Category Archives: Improv Exercises

Improv for Actors 2 Performs!


This is us: Improv for Actors 2.

For two terms, we have studied improv together at the Second City in Toronto as part of the “Improv for Actors” program. In the second class, we lost a few faces and gained a few new ones, but what has always stayed the same is our close bond.

I think I speak for all of my classmates in saying we have a special group, and felt early on that we could really trust one another, which is so important in improvisation. I feel fortunate to have formed close friendships with all my fellow improvisers, to have been inspired by them and to have learned from their abilities.

On June 6, 2012, we put our improv skills to the test: We performed live at the John Candy Box Theatre at the Second City Training Centre in Toronto. There was nervousness and excitement in the air before going on stage. We had so much fun, and based on all the positive feedback we received, we have a lot to be proud of.

A special thanks to Shari Hollett and Chris Earle for being such fantastic teachers!!!

Make A Story

In this game all the players on stage will be telling a story. To make things more interesting, each player is assigned a specific genre. Individual players speak when directed (the director points at the player for their turn), and continues the story, but in their genre. It makes for a very funny scene!

Switch (or Freeze)

Switch/Freeze is an improv exercise with two players performing, and standby players, waiting for a moment to join in. At any given time, one of the standby players can clap their hands and shout out “Freeze!” The two performers on stage must freeze. The standby player then takes the pose of one of the players, and that player leaves the stage. A new scene is resumed. A very fast paced activity.

Sounds Like A Song

“Sounds Like A Song” is an improv activity, where at any given time (an inspired time), a director or audience calls out “Sounds Like A Song.” At that point, the last person who spoke launches into a song based on the last line that was spoken, often accompanied by a pianist. Heightens the scene and adds drama and musicality.

Switch Left

“Switch Left” requires 4 players. The players stand in a square, 2 by 2. Each pair of players receives a suggestion from the audience (a relationship or a non-geographical location). The two players in front begin to perform a scene based on their premise. When the director calls out “Switch Left”, the players rotate one spot to the left. Now, two new players are in front, and act out a different scene. The players rotate, but for every unique couple, their scene stays the same, and continues to evolve as it comes back to their turn. Each player ends up in two different scenes.


Clap is an improv exercise with 3 or 4 couples. One couple performs at a time, and at any given time, one of the standby players can clap. The new couple comes on the stage, and they start their scene (completely different scene) using the last sentence that was spoken by the couple before. Ideally, the exercise ends when all three scenes can end on the same sentence.

Sounds Like A Song 2

It’s such a fun scene, we decided to do another one!

And here’s a happy picture of our incredible class! Here’s to our next performance! 🙂

Toronto Second City Improv for Actors 2 class


On the road again…


So here we are again. The start of a new improv class at the Toronto Second City: Improv for Actors 2! After a two week break, it’s exciting to get back into the swing of things and start our next improv course. We have a lot of familiar faces, and a few new faces in the second Improv for Actors class, one being our fantastic new teacher: Shari Hollett.

I can already tell Improv for Actors 2 is going to be a lot of fun. Shari made us all feel comfortable from the start and we played some really neat games which I enjoyed (see below for the exercises).There are two new elements to this class, which we didn’t have in the last Improv for Actors class:

  1. We’re going to be incorporating musical improvisation.
  2. We’ll be having a final performance, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 6 at 9pm at the John Candy Box Theatre at the Toronto Second City Training Centre.

I’m not sure how I feel yet about performing improv live in front of an audience. I’ve performed on stage a number of times as an actor and loved it, but I felt confident knowing I had a script, and a director, and rehearsals. Improv is another story – it’s all in the here and now, just using the skills we’re been taught and seeing what happens. That said, I’m not going to worry. I have amazing classmates and I’m studying improv to be in the moment. If I start getting nervous about a show that is over a month away, I’ll be defeating myself. There’s also a small part of me that’s excited to perform for family and friends. 

Narrative Poem 

Standing in a circle, we continued our work on narratives from IFA1 by telling a narrative poem.

Every student in the class started one poem, and each poem contained only as many words as people in the class (one word per person, going around in the circle).

It was amazing how well the poems worked. I think having a definite length to the poem and knowing your position in the poem in relation to the person who started (ie. if you’re close to the end, try to bring the poem to closure) helped to guide the direction and make the exercise successful.

Beads on a String 

This exercise was so much fun.

The goal of “Beads on a String” is to “string” three random sentences together to create a story.

Three people start the exercise, and can say any sentence at all. Player 1’s sentence will be the beginning of the story, Player 2’s sentence will be a sentence somewhere in the middle of the story, and Player 3’s sentence is the end of the story.

The three people stand apart with space in between them and say their sentence.

