My Favorite Killer Improv Games

Good improv games and warmups



Exercises and Warmups

Ideas from David H:

  • Questions only.
  • Two line vocabulary.
  • New Choice.
    • Directory chimes in "new choice" during scenes.  In response, actor repeats his last line with a new choice.
    • The new choice should heighten!  Don’t just swap out equivalents.
  • Press Conference.
  • 185.
  • Worlds Worst.
  • Jeopardy.
  • Scripts / Last Night’s Texts.
  • Number of Words.
  • Beastie Rap Battle.
  • Coffee.  Sex With Me. If You Know What I Mean.
  • Warm ups:
    • Categories.
    • Vroom.
    • Mind Meld.
    • Pass the Clap.
    • Five Things.
    • Busted Tees.
    • Badabada.
    • Exercises:
    • One Word Story.
    • Modify a Musical Hotspot.
    • Numbers Only Dialogue

Warm Up:  "I love clams!"

  • Exploring, discovering, and commitment, and to fix "I don’t want to go in-itis"
  • First, make a circle.  Make eye contact for a few seconds to get a bit more comfortable if it helps.
  • One person gets in the middle of the circle and says to one of the people in the circle, "I love clams because X" where X is anything, does not (should not?) make sense, the point is not funny ideas, but just open stream.
  • After saying their thing, everyone in the circle claps once together and says "YES!" excited and loud together once.  The person in the middle continues saying why they love clams, one sentence in a time, until someone tags them out and continues.  Stop when all have gone.

Spoon River

  • The offer is something big that happened in Spoon River
  • Each actor gives a character monologue recalling that event or clearly based on that event

Fun Energy Game:  Bunny Bunny

  • Start by laying down a rhythm with slow and chanty "Hoo!  Ha!  Hoo!  Ha!" at a moderately slow tempo.  Largo
  • The player with the energy says "Bunny Bunny" once at themselves and then once in the direction of the next player.  While doing so, those next to him say "Tokki tokki tokki tokki" or "Carrot, Carrot" and do a gesture to and away from him. _ the fun for me is in the music_.

Zip zap zop with extras

  • eep (block/reverse), oil slick (skip one), freaky friday (everyone says “body swap” and swapped continues), Chariots of fire(musical notes, then energy is passed where you point), Monorail (everyone spins in place while clapping).  FUN

Energy and Group Mind Game:  Create and Pass your Movement and Name

  • Go around the circle.  Each actor invents a distinct movement and way to say their name.  The group repeats each one.
  • Go around a second time and each person repeats their action and the circle also echos it back.  The fun for me is in the community
  • Third time, it’s "pass the name" time, but instead of zip/zap/zop you look at one actor and do their name and gesture.
  • In the next round, it’s say the name and gesture of an actor while looking directly at a different one.  The one whose name and gesture is used is next, not the person being looked at.


  • In many IO Theatre 10,000 Hours or other settings, Montage is a great form for just running scenes.  It’s a basic skill.  It’s fun because it’s easy.  Any tag edit is fine.

Another invented game:  don’t forget!

  • Scene with restriction:  Every person and every item in the scene has an attribute associated with it.  Every time an item or person is mentioned, the speaker must also mention one of its particular attributes or something that happened earlier that involved that item or person.  If not, the audience buzzes or says wop wop and the line is corrected and you continue.

Rich Invention:  What do I know now?

  • I invented this while taking a walk in Chicago.
  • Two actors do a scene, but after every line, their partner (and only their partner) says "Now I know X" and says everything the last line by their partner tells them about the world, themselves and their partner within 15 seconds. Also the actor should notice anything like "your sentence used alliteration" or "you are rhyming a lot" or "you sang that one" or "you seem angry."  Scene continues 4-5 lines or so.

Group Mind:  Group Yes And

  • Best played with at least 8 players.
  • One person in the group says "Let’s do X".
  • Everyone says "yes" and does it.
  • Once it’s happening, a different person says "Let’s do Y."  Everyone does that.
  • The most fun will be had if you pay attention to a balance between furthering and advancing** X with Y, and **broadening X with Y.  E.g., if X is "Let’s pick up a dog" then to FURTHER AND ADVANCE you can say "Let’s pet the dog."  To broaden you might say "Let’s pick up a cat."

