Improvisation Fundamentals

Definition 

An unscripted, unrehearsed drama spontaneously created by a student in response to a prompt or an artefact. See also prepared improvisation. (Ontario Arts Curriculum, 2009)

An Instructional Approach

Much of modern improvisation is predicated on the concept of "agreement."  Anything that another person says in a scene is considered "true" and the other characters must advance the scene based on this new truth.  Any introduction to improvisation should begin with this fundamental principle.  Below are a list of activities that can be used to teach agreement.

Yes, Let's

  • Students move around in the space until one person calls out an activity i.e. "Let's dig a hole!" 
  • The rest of the class responds, "Yes, let's!" and the whole class can individually or together begin digging a hole. 
  • encourage students to find ways to do the tasks together ("Let's ride a bike" could be a tandem bike, "Let's go fishing," could see all the students in the same boat).

What Are You Doing

  • Students sit in a circle with one person (Student A) in the middle miming an activity (i.e., digging a hole).
  • Student B enters from the circle and asks student A, "What are you doing?" 
  • Student A responds, naming an activity that is DIFFERENT from what they are miming (i.e., if the student is digging a hole, they might respond, "I am flying a kite.")
  • Student A then leaves the circle and student B begins engaging in the new activity (flying a kite). Repeat until all have taken a turn.

Because I

In improvised scenes and stories, it is important that all of the events in the story relate directly to events introduced by other players earlier.  The structure of this storytelling game is designed to specifically encourage that each event relates to the one before.
  • Students are informed that they as a circle represent a single person, that they are a collective character.  They will be telling a story as that one character.
  • Students sit in a circle and one person states an activity that they engaged in, i.e. "I received a letter."
The second student and those following will continue the story by stating, "Because I..." and describe the action previous.  Then they will follow with an action that they engaged in as a result of the action previous.  Example below:
  1. "I received a letter."
  2. "Because I received a letter, I opened it."
  3. "Because I opened the letter, I saw that it was a love note from my girlfriend."
  4. "Because I received a love note from my girlfriend, I felt happy."
  5. "Because I felt happy, I did a little dance."
These are helpful reminders to students during this game:
  • Each response should be a direct reaction to the previous statement.
  • Bring the story back to what happened earlier in the story.

Yes, And

  • Students create scenes with who, what and where, but they must say, "Yes, and" at the beginning of each of their lines.  This encourages students to accept the offers of the line of the person before and then advance it with the "and."
  • This game is very similar to Because I, in that the players must accept the idea from their partner and connect their idea to the idea previous.
  • Sidecoach students during this game:
    • Be cautious about saying "Yes" and then negating the idea immediately.
    • Relate your "and" directly to what your scene partner said.
    • Throw away your own ideas and build on your partner's.

Variations for Different Levels of Readiness

Teacher-in-role can be used to help students understand the idea of agreement.
Students may need additional prompts and side-coaching to maintain concentration or generate ideas.

Extensions

Improvisation can be a key component in Process Drama Structures
Improvised storytelling can be used to explore the events related to any source material.

Cross Curricular Uses 

Students may improvise conversations between characters in any story or non-fiction source in any subject area.
Students can review curriculum before a test through some of these activities.