3 Simple Long Forms That Won’t Fail

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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Three Simple Long Forms you can do right now

It doesn’t matter if you are an improv newbie or a seasoned veteran, when it comes to long form, the same rule applies – You have to have good scene work before using a fancy form. I have said it before and I will say it again, good scene work trumps form every time.

People want to jump into form before developing their scene work, which always turn out disastrous. Since it’s the holiday season and I am in a giving mood, I want to give you three simple long forms that I have been using in my improv classes and in front of audiences for years that always produce great scene work.

Here you go and good luck.

1.Car-Event (4 people)
Set up four chairs as if it’s a car. The premise is four people who know each other are driving to an event, such as a funeral, wedding, rock concert, or college reunion. You will do three beats of this scene, which will be edited by the lights. Like in a Harold, the second beats will be a time dash from the previous scenes. (A time dash means a passage of time.)

For example, four adult children are going to the funeral of their 80-year-old father. Karen reveals a secret that their father did inappropriate things to her when she was younger. It is the first time the three other members have heard that secret. They are surprised. They emotionally react to the news. In this first beat, Carols tells her family she is going to bring it up at the funeral in her eulogy. The other kids go crazy. The get angry at her. It’s three against one. The first scene ends.

The second scene begins 20 minutes after the funeral, where Carol brought up the secret in her eulogy. The family is all quiet. Her older brother, Bob, is holding his eye in the back seat of the car. We organically find out what happened. Bob got punched by Uncle Jim as he was defending his sister, Carol. Bob reveals he had known about Karen’s abuse. We find out the other brother and black sheep, Stephen, hooked up with their old neighbor, “Hot Sue” Sullivan, at the funeral and was in the bathroom when the fight broke out.

The third scene is typically a time period farther away: a year, a month, a week later. It is shorter in length than the first two. It works best almost as a “black out.” It can be as something as simple as:

Carol: “I can’t believe we are going to Uncle Jim’s funeral.”
Stephen: “At least you won’t have to worry he’ll punch you in the face, Bob.”

I have also done it where the last scene goes as long as the first two and it’s worked just as well. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Tips: Like any long form, it’s better when the characters know each other and everyone has a shared history. With group scenes, it’s important to “Yes and..” your ass off. Reveal a secret. Emotionally react. Sharing other people’s point of view also helps a great deal. Sometimes the scenes will break down to three against one, but be aware that those alliance may shift. The other important thing is to focus on “the relationships through the event.” If you are going to the Taylor Swift concert and someone is not into Taylor Swift, explore what that says about the character. Why did he or she agree to go?

John: “Ben, you are such a downer. You agreed to go and you don’t really like her.”
Ben: “The only reason I am going is to get laid.”
John: “You are such a pig.”

2. Single Location Montage: (6-10 people)
This is a combination of Montage and Close Quarters. Agree on a location somewhere a group of people could all meet, such as a high school, office building, hotel, or shopping mall. If the suggestion is high school, every scene will take place in or around the high school. Take a couple of seconds to think of locations in and outside the high school, as well as relationships. This will give you variety. Most likely, you will do the obvious scenes like teacher and students in a classroom, parents and the principal in his office, coach and star basketball player in the locker room, two loser students in the smoking area. But see if you can push the locations and relationships to be a little more unique. For example, you could be parents in their Audi who just dropped their kid off and want to have sex, the dope dealer in the parking lot selling weed to the head of English department. You will edit with sweeps. Walk on only when a character is needed or specifically called out. It works better with no tag outs. It’s encouraged for character to come back in other scenes, but it’s not a requirement.

Tips: In any long form, variety is key. We want to see different energies, relationships, locations and characters. In rehearsal/class, sometimes after getting the suggestion, I will side coach my students to figure out what kind of relationship they could have. What kind of location? Don’t go with the most obvious choice. When you feel you have enough options, you can start.

3. Time Dash Documentary (Up to 12 people total, two people at a time)
Two people sit in chairs facing the audience as if they are addressing a video camera. Think of When Harry Met Sally or a reality TV show. Like in the Car-Event, you will do this in three scenes and time dash it. Also it will be edited by the lights.

There are two characters are there for a reason. They could be a romantic couple, business partners, father and son, etc. They name each other. And they listen and build off the last thing that was said by building the history of the relationship a line at a time. A story line will develop. Example: In first scene, we find out Ron and Heather are a couple and they are trying to have a baby. They have been trying for three years. The second scene starts with Heather holding her stomach and we know she is now pregnant. We find out that they went to China to adopt a baby and their doctor called them when they were at the airport and told them they were pregnant. They are not sure now what they are going to do about the adoption. The third and final scene is quick, just like in the Car-Event. It is two years later and we find out they had twins and adapted Simon from China.

Tips: In class and rehearsal, start out in silence and read the tension from your partner. This is important because everything you need for your scene is in your partner’s eyes.

Try one of these long forms out and let me know how they go!

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