One at a time, people go up and say one sentence to support the story, and “bead the string,” helping to connect the sentences and the story together. When someone goes up, s/he stands between the first and last person, in the position where they would like the sentence to be. (For instance, if 6 people are up, and you want your sentence to go right after the first person’s sentence, you would stand right beside player 1 in the second position). The only positions someone cannot stand is the first or last position (the beginning and end of the story remains constant, hence the need to bead the story together).

After someone goes up, all the sentences are repeated in order.

In the end, there should be a completed story.

Complaints Department 

I have to say this exercise was particularly exciting for me, because I got to play with Tony Rosato!

Tony, an SCTV and Saturday Night Live alum, was in my class last term, and I was completely awe-struck. I didn’t jump at opportunities to improvise with him because I felt timid. I mean, he’s really amazing. Even though I wanted to work with him, I also loved just getting to sit back and watch him. He’s incredibly funny and entertaining, and I’ve learned so much by watching him.

I wish I could say that now that I’m in Improv for Actors 2, my timidness has suddenly gone away. Not so much the case, but Shari put Tony and I together for this exercise, and boy am I glad – it was so much fun.

So, let me explain this exercise. The idea is that there is a complaints department. There are two people who play. One player is the customer, who has a complaint (ie. a return to a store). The other player works at the complaints department, and tries to handle the customer’s complaint in a positive manner and to the customer’s satisfaction.

For this exercise, each student would play three different customers, and use different characters for each one. They would improvise with the same complaints department worker. The complaints department worker would not change character.

There were so many fantastic scenes, and because each student played three different customers and also later played as the complaints department worker, we did not have enough time to finish this exercise in class, but I can’t wait to continue next class.

As a customer, I played an old lady returning a sweater without a receipt, who used a walker and wanted to set up the complaints department worker (Steve) with her granddaughter. I also played a high status woman who was upset that her cashier mistakenly did not take 40% off her purchases as advertised. Then when it came to the third character, I ran out of ideas, and just played a medium status person returning a toaster.

When I was the complaints department worker, I had Tony as the customer. He had me in stitches. For one of his characters, he played an Italian man who wanted to return a pair of pants that he was wearing. He was so deadpan and serious, I had to hold back laughing. I thought it would be really fun to put up some barriers and say we can’t take back pants that are being worn, but I remembered that as the complaints department worker I’m supposed to satisfy the customer. Later, I saw that other students did put up some barriers, and I wished I had taken the opportunity to do so and not be overly accommodating. Next time I’ll take more risks. If I’m wrong, I’ll learn, and that’s not a bad thing.

I would love to write about all the other scenes, but it would be much too long. Mitch played some incredible characters, one that was completely in mime with no dialogue. Again, I’m so amazed by my classmates and feel very lucky to have the opportunity to not only play with but learn from them every week!

Lessons Learned

  • Listening to your partner is very important.
  • If you realize that your partner hasn’t heard something you’ve said, do not ignore it. Bring it up without blocking. The audience notices everything and if you ignore it, it won’t make it better. (For instance, in the above exercise, if you return something without a receipt, and your partner says he sees on the receipt it’s within the return period, you could then say “My, you really are helpful, you even managed to find my receipt!”)
  • Be willing to take risks

Image: hinnamsaisuy /

Wrapping Up “Improv for Actors”

Toronto Second City "Improv for Actors" class photo

Toronto Second City Improv for Actors class - celebrating at Gabby's

We did it! 18 students came together to embark on an improvisational journey at the Second City in Toronto, and 7 weeks later, our improv course is complete. I can hardly believe that 7 weeks went by so quickly.

I’m really glad I signed up for this class.

One thing I loved about “Improv for Actors” was the diversity of my classmates. A class geared towards students who are either working as an actor or have studied acting, we all had that aspect in common. But otherwise, our backgrounds, ages, experiences – were all so different, and I really enjoyed and appreciated this.

Another great thing about our class was our teacher: the amazing Chris Earle. Every week I came away with so many lessons (improv lessons and life lessons), that I was inspired to create this blog. Chris not only made the class fun, but he brought great insight and expertise and helped us all to grow as improvisers.

I met many wonderful and talented people. Some of us will continue with Improv for Actors II, which starts next week (stay tuned for my new journeys). Some are busy this summer working on acting opportunities, and some will move on to other improv programs. Hopefully we will keep in touch. All my classmates had a positive impact on me and I wish every one of them success in their endeavours.

I’ll discuss our last class and then end with some final thoughts.

Class Narrative 

In week 6, we worked in pairs to tell a narrative. This week, instead of in pairs, we did this collectively as a class.

Starting with “Once upon a time,” we went around a circle and each student contributed one word to the story.

