Relationship Advice, or Why I Still Read Spam

December 3, 2009 at 4:21 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This morning, I received an email from
Hello kit…

I’m not positive if I am even going to pass you this e-mail, however I have to write it or Ill go insane….I dont understand how else to write this… I have a crush on you. been fantasising about you non stop and I am afraid to share my feelings to you…you will know why if you knew who this was. I might regret this another day, however I think I should to tell you now. I posted a secret blog entry for you …here it is
secret blog for kit
I truely believe Im not making a horrible mistake however after planning this I know I have to click Send

Yes, it’s spam, but it still holds a couple of important lessons, namely:
1) Robots think I’m totally hot, and
2) Labeling a relationship invites action.

There’s a reason why spammers and telemarketers try to make a personal connection when they annoy us; people naturally want to be liked, and the salesmen of the world are only too happy to provide their undivided friendship for the couple of minutes it will take to get us to reciprocate (with our wallets).

I knew that the above email was spam before I opened it, and then I double knew it was spam after reading it… and I still wanted to click on the link. Not because I’m just that gullible (although my picture is next to the word in this online dictionary); it’s just that I wanted to know how far this spam would take its game.

I naturally wanted to Yes-And spam so it could heighten its game.

That is what naming the relationship will do for your scene. So often, I say, “Name each other,” and you go, “This is fun… Steve.” But ‘Steve’ is not a name in that situation because you don’t BELIEVE that the character’s name is Steve; you just said it so I’d shut up.

But watch any scene where the first line ends with a relationship tag:
“I need to talk to you.”
“I need to talk to you, Mom.”
“I need to talk to you, Uncle Peter.”
“I need to talk to you, Miss Babysitter Lady.”
“I need to talk to you, Andrea, the woman I’ve been married to for ten years as of today.”
Suddenly the bland sentence of “I need to talk to you” becomes a serious offer with characters and motivations attached. You hear “I need to talk to you” from your scene partner, and you go, “Ah, crap! How do I Yes-And that?” But you get the relationship tag, and now you get to respond AS that person, be it Mom, Uncle Peter or Miss Babysitter Lady.

Now, yes, the Andrea one above is ridiculously wordy and awkward, and purposefully so. Because you won’t always be able to just tack on the relationship tag to the end of the sentence, just like you couldn’t blatantly label your relationship like that to your 10-year spouse in real life (true story**).

That’s why we practice labeling relationships; it’s so that, eventually, it will flow out naturally:
“Andrea, I know today’s our 10-year anniversary, but I need to talk to you.”

Imagine that as your initiation. Immediately sets the scene fast and the stakes high, and allows your scene partner to put on his/her married-to-you Andrea-face right away.

The next time you’re in a scene –heck, the next 20 times– give your scene partner a full name. And not just ‘Steve Jackson’; nobody interesting is named Steve Jackson. Make that name flamboyant or scary or mythic or foreign.


And once your scene partner has a name, think, “Who is Lord Diviniclos to me? Is he my boss? My dark god? My super-nemesis? Are we dating?” And then be that person to your scene partner.

Again, I say, BELIEVE IT, AND IT WILL BE TRUE. Seriously.

**Not a true story.


Commit To A Character (Part 4)

October 27, 2009 at 8:42 pm | Posted in Practice Notes | 1 Comment

Believing is BeingBelieving in being Liev.

Several times this past week, our characters were half-hearted or mockingly over-the-top.  Neither one of those is believing you’re the character, and neither one is nearly as fun for an audience to watch as a sturdy and 100% commited character.

Characters aren’t just things to play ironically — “Yes, I’m a dorky young girl in this scene, but I want you, the audience to know that I’m not really like this in real life”– they’re who we are for four minutes, tops, and then we’re someone else.

It’s the place where improv overlaps with acting: make me believe you’re a Russian cosmonaut, and I will grin and cheer, but remind me constantly that you didn’t want to be a cosmonaut to begin with, and my excitement will quickly cool.

When the coach says, “Players, are you ready?” and the answer is “YEAH!” the audience instantly is engaged: “These people are excited to be playing this game! They love my suggestion! I can’t wait to see what they do with it!”

So take advantage of that; get excited about doing the scene and actually mean it when you say, “YEAH!”

We often say, never be the least commited person on stage. That’s because our mutual excitement makes us all rockstars.  When only one person gets stoked to be doing a scene, the other person looks like a jerk.  When neither person gets excited…well, I just don’t want to watch two disaffected players try to force themselves to rev up to having fun AFTER the scene starts.

So here’s what :

1) From the second you get up on stage, you are in Rockstar-Improviser-mode. There are people in the audience who want to see you having fun onstage, so DO NOT DISAPPOINT THEM. Get excited about the fact that you’re in a scene, that you’re doing a show, that you’re one of the best high school improvisers in the Triangle.  This is your chance to shine; don’t waste it being ‘too-cool-for-school.’

2) Every suggestion is the most awesome suggestion you’ve ever gotten. Not “Oooh! Look how much I lovey-dovey-WUUUV that suggestion!” but truly ACTUALLY believe that it’s an awesome suggestion. YOU make the scene awesome.  It’s not up to the audience to give you a suggestion you’ll like; it’s up to YOU to like the SUGGESTION.

3) Once you’ve committed to the character of Rockstar Improviser, commit to your in-scene characters. If you’re a mechanic in a scene, BE that mechanic.  Don’t be “a mechanic who just happens to talk and act exactly like a sardonic high-school student does.” I want you to love the details of some grungy, grimy car-fixer from the Bronx who lives with his mudda and wants people to give him nicer cars to fix so he can drive them when he takes women on blind dates. You’re YOU all day long; when you’re in a scene,  you GET to be someone else.

