Building Relationships


It’s week three of the Improv for Actors class at the Second City Training Centre, and our exercises are definitely advancing, and warm-ups speeding up. Only a few weeks in and we’ve learned so much.


For warm-ups, we started with a round of Point, “Yes!”, followed by mimicking gestures in a circle. After that, we mimicked just face gestures. For this, we got closer together in the circle and made very small gestures using only our faces. We need to always be ready to receive an offer, and with smaller and quieter gestures, it made it a little bit more challenging.

Name Game Elimination

Last week we played the Name Game, and now was time for a fun test. In a circle, we clapped/pointed to a player in the circle and called out their name. After a bit of practicing, it was time for elimination. If you pointed to someone and didn’t say the right name or hesitated, you were out of the circle. It was fast-paced. We got down to 5 players at the end before calling it quits. I was excited to make it to the final 5. These kinds of exercises I’m good at because I can easily remember people’s names and therefore I don’t worry and just have fun with it .


Gibberish is talking and keeping up a conversation with nonsense words. Even though the words may not make sense, there can be a lot of expression and truth in the delivery, without the hindrance of thinking about specific words.

In a circle, we practiced using gibberish, which we would use more in the next exercise.

Freeze Tag

Next we moved onto Freeze Tag. This exercise makes me a bit nervous, because I worry if I’ll be able to come up with an idea for a new action quickly.  (This week, we determined when we were ready to jump into the action by clapping, instead of our instructor Chris clapping us in) After a round of silent Freeze Tag, we played Freeze Tag using gibberish.

After Freeze Tag, I asked Chris a question:  What do you do when you freeze and can’t think of an idea quickly?

I don’t think many people in the class have this problem, but myself, I do not feel comfortable when I enter a scene and am not sure what to do in that moment.

  • First, embrace the uncertainty. In improv, there is always an element of uncertainty, and by playing and practicing, we learn to be more comfortable with the uncertainty.
  • Chris’ advice was to continue with the action or motion, when you can’t think of what to do. For example, if you are replacing someone who is frozen in a pose where he/she is reaching forward, then continue reaching forward and moving. You will find that through movement and allowing the body to lead, action will evolve, resulting in an idea.

Bring a brick, not a cathedral

In classical acting, an actor must discover what the character’s objective is (what the character wants) and the obstacle (what is preventing him for achieving the objective)

In Improv, the focus is more on relationships – what is the relationship between two people, and how can you make a game of it.

Chris, our instructor, discussed this, and the principal in improvisation of “bringing a brick, not a cathedral.” What this means, is that each actor, adds a piece to a story. The story evolves with each idea presented by the players. Brick by brick, the story is created (cathedral built).

Improvisors are not expected to know the entire story (ie. the cathedral) when they start a scene. That is the beauty of improv, and being open to accepting offers, and to “yes, and-ing” ideas

Making a game of it

In this exercise, two students performed at a time. Chris gave them a task (ie. setting a table), and both players would perform the task, but trying to “one-up” the other player.

The focus was on the relationship, and the game was “one-upping” the other player.

It is important to note that when trying to “one-up” or upstage the other player, you should not try to destroy something they have done. For example, when setting the table, if player A put a nice vase of flowers on the table, player B should not knock the flowers off the table. Instead, they should try to do something even more impressive.

A scene that stood out for me was between Alexa and Lou. Their task was to graffiti a wall. Right off the bat, Alexa added the element of “doing something wrong” by being on the look-out for anyone watching who could catch them in their mischief. It felt like a dance between the two of them, as they each created graffiti masterpieces on their walls. By the end, Alexa was helping Lou with what he was creating, and then one-upping that.

My task was to fish. At first I thought, there isn’t much to do. I can put a worm on a hook, I can cast my fishing rod. But it’s not just about the task. I could have simply opened a can of beer and showed off doing that. Or by putting on a special fisherman’s hat. I realized after the exercise, that it’s about thinking outside of the box, and not so much about what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it, and in advancing the scene and building the relationship.

During week 1, I believe Chris said something like “there is no box in Improv – Improv is all about thinking outside of the box”


Mime Part 2

After break, we spent time on our mimes from week 2, but in a new exercise.

Chris paired two people together. Generally, the pairing was based on activities that were performed in the same environment (ie. people who mimed an activity in the bathroom were put together).

In this exercise, each person continued with their activity, while engaging in a conversation with the other person.

For my activity, I was putting contact lens on. I was paired with Michelle, who was brushing her teeth. The scenario that Chris gave us, was that we were in an airport washroom, and that we were two strangers. From there, Michelle and I performed our activities and developed a relationship by interacting with each other.

All of the scenes were really interesting to watch. Mary and Kate had a good scene. They were maids cleanings up a hotel room. Kate was making a bed and Mary was ironing. Doing these activities in the background, we learned that Kate was a seasonal employee going off to school in the fall, whereas Mary had a long time career working at the hotel. A lot can unfold brick by brick in these scenes.

Another great scene was between Amanda and Christian.  All they knew was that they were in a bathroom getting ready to go to a wedding. It was up to them to determine what their relationship was. First we learned that Christian was Amanda’s date to the wedding. Next we learned that it was Amanda’s brother’s wedding, which Christian did not know. I’m pretty all of us watching assumed they were boyfriend and girlfriend, and so it was odd that Christian did not know this. But it all flowed smoothly. As it then turned out, Christian was helping Amanda out by being her date and pretending to be her boyfriend, though he was in fact gay. By the end of the scene, however, Christian professed his love for Amanda and confessed that he was in fact straight. Brick by brick, the story was created, and what was great, was that all offers were accepted and built upon to make a great scene.

Lessons Learned

  • When an idea does not come to you right away and you feel “frozen”, embrace the uncertainty, take your time and relax, and follow through with the existing motion. Through movement, an idea will come.
  • Bring a brick, not a cathedral – Each actor adds a small piece to a story. The story is created brick by brick together by the players.
  • Take time, relax and be open to all offers

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