After a couple stories, Chris gave us some ideas for more narratives (not necessarily beginning with “Once upon a time”). One was a letter of resignation. We decided what the company was (a fruit plantation), and we went from there.  Another was a call home from summer camp.

The challenge in this exercise is to keep the pace going steady and not hesitate or think too long to say a word, and to also give offers that help the narrative develop. Overall, I think we did a good job and came up with some very amusing tales. 

Building an Environment 

This was a neat exercise, requiring a group of four people (two pairs of two). There were two activities in this exercise:  1. The building of an environment, and 2. acting in the environment. First, two people from the group would build the environment. Then, the remaining pair would perform in the environment that was created.

The environment builders (Pair 1) 

Each person from the pair gives three offers, for a total of six environment traits. Of the three offers, two should be realistic, and one can be kind of whacky.

The environment builders do not act or improvise, they simply state their offer out loud, setting up an environment for the actors.

For example, an offer could be “there is a old dresser sitting on a street curb. It has five drawers and is rather old. The second drawer has some trouble opening.”

Steve and Mary built the first environment. It was kind of crazy: Downtown Toronto (King and Bay), on a street curb, with an old dresser and a condemned building, and a toilet somehow dangling from a rope. I think a dog was in the scene somewhere too.

The actors (Pair 2)

After Steve and Mary finished stating their six environment offers, Mark and Elise acted out in this scene. I was impressed with how they used the environment. Elise was a real estate agent, showing Mark an area of town he may be interested in. Of course, Mark was apprehensive with how things looked. It was quite funny.

Afterwards, Mark and Elise switched roles with Steve and Mary, where they built the environment and Steve and Mary acted it out.


Feedback from Chris 🙂 

To end the class, Chris put two people together who he felt had similar strengths. He told them what he thought their strengths had been in the class and where they may want to focus more attention on, and then he gave them a premise for a short scene along with some side coaching.

It was really great to get Chris’ feedback. I was impressed by all of my classmates, and I feel a number of them will go far. It was really an honour to work with all of them.

The feedback I received was that I’m good at playing low-status characters, and that I’ve been funny in these roles. This surprised me. I actually worked on trying not to automatically play high status, so I was quite happy to receive this feedback. Kate and I played a scene where we were in a club, both starting off low status, and trying to get a drink from a bartender who wasn’t giving us any attention. The challenge was for us to switch to high status when this happened. It was a fun scene.

Two scenes that I really liked a lot were with Christian and Elise and Michelle and Mary. Christian and Elise were a married couple decorating their first Christmas tree. They started off happy but then they began to argue. During the argument, Elise saw a spider and insisted that Christian kill it as it’s the “man’s job.” Christian killed it and then quickly retorted that Elise clean it up, the “women’s job” – a quick-witted response to Elise’s comment. The argument and status contest was quite entertaining.

In Michelle and Mary’s scene, Mary played a single mother going on a date and Michelle her teenage daughter. Michelle was giving Mary advice for her date. Mary played the low status role wonderfully (she was nervous about the date and what to talk about), and Michelle was high status, giving her mother a pep talk and lots of encouragement, including advice on how to get physical with her date. Mary’s discomfort in the situation as the mom and Michelle’s positivity and excitement made the scene really enjoyable to watch. Chris suggested to Michelle that she play the role as if she were chewing gum, and suddenly there was a character transformation just with that little change.

Final Thoughts

We are all improvisers. Every day, we as humans improvise. It is how we interact with each other. As Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

I learned a lot in this class, not just improvisation lessons but lessons applicable to broader areas of my life. Learning to be in the moment, learning to breathe and listen, learning to relax, learning to take time, learning to trust my partner and to say “yes, and…”. These are important not only in improv, but to life beyond the theatre. I still have a ways to go to worry less and relax more – that is something I strive to improve. But so long as we are learning and growing and having fun, I would say we’re achieving success. 

"Improv for Actors" collage

Narratives and Emotions


Our week 6 class of the Second City’s Improv for Actors course focused on learning to tell narratives and using emotions.

Developing a Narrative – One Word At A Time

A narrative tells a story. “Once upon a time” has begun many a narrative, and the possibilities are endless from where to go from there. You can create the story in the moment, as we did in this exercise.

Working in partners, each player takes turns saying one word at a time, telling the story together. The beauty of this exercise is that you work as part of a team to develop the narrative and without pre-planning or knowing what to expect, the story unfolds.

* See further reading to learn more about Narrative Improvisation

The narrative begins with “Once upon a time” and continues on:

Player 1 (P1): Once
Player 2 (P2): upon
P1: a
P2: time
P1: there
P2: was
P1: a
P2: beautiful
P1: girl
P2: who…

There are a couple challenges I noticed in this exercise. When I did this with my partner, I felt that I was often on the end of saying words like “a”, “that,” “was,” “of,” etc, which wasn’t as much fun as using big adjectives and creating twists and turns. But just be patient. You’ll find that there comes a shift where you get to make more creative offers.