Group Mind:  What Happens Next?

  • One actor takes the stage.  Others in the troupe give her an action.  She does it and then says "what happens next?"  She does that too.  Little or no dialog, focus on actions.
  • Notice the balance between advancing/furthering and broadening.  Which one moves the story along better?

Another Idea:  The Game is X, Play It!

  • Before the scene starts, we decide on a game, then immediately play it.  For example, "Everything is a line from a. movie."  "Everyone is angry about small things."  Etc.
  • This would be great for theatre sports in a show. One team chooses a topic, the other team plays it for three minutes, audience votes on whether the topic or the actors were better.

Another idea:  Everything is a Game!

  • Since we have been having trouble identifying the game, how about if we just assume that the first line of the scene is a game move, and force that to happen regardless?   Example:  opening with "Hi Mary."  could become a scene game where we always say the other characters’ name with every line.

Narrative practice:  Story-story (one line at a time)

  • This is a good exercise for developing a narrative sensibility, since each person gives a whole line.  Focus on character, emotion and relationship, obviously, over clever ideas and plot points.

Narrative Two:  A tells story line by line, B edits Adam Meggido. “Improv Beyond Rules.”

  • “Two players – A and B – sit facing each other a comfortable distance apart.  A begins to tell a story to B, one sentence (or rather a thought, a beat or part of a sentence) at a time. If B likes the offer, they say ‘Yes’ and A progresses with the next sentence. If B says ‘No’ then A must come up with a different sentence until B accepts it, at which point they may again progress.”
  • ==Make sure that when B says no, A does not go into herself and try to invent, but rather look at B and try to guess what B is going for==.

Scene:  One on script, One off script

  • Player A reads lines in order from a script.  Player B improvises all responses.  A must stick to the script lines but must of course try to justify like blind lines.  Good way to learn a new character type, or genre, like Shakespeare.

Whiskey Mixer, Mister Whiskers, Misty Vistas

  • Energy passing game.  To pass to your left, you must say "Whisky Mixer."  To pass to the right, "Misty Vista."  And across the circle, say "Mister Whiskers."
  • The ONLY rule is that if you laugh, you must exit the circle and run around counterclockwise one time back to your place and keep playing.

The Uninvention Game (from IO):

  • Do a scene. At all times the following rules must be obeyed.
  • Both actors must always be doing a clear action with object work.
    • If they stop, the other players offstage change "doing, doing" until they start again.
  • Neither actor can talk about what they are doing or what the other actor is doing.
    • If they do, the audience makes a "wap wap" noise and the actor has to make a new choice.
  • Actors cannot talk about anyone but themself and their scene partner.
    • If they do, the audience says "who is that?" and the actor has to make a new choice.
  • Actors cannot ask any questions.
    • If they do, the audience shouts out "You already know the answer" and the actor must then form a statement which uses assumption instead of questions
  • At least one actor must always be talking.
    • If they stop, audience repeats "talk, talk" until they begin again.

Emotion Game

  • Do scenes, but lead off in the first line, with "you look X, and that makes me feel Y." Variation:  you can just say "I feel X."   You strongly demonstrate your feeling and your partner then makes this feeling the most important thing in their life at that moment and reacts strongly and emotionally too.  Back and forth with strong emotional reactions.  GUARANTEED EXCELLENT SCENES THIS WAY!

Zip zap zop with extras:  (from Annoyance)

  • eep (block/reverse), oil slick (skip one), freaky friday (everyone says “body swap” and swapped continues), Chariots of fire(musical notes, then energy is passed where you point), Monorail (everyone spins in place while clapping).  FUN

Scenes with Secret want.

  • Each character receives a piece of paper with a motivation on it, what your character wants.
    • “I want beans.”  “I want everyone to fear me.”  “I want love.”  “I want to be cared for.”
  • The actors don’t know they other character’s wants, and these are never spoken.
  • Just let that want and need inspire your scene.
  • You don’t just constantly do only that, but it’s there and helps you.
  • In the end you are going to ask each person to guess the motivation the other character had.
    • The team gets a point if one person is right, and a thousand points if both are right.
  • To help your partner win, it’s very important to signal your partner know how close you are to your want so your partner has a chance to guess at the end.
  • The trick is to pursue what you want in the scene in a grounded way, strong enough that the results show.
  • Every move toward and away from your desire shows on your face.
  • As the scene moves closer and farther this will animate your character, but don’t force it.

