Improvising an Animated Story: An Artist and Improv

This guest blog piece was written by Jenny Wantuch.  Jenny is a successful painter and recently took an Improv Notebook workshop [Next workshop October 30]  After the workshop she started talking about the influence of improv on her creative process. You will find the story below and the short video detail  how a successful visual artists translates the theories and practice of improvisation to her canvas.

How are you using theatrical improv in your life?  In your work?  Please share your comments at the end of this story.

~William & Rich


Improvising an Animated Story

Novelty creates excitement by discoveries from exploring the unknown. Last week I walked into my artist studio to paint only to find myself uninspired to pick up where I had ended the day before. Instead I wanted to make a short animated story and play with new ideas.

In 4th grade we used to draw figures on each page on small notepad and by quickly scrolling through the drawing sequence the figures appeared to be moving. That was fun, and could have been a good creative outlet even now. But "pen and paper" just wasn't safe for the time being. "Pen and paper" are tools for a Serious Artist with a Sudden Critical Voice. A clever way of getting rid of this serious artist with a critical voice, is to improvise and  through it off by introducing a novel tool. And it worked!

I began a simple line drawing using my index finger on the screen. It was like drawing with my left hand (another great technique). The iPad app, Animation Creator [for iphone/ipod and ipad], was easy to use. Acting on positive impulses, trying new possibilities and feeling free. Stepping into the unknown, what an exciting place to be! What a scary place to be! But I wasn't scared. I was having too much fun, and joy kills fear.

A bird appeared and it was exactly the bird I didn't know I was looking for; playful, fearless and cool.  I now had a stage (my screen), one character (a bird) and an audience. Yes, I created this audience because I needed them to help me move things forward.  They wanted action:

"Hello! We want to watch an animated improvised story. We want to see it now. We really don't need for it to be perfect, and we don't have time for you to edit and delete and have a better idea or fix every flaw you see!"

A few improv techniques helped to keep the audience content and the creative flow going; setting a time limit,  "first thought, best thought", accepting offers from your animated figures and letting go of mistakes. The audience response was fantastic! They cheered, they laughed, they accepted every new move. And when it was done they wanted to see it again and again.  Nothing was perfect and so everything was perfect.

Here is the fully animated, totally improvised story titled: "The Bird Who just Wanted a Clear Sky": [youtube]

Postscript: If you take time to analyze the story a bit, it is interesting to see that the Cloud resembles the Serious Artist with a Sudden Critical Voice. She didn't make it in the end. But what happened to the bird? This is a Foreign film so the ending is left sad and obscure. But I can tell you the bird is enjoying the clear sky and can fly and dig that Euro techno music, any time she wants.

Jenny M.L. Wantuch


Improvise your own story, or see some other peoples stories with these links:

Animation Creator for iphone/ipod

Anomation Creator for ipad

Animation Creator YouTube Channel

Send us your animations and we might feature them here on Improv Notebook!

AIN - Research and Business Case


AIN 2011 is the year that many colleagues collectively said Enough!

The History. For many years improv has had a bad name in business. It has been a hard sell, has been limited or diminished to "soft skills", was limited to 'just for fun' teambuilding, and has not accepted by the business world in general. Nevermind the fact that, for years, it has been a key tools that can transform business and organizations to propel them forward to being more innovative, productive, happier, and successful.

Well enough is enough.

The Changing of the Tide. At the AIN 2011 conference several different initiatives were all focused on one thing - making a solid business case with the research and data behind it. Finally we can stop making the case individually with each new client - and address it in the bigger picture as an industry.

What will it look like? It will take many forms from websites, research projects, peer-reviewed journals, academic papers, conference presentations, white papers, and many other ideas. The current holding place of all of the information are a few discussion groups on the AIN website - but this will surely evolve and mature.

Fortunately the tide is already starting to shift and I am seeing improv show up in business media more all the time. That's just one more case that people are waking up to the benefits that improv brings to organizations.