Offering a multi-word thought, such as “wishing well” or “piece of pie” can also be challenging. You can’t expect that your partner will think the same way, especially when you’re doing this somewhat quickly. So if there was a sentence like “There was a” and I said “wishing” and expected my partner to finish the thought with “well”, it can be confusing and not the best offer. In cases like this, it’s better to simply give an adjective or noun.

In this exercise, you not only learn to build a story by bringing a brick, but also to take care of each other, by making offers that will help the story to evolve and succeed, instead of offers that will hinder the development of the story.

Developing a Narrative using “Magical” suggestions 

After practicing with our partners, each pair told a narrative in front of the class. The class gave a suggestion of something “magical” to be incorporated into the story, like a “magical boot,” “magical toaster,” “magical fairy,” etc. When telling the narrative, this element should be included and used to build the story.

Emotional Join-In

In this exercise, there are 5 players. Player 1 is the host of a party, and starts the exercise, with neutral emotion. This player starts the scene alone, perhaps setting up for the party. The four other players are assigned an emotion. One at a time, each player enters the scene, using their assigned emotion. Every person who is present in the scene at that point in time must join in on the emotion. For example, when Player 2 enters the scene, there are only two players in the scene: Players 1 and 2. Player 2 enters the scene angry, and Player 1 joins in on this emotion and is also angry, until the next player enters the scene. This continues until the last player enters.

After Player 5 enters the scene and has been in the scene for a sufficient amount of time, player 5 exits. When player 5 exits, all four remaining players resume the emotion that was there before P5 entered, which was the emotion brought into the scene by Player 4. Player 4 exits, and Player 3’s emotion is resumed by the remaining three players. This continues until only Player 1 remains.

I did this exercise with Elise, Mitch, Jill and Kate. I started the scene in neutral. Elise entered with anger. We were both angry. She was angry that the party sucked. I was angry that no other guests had arrived. We only felt that emotion. Then Mitch entered. Mitch was depressed. All three of us were all depressed. Jill entered with joy. We were all so happy that Jill arrived, and the party was now fun and joyous. Finally Kate entered, feeling paranoid. All five of us felt and acted paranoid. Once Kate left, we felt joy once again. When Jill left, we felt depressed. When Mitch left, we felt angry. And when Elise left, I went back to neutral, tidying up after the party.

It’s a lot of fun to “join in” and to not oppose another player and what they are offering. In this exercise, the offer was an emotion. We ‘yes, and-ed’ the emotion by accepting the emotion, and building the scene on it.


Oscar moment

During the second part of the class, we worked on “Oscar moments,” aka emotionally heightened spotlights.

Each scene would have three people in an environment, such as an office. There would also be an issue or dilemma. At any point in time, our teacher Chris may call out “Oscar moment” to a player, and that person would heighten their emotion and go into a monologue of Oscar award worthiness.

There were lots of amazing scenes.

The first scene was with Kate, Alexa and Lou. They were workers in an office, sitting side by side in cubicles. The issue was that there were no staples left in the stapler.

When Lou had his Oscar moment, he went all out. He was worked up that his coworker Alexa, who he had a crush on, didn’t notice him. He was angry that they couldn’t get their work done. And at the climax, he was livid that there was no staples left in the stapler. It was brilliant and hilarious.

When the Oscar moment was over, the scene went back to normal and emotions were stabilized. But during the Oscar performance, emotions ran wild (just for the one player, the other two remained neutral and said nothing or very little, allowing their co-player to shine in the Oscar moment).

Another great scene was with Jill, Michelle and Steve. They were also in an office environment, and the issue was that the printer was out of ink/toner. During Jill’s Oscar moment, she panicked that the printer was out of toner, and that she had so many copies to make, which she left until the last moment, and really had to get them printed off. Her emotions included a lot of great physicality.

When it came time to Michelle’s moment, she was strong and affirmative, assuring Jill that there would always be toner available to her. Jill and Michelle worked really well together, and their Oscar moments and emotions complemented each other nicely.

Lessons Learned 

  • In improv, big is better. Heightened emotions and big emotional reactions can be very funny, and are great offers for heightening a co-player’s emotions.
  • Joining in on emotions can be just as funny and satisfying as playing an opposing emotion.
  • Working together to create a narrative helps to keep players in the moment and not predict or plan ahead for the story’s development.
  • Making eye contact and listening to your partner will help you figure out what to do next.
  • When making an offer, be aware of what you are giving your partner to work with, instead of rushing to get an offer out. It is important to take care of each other and helps to build trust between players.

