Creating environment and props out of 'thin air' [Space Object Work]

Go to an Improv theater show and you'll most likely see a bare stage.  Maybe the stage will have a couple of chairs and that's it, no props and no costumes.   If an actor wants to do a scene in a car, he or she will set up two chairs, pretend to open the car door and step inside.  He or she will sit in the chair, hold onto an imaginary steering wheel and pretend to drive.  The audience will get the idea and play along.

In typical theater, an actor holds up a stick, and you make believe it’s a sword. In magic, that sword has to seem absolutely 100 percent real, even when it’s 100 percent fake. It has to draw blood. Theater is “willing suspension of disbelief.” Magic is unwilling suspension of disbelief.   ~Teller

It's true, the audience will believe just about anything...if we make an effort.  You don't have to paint your face white and study mime...but you do have to help the audience pretend.  You just need to do the obvious things.  If you make believe that you're sitting in a car, then you probably should open the door before you stand up.

This video shows how most improv actors make believe with imaginary objects.  It was produced by Sally Smallwood and directed by Chris Besler...and if very funny.  It does however remind us that if we want the audience to believe we're in a car when we're really just sitting in a chiar, we need to act as if the chair was a real car.


Here is a tip given to me many years ago by a well know improv actor in San Francisco.  We were talking about creating objects with mime and he said, "I'll show you how I deal with that stuff in a scene.  Let's pretend we're doing a scene and you hand me cup of coffee or something."  I started a scene on the spot and said, "hey Frank, I've got that cup of coffee you wanted."  The other actor said, "thanks".  He took the imaginary cup from my hand, turned to the side and pretended to place it on an invisible counter.

Leaving his hands empty...again.

Yeah, that'll work too.

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!