Took an improv class. Loved it. Continued. Quit my full time, full medical/dental/eye, three week paid vacation job. Met a cute boy on the improv stage. Fell in love. Got married. Got two kids, ages 2 and 4. AWHAT?How the heck did that happen?But I am here to tell you that improv makes you a KICK-ASS parent, in every realm, but here today in that, “Mom/Dad, tell me a story.” department. At the end of a long day, you are usually exhausted and the last thing you want to do is to make-up a story. But I tell you there is such joy in watching your kids face light up, laugh, get serious as you tell the story.

7 key elements that you learn in improv that help you tell a story to your kids.

Tell them before bed, driving in a car, anywhere. Kids love stories.

1. Use the story spine

You cannot fail with this. Use it as a framwork but feel free to move away from it.

Once upon a time.... And Everyday.... Until One Day..... Because of that....(at least 3) Until Finally..... And Ever Since That Day...

2. Dare to Fail

My goodness, do not worry about your story being good. You are communicating with a toddler. You are already their hero, in their eyes, you cannot fail. By sitting there close to your kid and talking that is already a win-win situation.

3. Don't worry about making sense - Leap into storytelling

Say something, anything, what's in your brain, use what's around you, and the story will follow.

4. Color and Move on

If you are stuck, start describing the scene, talk about the pirate, how he has dark green eyes that flash gold when he's angry. When someone is bad, they are really, really bad and give an example of how bad they are. “When Cranky Frank started yelling, even the astronauts on the moon heard him!”

5. Tell stories you want to hear/tell

I have followed the advice that my friend Rebecca told me when I asked her advice on teaching improv to kids. She told me that kids have amazing bullshit detectors, teach what you like. They will see right through you and then eat you. Same goes for storytelling. Tell something that delights you. I sometimes find myself giggling at the very story I am telling.

6. Have same characters in different adventures/Repetition is your friend!

An easy cheat is to use the same characters in different stories. We have a favorite in our house. It's called, “Hank and Glick” Hank is a boy and Glick is a tiny little alien from Smallville. The bad guys are wakawakaians from the planet Waka Waka. Hank is the more sensible of the two and Glick is just so excited to be on Earth and experiencing it that they get into all sorts of trouble. They fly around in a bubble space ship. Don't be surprised if they remember the details that you have forgotten.

7. Say YES – Leave space for child to help tell the story.

My philosophy is if Henry asks a question about the story, the answer is always YES! It keeps me on my toes and leads me places I wouldn't have thought of. So take pauses in your storytelling, ask questions.

It is my absolute delight when I ask my kids if they want me to read them a story or tell them a story and they say, “TELL ME A STORY!” So go tell a story.

Improv lessons from Charlie the Unicorn

If you have not seen Charlie the Unicorn, get ready for a treat. If you have seen it, did you see all of the improv lessons in there! I love this video, but it took a few times (I'll admit to watching it a bunch of times) to see good scene examples. Don't believe me? Watch it again, and I'll talk about what I saw below.

Improv Fundamentals in Charlie

1. The power of being positive

It's really entertaining to watch incredibly happy people stay happy, especially when they are in a scene with someone who is being neutral or negative. It's an antidote for negative!

2. Strong Objective

The positive unicorns have a clear objective for the whole scene and try a variety to tactics to get Charlie in the cave at candy mountain. Charlie is reluctant, but that never keeps him from actually moving forward.

3. Stating the obvious

Just stating what is happening, that is a liopleurodon that tells us the way to go, is enough for it to become the reality of that world. And "were standing on a bridge" simple, obvious, but nice to see. This is all especially nice when working with space objects in improv.

4. Delay the trouble or no new trouble

Charlie is a grumpy character, but he is like that every day - so when he is reluctant to go with the other two, that's not anything new. The key is that he does go with the others and the story moves forward despite his protestations.

5. Go into the cave

Sometimes a cave is just a cave. But in this case, that's the cave in Candy Mountina is the offer we have been building on the whole scene - so we certainly want to go in there. Even if that is death - what comes after that? So interesting to find out.

6. Sometimes a well placed gag is the perfect ending

The ending is short and sweet. We have the final button that sums everything up and fills in all the gaps on what the real objective was for the pink and blue unicorns. And Charlie is changed, in this case to pain for being duped.

What did you see? (please comment below)

Those are a few of the things that I saw, what did you notice?

KJ6 - Blocking - when does NO mean yes?

Thumbs Down - With clipping Path

Saying "yes, And..." is fundamental to improv, right?  And by some axiom of algebra that I have long since forgotten, that must mean that saying "no" is wrong. I often hear people call it blocking and reserved for bad improvisers. Well, NO.

For years, that was how I thought about blocking. It was how I learned and how I taught. After a while, there is an inevitable conversation about "when it is ok to say the word no?".  This has been a struggle for me to answer as a coach because of the infinite number of cases possible in a scene. Until now.

When IS it ok to say no?

Does saying no give [your parter] what they want? - notes from Keith Johnstone

This has led me to a new perspective of blocking that takes away any debate about dialogue, or word choice. It is as simple as asking yourself why you made a choice. Did you know what your partner wanted? Did you give them that?

Blocking happens between actors/improvisers not characters. Did saying no, or anything else you say, delight your partner?

When you watch from the outside, it's easier to see what the players want, than when you are inside the scene. When you workshop, let the group watching stop the action and ask why players made their choices.

What do you think? (leave your comments below)

What are the common ways that you see people "block"? Does it fit this model of actors blocking?

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!