Further Reading


What lessons have you learned about emotions through your study of improv? What has worked well for you in improv scenes? Leave your comments below. 

Character Endowment


We continued our work on status in our week 5 class of Improv for Actors at the Second City in Toronto. It’s hard to believe there are only two more lessons left of this course. The time is going by quickly, a sign of an enjoyable class.

Class Check-In

We started class with a check-in. Sitting in a circle, Chris asked for our impressions of the course so far, and any questions we may have. A number of classmates remarked that they’ve been using the improv techniques we’ve learned during their auditions, with positive results. Michelle teaches musical theatre classes to children and has been employing some of our improv activities in her lessons. I believe that everything we have learned in class, and will continue to learn in the study of improvisation, can be used in many facets of our lives. Particularly with the study of status, it’s helped me reflect on my relationships and my status compared to those around me, and how our actions and behaviours shape people’s perceptions.

I asked Chris while we were sitting in the circle about the mime exercise from week 3. In the exercise, we mimed activities while interacting with another player and building a relationship. Chris emphasized that we continue to mime our activity throughout the scene and resist moments where we would stop the action. I asked why that was important…

Why action is important

Chris explained that action heightens a scene. Even when a scene is interesting based on the dialogue itself, action helps to improve it. For example, if two people are having an argument, that can be good, but if two people are having an argument while they are having trouble putting up a Christmas tree, and everything is going wrong, it adds to the scene and makes it that much better.

Continuing with an action also rewards the audience for paying attention and noticing what is happening in a scene. If someone mimes reading the newspaper and puts the newspaper down, and then a few minutes later picks up the newspaper again – the people watching who didn’t miss those details are rewarded by the activity being continued, and it shows the audience that their attention is being valued. I found this really interesting. It makes complete sense, I had just not thought about this before. For instance, last week I watched an improv performance and noticed that one of the players put a clipboard down (at least, I believed that’s what she did). When she picked the clipboard back up a few minutes later, I realized that I was correct in my assumption, and felt kind of good about that.

Counting to 20 as a Group 

We started class with our usual warm-ups, with the addition of one new exercise. We stood in a circle, with our eyes closed. The goal was to count to 20 without any doubles. It was an exercise in listening, awareness and intuition. One person would say “one.” Then another person would count out “two.” The tricky part was to not say a number at the exact same time as someone else – if that happened, you start over. So you needed to be careful and have a sense of the right time to say the number aloud. It took us three tries I believe, and we made it to twenty!

Character Endowment 

In pairs, we were given a character endowment and had to act it out. Some of these were:

  • Fashion Models
  • High school cheerleaders
  • Bull fighter
  • Pine trees
  • Astronomers

Kate and Christian acted out being snowflakes. What is the character endowment of a snowflake? That’s a tough one, but they did a great job. Christian fell to the ground as a snowflake would. When he told Kate he was on the ground, she said “I’m on my way there” and she lay on the floor with him. Laying on the ground, they philosophized about their lives as snowflakes and what would happen to them as they melted away.

Status determined by Playing Cards

A group of 4 people would perform at a time. Chris gave each person a playing card, but they could not look at it. The playing card would be held to the player’s chest so the audience and other players could see, but was not visible to the individual player.

2 is the lowest status and ace is the highest status.

By knowing the other three players’ status, and noticing how you are treated in comparison to the others, you should get an idea on what your status is, and how you should play it.

For these exercises, groups of 4 players were either at a corporate retreat or a high school reunion.

Amanda, Toni, Jill and Laura were at a high school reunion. Amanda had the highest status with a King, Toni was close behind with a Queen, Jill had a 6 and Laura a 2.

In their scene, Amanda and Toni stuck together but did not give much of their attention to Jill or Laura. Jill, in the middle, tried hard to appease Amanda and Toni and get in their good graces. She was good at putting Laura down, almost as if she was doing it as a service for Amanda and Toni, who were of too high a status to even bother with someone so low. Jill offered to get drinks for Amanda and Toni, and then got Laura to do it for her. Eventually, Toni made a drink for Amanda, as only someone of her status could do it right.


Quick offers of character endowment and status 

This was a fast paced exercise. Two people walk in, create a quick scene, and walk out of the scene. One person casts the offer of the other’s character endowment (ie. “Get me my slippers, Jeeves). This immediately defines the other player’s character and status, and well as their own status (if Jeeves is a servant, then the player making the offer is of a higher status). The partner responds. Then the original offer-maker ends the exchange, and the scene is done.

Here is a video I found that demonstrates this general idea.

Jill and Steve had a quick exchange that ended in a bit of a twist. Jill was a call-girl, making an offer to Steve “Hey big boy, want to get together?” In this way, it is assumed that Jill is the lower status and Steve superior. Steve responds to her offer, and then Jill quickly exclaims “Never mind, you probably couldn’t afford it anyway”, putting her in the higher status position. This goes to show that status can indeed change in a scene!

