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.

What's your secret? Who would you tell?

Secret-girl:  Improv Show based on Audience Secrets

Would you tell an audience of strangers that you

have more debt than your wife knows about

? That you

had sex in the bathroom at work

An audience did recently at BATS Improv.

Before the performance I distributed index cards to audience member and asked them to write down a personal secret. "Don't write your name, just the secret", I added. They did and I put the returned cards unread into my pocket.

Later on stage I would open one of the secrets and set up an improv scene based on the secret. The audience was very engaged. Every time I pulled out the stack of secrets they came forward in their seats.

The idea is based on the popular blog of anonymous secrets called PostSecret.  Short personal secrets finally unburdened.  Andy Crouch and his fellow Improvisers in Austin have been playing with this concept for a while and he offered this advice:

Always honor the secret.  Some are light-hearted and some are serious but always honor it.

Yes some of the secrets seems like jokes.  Like this one: I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

But others were revealing.  One secret said:  I still sleep with a blankie.  I set up the scene with a young man sleeping in bed with the blankie tucked up under his chin.  He was visited by the 'angle of maturity' who tried to take his blankie away from him.  Instead he gave an impassioned speech about the important of having security in the world and if a piece of cloth does that for him then so be it.  He offered her the other end of the blankie.  She tucked it up under her chin and instantly felt what he was talking about.  They both leaned back into the bed....and as the stage lights were coming down to end the scene the actor asked, "do you want to help me with other parts of my maturity?"

Here is a list of some of the secrets from the show:

  • My husband is a porn addict
  • I hate my mother-in-law
  • I'm a cougar - for fun!
  • I still wet the bed
  • I don't wear deodorant
  • I blew out the transmission on my mom's car getting stuck int he snow while "parking' in high school.
  • I'm a bad father
  • I still love Diane
  • My step-son is my real son
  • I just bought a MAC and my husband doesn't know yet.
  • I was diagnosed with down's syndrome as a child

I know that I'll continue to explore this path to improv theater.  It feels like we're dealing with real human issues instead of another 'first date' scene (not that there's anything wrong with that).  There is plenty of room in the world of Improv for so many approaches to the work.  Man...isn't this fun!?

Here are a few more secrets the audience shared when I tried the format again:

  • I slept with a college professor
  • My babysitter used to drop acid (so I sat myself).
  • I scared my arm practicing giving love bites
  • I'm a virgin ...everyone thinks I'm not...I wish I wasn't.
  • I life in the Tenderloin and everyone at my school labels me as 'ghetto", when in reality my favorite song is Taylor Swift's "Love Story"...I'm a dude.
  • I like my ex, but she has a boyfriend in Canada.  She thinks I'm cool, but she likes him more!
  • Sing Happy Birthday to Becca!  It's her Birthday today!  Thx [we did]