Week 1 Exercises – Improv for Actors


Below are descriptions of the exercises from the first week of the “Improv for Actors” class at the Second City

Exercise 1 – Point, “Yes!”

We all got into a circle. The instructor (person A) started by pointing at someone. The person being pointed to (person B) would respond with “Yes!” Once person B said yes, person A would walk towards person B to take his/her spot in the circle (walking cannot begin until this the “yes” response has been received). As soon as person B says yes, s/he would point at someone else (person C) and wait for them to say “yes.” This cycle continues throughout the circle.

This could speed up pretty quickly, so it was important to keep your eyes alert to see if someone was pointing at you.

Exercise 2 – (Delayed) Mirror

After a fun warm-up, we jumped right into a more challenging exercise.

The instructor (person A) asked for a volunteer (person B) to help him demonstrate. Person A starts by making an action (with or without sound) and his partner B would then mirror the action back to him. Person B then makes an action, which person A mirrors. This continues back and forth, by mirroring the action, and then creating a new one to be mirrored.

After the instructor demonstrated, each of us in the class had to do this with a partner in the circle in front of our classmates.

The hard part of the exercise for me was thinking quickly – or rather, trying not to think or worry about looking silly. To mimic the action and to just do another action without giving it too much thought.

Exercise 3 – Giving a gift

We got into partners. Person A would mime giving person B a gift. Person B would open the gift, and demonstrate what was received. Then vice versa.

When receiving the gift, it’s important to notice how big and how heavy the gift is. If person A gives person B a big and heavy gift, it will not make sense to pull out a comb and start combing your hair with it. It will not be believable, and believability is crucial to improv.

Exercise 4 – “Yes, and…”

The premise of improv is to accept offers (Yes!) and to build upon them (and…)

In this exercise, we got into pairs, with the intention of throwing a party (the idea could be anything). The first person starts and says something like “Let’s plan a party.” The second person then responds by saying “Yes, and …” and offers another suggestion, such as “Yes, and let’s invite our improv class”. Every response after the first statement needs to start with “Yes, and”. For example:

Person A: “Let’s throw a party”
Person B: “Yes, and we could have a carribbean theme”
Person A: “Yes, and let’s invite our improv class!”
Person B: “Yes, and we could ask Margaret if her brother’s calypso band would like to play some music”
Person A: “Yes, and we could have it be a potluck.
Person B: “Yes, and …….”

Exercise 5 – “Yes, but…”

Only the instructor and a class participant demonstrated this exercise, to show how using “Yes, but” makes advancing a scene difficult. “Yes, but” is similar to “Yes, and” except instead of building upon an idea, reasons are given why it won’t work (but…). Person B finds reasons to reject all offers suggested. Person A tries to make new offers, but it’s not easy to do so when they’re constantly rejected.

Person A: “Let’s throw a party”
Person B: “Yes, but it’s cold outside”
Person A: “Yes, but we could have it inside”
Person B: “Yes, but there are no places nearby”
Person A: “Yes, but??????”

Exercise 6 – “No”

This exercise is like “Yes, but”, but even harsher in turning down an offer. There is no where to go once the offer has been refused…

Person A: “Let’s throw a party”
Person B: “No, I don’t feel like doing that”

Exercise 7 – Last word begins next sentence

In this exercise, students get into partners. Person A starts with a sentence. Person B then must start their next sentence with the last word used by Person A. This continues with each turn.

Person A: “Let’s throw a party”
Person B: “Party rockers in the house tonight”
Person A: “Tonight I celebrate my love for you”
Person B: “You are so beautiful to me”
Person A: “Me me me, fa so la tee doe”
Person B: “D’oh, I forget to pay the bill”
Person A” “Bill me later”

Note: The last word should not be modified by making it plural or singular, changing its verb ending, turning it into an adjective, etc. Use the word exactly as it is.

Note 2: Try to avoid asking questions for the sentence.

Exercise 8 – Airport Shuttle (or Hitchhiker)

In this exercise, there are three chairs side by side. Imagine it is a shuttle bus to the airport, and passengers are being picked up. It starts with one person already on the shuttle (Person A), and one person is picked up (Person B). Person B has certain mannerisms. This can include sounds like grunting, humming, etc, but no talking/conversation. Person A mimics Person B’s mannerisms at the same time. For example:

Person A is sitting in the middle chair. Person B approaches the shuttle and sits beside Person A. While approaching, person B is scratching their neck. Person A simultaneously scratches their own neck. Person B starts scratching more. Person A scratches more too. Person B starts sighing. Person A sighs too.

Person A does whatever person B does. It is important for the participants to maintain eye contact, so that when actions change, they are aware of that and stay connected.

Now Person C approaches the shuttle. Persons A and B move over one chair, allowing Person C to sit down. Persons A and B mimic Person C’s mannerisms. For example:

Person C is flossing. Persons A and B also floss. Person C looks at their floss. Person A and B also look at their floss. Person C starts laughing. Persons A and B laugh with person C in unison.

Now another person approaches. Person A leaves the shuttle (exits), Persons B and C move over one place and Person D sits down. Persons B and C imitate Person D. And so it continues.


After break, we did two exercises about environment.

Exercise 9 – Creating an Environment

In this exercise, the class was split in half. Half the class would perform the exercise.

The goal of this exercise is to establish an environment. It is not important for actors to interact with each other. Rather, the point is to build upon creating the environment.

It starts with one person doing an activity. For example, Person A is pushing a shopping cart and putting items in the cart.

Person B enters the environment. Person B is scanning items.

Person C enters the environment. Person C stands next to Person B and bags items.

Person D enters the environment. Person D is mopping.

It continues with people entering the scene and performing different activities that help to establish the environment.

It becomes clearer with each person and their activity what the environment is. In this example, the environment is a grocery store.

Exercise 10 – Environment Bench

In this exercise, there is a bench. Two people are in the scene at a time. They can interact without using words. The point of the exercise is for each person to add an element to the environment. When they leave the scene, they must not take the element with them.

For example, person A is sitting on the bench. She throws her gum into a garbage bin beside the bench (therefore she has introduced a garbage bin into the environment).

Person B, a runner, enters the scene and sits on the bench. She stretches her legs and does some cool down exercises. Person A interacts with her by offering her a water bottle. Person B refuses, but goes to the water fountain and takes some sips (therefore she has introduced a water fountain into the scene).

Person A leaves and Person C enters the scene. Person C takes a sip from the water fountain and also throws something out in the garbage bin (using the introduced elements). He sits down and picks up a newspaper off the bench (therefore he has introduced a newspaper into the scene).

And so it continues…


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