Physical Offers 

We didn’t have time to finish this exercise, but we will continue next class.

Two people are facing each other (or standing side by side, or back to front). They stand there and take their time. One person might make a very minute gesture, such as their nose twitching, or squinting their eyes. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture, and it can just happen on its own. From there, the other person uses that small gesture and starts a scene. There doesn’t need to be any ideas as to how this will evolve, just let it happen.

Amanda and Tony did this well. Amanda was actually standing in front of Tony. They stood there for a few moments, and then Amanda brushed her fingers through her hair. From there, Tony asked what she thought of her haircut. He became the hairdresser and she the client. From that one small movement, the offer was made and the scene took off. 

Lessons Learned 

  • Offering your partner a character endowment or status is a wonderful gift, as it eliminates endless possibilities. Once an offer is made, the status and endowment can be accepted and it makes the scene that much easier, as options are taken off the table.
  • Having activity and motion in a scene, such as brushing hair, or putting dishes away, no matter how incidental it is to the dialogue, helps to heighten a scene and add interest.
  • Continuing with an action rewards the audience for noticing details and their attention.
  • When status is unknown, it can be intuited by how your character is treated compared to other players with known status.

Sizing Up Status


Week 4 of the Second City’s Improv for Actors class focused on the study of status.

Status is an interesting concept. We all have status – be it high, low, or somewhere in between. Status can be defined in different ways. High status generally indicates power, which could come from birth, wealth, confidence, knowledge, etc. Two high status people can be quite varied. One could be dominant (using intimidation or fear) whereas another could exhibit pride and self-assuredness. 

* See further reading to learn more about status

I’m enjoying the work we’ve been doing on status, because it helps me to reflect on my relationships with family, friends, colleagues, etc, and pay attention to how status comes into play in our everyday lives – particularly, what is the role I play? How is my status perceived, and does this change depending on the relationship?

Walking with Status

To start our work on status, our instructor Chris had all of us in the class walk around the room randomly. Occasionally, he would tell us to stop. Then we would start walking again – very simple.

Next, we were instructed to walk around and make eye contact with the people we pass. Once we made eye contact, we were to quickly look away.

Secret Agent, Arch-Nemesis and Shield 

Premise: you are a secret agent and everyone else is an ordinary citizen. With this knowledge, you walk around the room with self-assuredness, cool and collected in the fact that you have this power.

Next: one person in the room is your arch-nemesis (you can choose anyone at random – only you know who your arch-nemesis is). Walking around the room, you are still confident knowing you are a secret agent, but you try to stay clear of your arch nemesis, who you do not let get close.

Finally: one person in the room is a shield (again chosen at random, and only you know who your shield is). When walking, you should try to always maintain a straight line between yourself, the shield and the arch nemesis, with the shield in the middle for your protection.

When we performed the exercise, many people in the class selected Alexa to be their shield. This was done unknowingly, but as Alexa moved, everyone was gravitating towards her to keep safe. 

Walk of Shame 

Individually, each student in the class had to walk through the room, attempting to make eye contact with other classmates. We all stood still on the spot, except for the one player walking through the room. The premise was that every bystander was an ex-lover, and things did not end well. The person walking through the room hopes someone will show some compassion or pity, but everyone just stares at him or her disapprovingly. It was difficult to walk through a crowd of people like this, being very low status. Generally, the player walking through the room felt sheepish, intimidated, scared, unworthy. As soon as eye contact was made, it would be broken. It was a neat exercise, and though it was not real, it was kind of uncomfortable feeling that low.

 High, Medium, Low Status 

In the next exercise, three people were in a scene at a doctor’s waiting room. Chris assigned status, one high, one medium, one low. In the waiting room, each player acted out their status, while also treating the other two people according to their statuses.

In this exercise, I was assigned high status. My classmates commented that I wasn’t snobby or mean, but instead I acted aloof rather than superior, and was still nice. There are many ways that high status could be played. (See next example)

When Status is Determined by…Coughing

A notable group was Nick (high status), Tony (medium status) and Christian (low status). Nick entered the scene very self-important and with purpose, I saw him as a corporate executive. Tony was coughing in this scene in the waiting room. Instead of Nick continuing to play out the scene disgusted by the coughing, or acting impatient with how long he was waiting, the scene changed gears when Nick started coughing too. Nick coughed louder and longer than Tony. It became a coughing match – with the superior cough having the higher status. It was a fantastic display of status and very original!


Less Words = More Status 

In the next exercise, Chris put three students together in a scene. Two people were seated at a table at a restaurant, and the third player was the server. Each player was assigned a status. The high status player was allowed to use only one word at a time. The medium status player could say two words, and the low status three words. There was no speaking order, but someone else has to speak before you could speak again.