Do you have research, articles, news, or book references that support the benefits of improv in business?

Let me know in comments below.

The 4 “Fresh” Secrets to a successful Improv Business


Your business as an improviser, actor, clown or artists is still a business.  So what’s are the secret to a successful improv business? Okay, if we knew the 4 things that could guarantee your improv business a success, there would be many more successful improv businesses.  The best we have is what the business world calls “best practices”.  Best practices are generally identified by looking at successful companies and asking, what are they doing right?

Sometimes this approach leads to innovation and sometimes to tried-and-true business fundamentals.  See if the following story offers you any insights into your improv business.

Traveling in Mexico recently, I found myself in a conversation with a man who owns a bakery in the Pacific Northwest.  He mentioned that his bakery had been in operation for almost 40 years.

I couldn’t resist asking him, “what the secret of your businesses success?”

Without missing a beat a big smile came across his face and he said, “just 4 things.”  Then like a good storyteller he paused.  So I leaned in and asked, “Could you share them?”

He said, “I’d be pleased to.”

“My business has been successful for so many years because:

  1. We make a product that looks good.
  2. We make a product that tastes good.
  3. Our products are served by people who like people
  4. Our products are priced fairly”

I immediately thought of my improv company in San Francisco...and how it would fair when held against these ‘best practices’.  (Very well I’m pleased to say).

Here’s the process I used to translate these bakery success secrets to an improv business.

  1. Does the environment look good?  Is the theater (performance space) clean and pleasant?  Are the performers and support staff well dressed?
  2. Does the performance achieve its goal?  Make people laugh? Deliver a good time?
  3. Do your performers enjoy people?  This may seem like a simple question but I’ve seen some players who don’t want to talk to the audience.  For example, they’ll resist standing at the door after the show and thanking the audience for coming.  Or they’ll ask for scene suggestions by shouting at the audience as if they’re a pack of adolescent children who need a loud stern voice instead of just talking with them.
  4. Are your ticket prices fair?  Do they fall within the other choices they have for an evening’s entertainment?  If you company is continually offering discounts your ticket may be over priced.

How about your company?

AIN Open Space


Welcome to the AIN conference, we have no idea what this conference will be about - let's make it up.

There is a little more too it than that, but that is what this conference is. It is an improvised conference. The participants create deliver and participate in the program but it is made up each day. We all knew ahead of time and people still prepared material to present, but there was no official program schedule created.

The concept is structured and has rules and is called Open Space. It is based on the idea that the best part of many conferences is the coffee breaks where great conversations take place and tries to make the conference all coffee breaks.

It is particularly intriguing for improvisers who love to life in the moment and create on the fly. There can be a slight downside in that it can tend to have a lack of flow in some sessions because the prep work is not there, but it can also be inspirational and capture what is current and interesting to many people.

And, if it's not good - the law of two feet requires that you get up and leave if you feel like you don't want to be there anymore. So the social contract of not being rude by leaving the middle is changed. It can be a big relief when it's just nor for you.

So, would you come to a conference if you knew there was no program?

Sh*t Improv Trainers Say...


Sh*t that Impro Trainers say!

  • “Everybody up and in a circle please”
  • “What do you think the value of that activity is?”
  • “I’m going to invite you to step outside of your comfort zone.”
  • “Before we start...”
  • “I’d like to surface something I heard earlier...”
  • “Hmmm...yes...and how do you recognize this in your work?”
  • “Let’s notice how...”
  • “Allow yourself to be surprised...”
  • “Research suggests (is telling us...)”
  • “Ah, I’m sorry, I did not explain that very well...”
  • “What I want you to do is..”
  • “Let’s be playful together!?

This list was started by a group of Applied Improvisation Network members after the 2012 conference.  [Paul Z Jackson, Rich Cox, Simo Routarinne, Janine Waldman, Liane Fredericks, Lief Hansen, Raymond van Driel and William Hall]

Please add your "Sh*t Improv Trainers Say" below.  Thanks.