Pointing game,

  • I’m not super clear on how this goes or where I saw it.
  • point and say the other persons name, point and say your own name, point and say “you”, and pass the clap,  all while moving around in a circle.  Built up one at a time, with the movement piece coming at the last.  Note: build them in the order written here.

Listening and Committing:  Making Things:

  • A walks on:  "I’m a branch."
  • B thinks, "what connected thing can I add to that, starting to make something?"  "I’m a root."
  • C "I’m a leaf."
  • D "I’m another leaf".
  • All together "We are… a tree!"
  • If A had said "I’m a tree" then the game would be meta to that, maybe "I’m another tree."  "I’m a lion". "We are … a jungle!"
  • The offers have to be clearly part of a shared unspoken theme for this to work.  😉

Listening Exercise**: **Starbucks Window

  • heightening “well placed shot” game
  • AB do a scene at a drive in window.
    • C walks onto the scene at the perfect moment and delivers a "well placed shot"
      • "well placed" means strongly supports the scene as it is
      • does NOT mean "fixes or changes the scene"

Committing Exercise:  Scene painting

  • Each actor walks out into the space and points out an object in the space, perhaps holding it or using it.
  • The space itself is described, the walls, the furniture, everything.
  • Go around 2 or three times or whatever seems right.

Acceptance Exercise:  Accepting the Offer Card:

  • start a scene and give one of them a card.  Continue until the person with the card makes an offer.  That person gives their card to the other player, which they verbally and physically accept and add to.  "Yes and (why)"

Changeability and Flexibility:  Charac****ter LaRonde:

  • Do a LaRonde and focus on strong bold archetype characters.

  • AB do a grounded scene as two very bold clear characters.

  • C edits and plays with B as a bold, clear new character who definitely does not match the previous scene.

    • Example:  Drill Sergeant and Private, edit to Sergeant and Yoga Instructor, edit to Yoga Instructor and Drug Dealer, etc.
  • When the edit comes, B must

    • be happy in the new situation,
    • not think it’s strange
    • fully keep his character and make it all make sense.

Accepting Accusations:  (always be caught):  A accuses B of something.  B’s job is to accept, not deny or defend.  Then justify in a way that reveals something about your relationship or your character’s feelings.  Example:

  • A: "I’m out of ice cream.  Did you eat it all?"
  • B: "YES.  It’s the only way I can get you to pay attention to me because you only love ice cream."
  • Do NOT solve the problem.  Do NOT defend yourself.  Heighten.
  • A: "Well, please go get me some more ice cream."
  • B: "The grocery store is out.  I bought it all and threw it in the river."

Character, energy and commitment Game:  Wanna buy a duck?

  • Stand in a ring.
  • AB1:  "Wanna buy a duck". BA1 "A what?"  AB2 "A duck."  BA2 "Does it quack?"  AB3 "Of course, it’s a duck."  BA3 "I’ll buy it."
  • Then repeat the pattern with B and C.
  • Variation:  After AB finish, then add C to the pattern:
  • AB/BA1, AB/BA2, AB/BA3, ABC/CBA1, ABC/CBA2, ABC/CBA3, ABCD1… etc.
  • Advanced:  interleave them.  Before BA3, B invents a new offer to C as BC1 and C replies as CB1, so :
  • AB/BA1, AB/BA2, AB3**, BC/CB1, BA3, BC/CB2, BC3, CD/DC, CB3, CD/DC2, CD3, DE/ED1, DC3**,** DE/ED2, DE3, EF/FE1**,** **ED3….

Rich Cook idea for an object game: use your partner’s object

  • Note:  don’t use this, it doesn’t work well yet.  Needs work.
  • Scene with restriction: Every time someone puts something in the space, both people have to interact with it.  And of course, nobody is allowed to talk about what they are doing, unless it is immediately followed by an EMOTIONAL justification for doing so.  "I am chopping wood because I feel frustrated today."  If any line fails the criteria, say wop wop and laugh and correct the line and continue.
  • Note: a good warmup for this might be to do a Scene Painting or two.
  • Note 2:  if you have a lot of objects this will suck.

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