A typical scene could go like this:

Server (medium status): Order please? (2)
High status player: Wine (1)
Low status: I’d like beer (3)
Server: What kind? (2)
Low status: Heineken please – cold! (3)
High status: Chardonnay (1)
Server (returns with drink): Your drinks (2)
High status (inspecting glass): Unacceptable (1)
Low status: Not very good (3)
Server: What’s wrong? (2)

What was interesting about this exercise, was how much can be said with very few words, and how much can be expressed using gestures and physical communication/body language. 

Lessons Learned 

  • Status can define a character.
  • Eye contact can be an indicator of status. Those with higher status are generally more comfortable making eye contact.
  • Low status indicators include trouble maintaining eye contact, lowered head, nervousness, fidgeting, etc.
  • Status can be revealed in both verbal and non-verbal (physical) ways.

Further reading:

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

Allowing the body to lead


Had my second improv class this week, and it was even better than the first.

Traffic was good driving into Toronto, so I got to class a little early. Tony, the SCTV and Saturday Night Live alumnus, was also there early and I had the opportunity to chat with him. I was a little awe-struck the first week, but he’s very approachable and friendly. I’m really glad to have Tony in our class – he’s super funny and there’s so much to learn from him. He takes the simplest ideas and turns them into amazing scenes. (see exercise “Exchanging Gifts” below)

As class started, I initially felt a twinge of nerves, despite this being our second week – can I do three hours of this? Will it get harder? But the three hours really went by quickly, and I’m becoming more confident as time goes on.

Warm-ups – Gestures

We started class with a few warm-up exercises. Standing in a circle, Chris, our instructor, made a gesture, and all of us mimicked it. After doing this for a few rounds, Chris then would make a gesture towards a specific person in the circle, and that person would mimic it back to Chris. Then, that student (A) would make a different gesture to another student (B). B would mimic it back to A, and then direct a gesture to another student. It was similar to the “Point, yes” exercise from Week 1, but instead of pointing, a gesture was used, and instead of responding with “yes”, the gesture was mimicked back.

The above exercise evolved into actions using just the face, and then actions using no hands (hands behind the back). It’s interesting to isolate or restrict parts of your body and see what gestures you come up with.

Name Game

After these warm-ups, we played the Name Game. I really like the Name Game. It’s a fun exercise that tests your memory.

It started with Chris. Chris introduced himself by saying his name, and then describing himself with an adjective starting with the first letter of his name. He would also make a gesture. For example:

“I’m Chris and I’m clever” (pointing his index finger to his head)

Then it’s the turn of the person next to Chris in the circle. That person must first repeat Chris’ name, adjective and gesture, and then introduce him/herself. For example:

“I’m Chris and I’m clever” (pointing index finger to head)
“I’m Mitch and I’m mighty” (flexing his arms up beside his head like a muscle man)

Now it’s the next person’s turn. The next person must always repeat the introductions of all the people before him/her, and then introduce him/herself. If you’re the last person in the circle, you have the biggest challenge, trying to remember everyone’s name, adjective and gesture!

Some of the adjectives were really neat. Let’s see if I can remember them all:

  • Chris – clever
  • Mitch – mighty
  • Toni – timid
  • Elise – energetic
  • Mary – morbid
  • Lou – luscious
  • Michelle – mini
  • Mark – marvelous
  • Jill – good (meant to ask if she spells her with a G. She gestured “quote marks” for her action)
  • Nick – noble
  • Steve – stylish
  • Cindy – cheerful
  • Alexa – asymmetrical (I liked this one – very original)
  • Tony – tender
  • Amanda – abstract
  • Kate – kinky
  • Christian – creative (I think 😕 – hard to remember the last one)

Not bad – I remembered everyone’s names, and all but one of the adjectives. It definitely is a good exercise to help in learning names.

Bonus points go to Christian. He came to class late, and with one only viewing of the circle, was able to repeat everyone’s name, adjective and gesture. Like I mentioned in my last post, we have some amazing students in the class.

Allowing your body to lead you

The next exercise set us up for the Freeze Game.

  • Person A is in the centre of the circle and repeatedly makes a motion, like swinging a baseball bat.
  • Person B enters the circle and copies the motion, then, slowly allows it to evolve into a different motion.
  • Person A exits and Person C enters. Person C copies the new motion made by Person B and then allows it to evolve into another motion
  • This continues.

For example, person A is swinging a baseball bat. Once person B has successfully copied this action, then as he allows the action to evolve, the action may end up changing into throwing a pizza pie over the head.

The change needs to be organic and fluid – just let it happen! Do not think about it, but rather let the body lead and see what evolves.

