Today, I want to give you three long forms that won’t fail in class or rehearsals. These have been tested over and over again in my classes, workshops, intensives and rehearsals, and for the most part, seem to be a big hit with the students.
So here you go. I hope you try these long forms out in class and rehearsals and have as much success with them as I have had over the years. Let me know how it goes or if you have any modifications that work for you.
- FurnitureLength of Time: 15-20 minutes
How to Play: Select a piece of furniture, such as a couch, bench or bed – something that is generic enough so it could be easily in multiple locations. For example, a couch could be in a living room, a fancy hotel lobby, the basement of a fraternity, in a department store, in a therapist’s office, in a doctor’s waiting room, in an alley, etc. Once you select what type of furniture it is, have the improvisers do a series of scenes with the designated piece of furniture in different locations.
Teaching Tips: Improvisers will have a tendency to want to talk about the object, but it’s important that they not do that. Also, I have seen improvisers start out the form with a bench and then transform it into a car for the next scene. Be open to that because really the focus is to get them to ground themselves in the environment. The first time I run this long form, I give them the piece of furniture and then ask them where could it be. For example: “It’s a desk. Where would you find a desk?” The answers could be a principal’s office, a kids’ room, a cubicle, NASA, a bank. This will get the improvisers to start thinking of different environments that the objects could be in, which hopefully will lead to different relationships.
- Quick Scene MontageLength of Time: 15-25 minutes
How to Play: This form is simple do. Have the students do a montage, but at the top, have them do a series of very quick scenes — between three to five lines each — and have people edit fast, almost like they are doing a Second City-style Black Out. Have the group feel it out when the series of short scenes have reached a crescendo. Then they will go into slower, more grounded scenes. This form is great when the group is showing signs of low energy and if they are thinking too much. It also helps tremendously with editing, especially if the group/class is letting stuff go on too long.
Teaching Tips: Make sure they are editing quickly in the first half. I will side coach them by calling out “edit” until they understand how quickly they need to go. When the improvisers transform into the slower scenes, you may have to side coach them to give some of those scenes room to breathe.
- Surprise PartyLength of Time: Up to 45 minutes
How to Play: This is by far the most complicated of the three. I love this form and have been teaching it for over 20 years. I learned this from John Harizol and have modified it over the years. One player gets up and creates a fictitious apartment. Then the other improvisers get up one by one and “scene paint” by placing things in the apartment. For example, one person might say, “On this wall is a false screen TV.” Then someone else might say, “The couch is broken and the Tiffany lamp has one light bulb in it,” or “On the coffee table are old copies of Sports Illustrated with coffee stains on them.”
I have found it helpful to put chairs together to make a couch and have a couple of extra chairs, since the primary action will be taking place in a living room. After the improvisers have created the objects in the space, have a quarter to a third of the group start on stage with the instruction: “You are all friends from class and you’re meeting over at Colleen’s apartment for Anthony’s surprise party. Play yourself or versions of yourself. Play the reality of it. When someone comes in the door, greet them like you would at party. Start out conversationally.”
Start the scene with a day and time. “It is 9 p.m. on a Saturday night. Anthony is coming at 9:30 p.m.” Then they can begin the scene, except for the person whose birthday it is (Anthony), who can enter as the spirit moves them.
You will side coach the time by saying, “It is now 9:20 p.m.,” “It’s 10 p.m.,” or “It’s now midnight.”
Usually people will be pretending to be drinking alcohol or getting high, and if that is the case, side coach them to heighten their drunk or high state. One or two improvisers may get obnoxiously drunk or high. Encourage that so the rest of the players have something to react to in the scene. Players can leave when they naturally feel like it.
Teaching Tip: In this exercise, it is ok to have several conversations going on at the same time; it’s supposed to feel like an actual party. When it’s over and players say, “I felt like I was really at a party,” then you have succeed. If players want to leave the scene because someone is getting uncomfortably drunk or high, encourage them to leave. The point is to get improvisers to react naturally and learn how to develop believable dialogue without thinking about it. Most players get lost in this exercise. The goal is to strip away the pressure to be funny or create anything, since they are too busy reacting to what is going on at the party.