegut by Pat Cashin. [re-posted from Pat’s fun site:]

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!