Freeze Game

After practicing the body leading an action, we played the Freeze Game.

Two people are in the circle, acting something out. At any point, the teacher claps his hands, and the two people freeze. The next person in the circle jumps in and takes the place of the person who has been in the circle the longest, and puts himself in the same pose. He must now act something different out, using that same pose.

This was a little different than how I know the Freeze Game, in that the teacher stopped the action by clapping his hands (instead of the person who will jump into the circle, who may stop the action when he or she is inspired to do so), and that the person who was clapped out was the one who was in the longest, instead of choosing either one of the two people in the circle.

Exchanging Gifts (between three people)

The last exercise before the break was my favourite of the class: Three people giving gifts to each other

Three people are in the scene, sitting in chairs next to each other. The premise of the exercise is that each person gives the other two a gift (therefore six gifts are given in this exercise). It could be for any occasion. It could be three people with the same birthday (ie. triplets), it could be Christmas, just because, whatever.

The rule is that the person who receives the gift, loves the gift, and decides what the gift is. For example, the receiver opens the gift and says “I love it! I’ve always wanted a swiffer sweeper.” Or “How did you know I’ve be looking for an ancient dinosaur fossil.” It doesn’t need to be creative, it could be anything. Then, the other two people (the giver and the observer), each need to give a reason why the gift is ideal for the recipient.

Things to keep in mind are the weight and size of the gift being presented. It should make sense what comes out of the gift once it’s unwrapped.

This exercise was so much fun to watch and to perform in. There were many ways in which the scene could develop, by unwrapping the gift, using the gift, etc.

My favourite gift given was to Tony. He took his time opening the gift, and it was a bar of soap – Zest in fact – so simple, and also so unexpected. His partners gave reasons why soap was a good gift for Tony. He agreed, saying he could use more soap. His delivery was so honest and pure, and the whole class was in stitches! What I noticed about Tony was that he accepted all offers so effortlessly, and added to them, but let the scene evolve, without changing the direction it was going in. It sounds easy, but I’m realizing it takes a lot of skill to do this.

The part of this exercise that worried me was will I be able to come up with an idea for a gift quickly?

I was amazed when Jill was given a really long gift, and without skipping a beat, she opened it and was thrilled that it was a dance/stripper’s pole. Jill set it up and started using it, and it was a great scene. I found it creative and believable.

Seeing my classmates come up with these great ideas, I tried to resist the urge while watching to think of ideas of what I could open (if it was small, big, heavy, light) when it came to be my turn. This is the opposite of what we are meant to do. Improv is about getting out of your head.

I was impressed by Toni. She really took her time opening the gift, allowing herself time to figure out what the gift would be. She unwrapped, took out lots of packing peanuts, got to another box, then took her time being amazed at what the gift was, thanking her gift givers, asking how they knew how much she wanted it. There was a lot of anticipation of what the gift would be. In the end, it turned out to be a coin that belonged to her late father.

Watching her, I realized I should allow myself the time I need and not panic to try to come up with an idea quickly. Anxiety is not helpful (which I am prone to feel).

When it came to my turn, I had a lot of fun. I even got a few laughs, which I wasn’t expecting. It’s nice when they do happen!



At the end of the first class, Chris gave each of us a homework assignment – to learn how to mime one common household activity.

After break, each student presented their mime. After miming out the action one time, Chris asked us to mime it again, this time having difficulty with the action, and really paying attention to all the intricacies that are involved with performing the activity

What I noticed, was the mimes I enjoyed the most were the ones that were simple. Jill mimed out painting her nails with nail polish, and this was really good. Alexa mimed waxing her legs. When she did it with difficulties, the wax burned her, got caught in her hair, it developed into a terrific scene.

The mimes that had many actions involved were harder for me to follow or understand what the action was, especially when it was done quickly. But overall, all of the mimes were really enjoyable to watch.

This is the part of class I really like, when most of the time is involved in watching! (We did this for over an hour, most of the time as spectator to our classmates)

For myself, I mimed putting contact lenses in my eyes. I’m not overly confident with miming, but I heard a few mutters of “yeah, that’s exactly what happens” and I had someone ask me if I wear contacts, so I got the feeling that I did an ok job.

One mime that was really funny, was Christian shaving. During the part where he had difficulty, water didn’t come out of the sink. He tried the shower, and that also didn’t work. After much deliberation, he mustered up his courage and did the unthinkable – splashing his face with water in the toilet. It was priceless!

Lessons Learned 

  • The simplest ideas and actions often are the most believable and can result in the funniest scenes
  • Allow your body to lead you into your next action or idea. Go with the flow of energy and do not force the process. Just see what happens.
  • When you let go, that’s when magic happens
  • Take your time 🙂

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…