Celebrity + Story = Perez Hilton?

October 22, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Posted in Practice Notes | 3 Comments

We’ve looked at the game of Story before, but now we’re taking it to a new level:

Character StoryThere's also one of Stephen Hawking shooting through space in his wheelchair while "gripping" the Marilyn Monroe biography.

Version 1: All the Same Character

Before each chapter, the audience suggests a character or style (movie, book, etc). Each chapter, all the players tell the story in the way that suggestion would narrate this story.  How would Stephen King tell a story differently than Seventeen magazine? How would a pirate tell a story different than Sherlock Holmes?  It’s a balance between style specifics and story plot line, with about 65-70% leaning in the direction of style specifics.

Version 2: Different Characters All

Each player gets a different character or style as a suggestion and then tells their portion of the story in that style.  When you pick up in the middle of a sentence, the last half of the sentence should be a style specific for you.


  • “It was a dark and stormy night…”
  • “…and the weather was totally frizzing Janey’s hair. She put it up into the cutest bob using…”
  • “a rusty fork and her own lower intestines. Suddenly, she heard a terrible scream from the next room…”
  • “Robert Pattinson had just arrived, and his adoring tween public was there.  Janey rushed to meet him…”
  • “…only to discover he’d actually been bitten by a vampire. His teeth sank into her neck, and she…”
  • “…swore she was totally going to Twitter this later, lol!”

DISCUSSION POSSIBILITIES (comment on this post): What styles are easiest/hardest for you? What references do you wish you could make? Where do you go to find more info about celebrities, publications, styles etc?

Motivate A Character! (Part 3)

October 10, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Posted in Practice Notes | 1 Comment

InitiationsI wanted a good 'initiation' graphic here, but google image search made that impossibly awkward.

What makes an initiation different than any other line in the scene? How do you convey to your scene partner what scenario you’re setting up? How can you balance having an idea and respecting the ideas of your scene partner?

These are all huge pieces of the improv experience.  Too many times we watch a scene play out as 10 useless “Hi, how are you doing” type lines before we finally find out the firemen are challenging the policemen to a game of Red Rover.  Obviously, we’d much rather get to Red Rover right away.  So when WE start a scene, we cut to the chase; our initiations will have a motivation driving them.

I Feel, I Think, I Want (circle)

Part of solid initiations is setting up your mindset.  This might not be said out loud every time, but if you do, think how clear your scene offer will be.  In this warmup exercise, each player around the circle is given a character concept (“You are a lazy doctor” or “You are a theoretical botanist”) and then the player will complete the following sentence AS that character: “I feel _____ because I think  _____, so I want _____.”


  • “You are a lazy doctor.” “I feel worried because I think I just killed a patient while dozing at the operating table, so I want you to check up on my malpractice insurance for me.”
  • “You are a theoretical botanist.” “I feel empowered because I think plants are real and therefore they are, so I want to theorize that I have a paying job.”

Three Through The Door

One player is the Receptionist at a location given by the audience (black hole, Denny’s, yard sale). The other player is the Walker who will come into the scene three times, trying to get into that location. The initiating line from the Walker will introduce who she is and why she wants into the location. The Receptionist will give a reason why he’ll grant or deny the Walker entry, and then the Walker will leave and reenter as a completely different character to repeat the process with a new reason to get into that same location. Repeat once more, and then the Walker becomes the Receptionist for a new Walker in a new location.

Secret Want

What does your character WANT? This exercise gives you that want (written on a piece of paper) and your driving motivation throughout the scene is to go after that desire.  “I want you to appreciate me.” “I want to know who’s outside.” “I want to look like a million bucks.” If you ever achieve your want, the scene’s over, so strive for it, but know that you’re never going to get what you want…and that’s okay.

Improv is NOT about winning. We don’t eliminate people in Story and Do Run to find out who on the team is the best at the game; we do it so the game can end on a high note.  It’s as if we’re saying to the audience “We’ve eliminated all but two people; who will be left???” and the audience loves the game all the more for it.  But WE, the players onstage, know that it’s just a game, and you’ve won it, and I’ve won it, and she’s won it…and we’re not sure when who won what because WE DON’T KEEP SCORE.

Just like with motivations: we don’t play with motivations to win; we play with them to show the journey TOWARD winning.

DISCUSSION POSSIBILITIES (comment on this post): How do you initiate scenes? What is your mental process for getting from a suggestion to a character? Do you feel competitive during elimination games?

Know A Character! (Part 2)

October 8, 2009 at 9:15 am | Posted in Practice Notes | 1 Comment

Who Do You Know?BA, PhD, MD, DDS, MLS, MFA

We looked at both branching out the people one character would know (Astronauts know aliens, NASA, (Whitney) Houston, a cowboy, etc) and taking a list of people everyone would know and brainstorming what those people would be be like in scenes with specific characters.

Everyone can have an overbearing mother, an incompetent boss, or a guest spot on Oprah.  Imagine a pirate’s overbearing mother or Mick Jagger as your incompetent boss or a walrus on Oprah. Or vicety-vice versa.

This is the idea behind the game of It Could Happen (seen weekly in IMPROV SLAM): Combining people, events and movies in unexpected ways.  Keep thinking about big characters and the everyday places you could put them; big characters will color any scene they’re in, so don’t limit your imagination by saying an astronaut HAS to spend EVERY scene in a spaceship.

Squirrel Nut Tree

One person steps into the circle, says a character or item and embodies it. A second person steps in and say a character/item that would be in a picture with the first and embodies it. A third person says a character/item that would be in a picture that includes BOTH of the first two. The first person takes away one of the others, the person remaining repeats their character/item, starting a new trio of words. The goal is to always be making new pictures, not re-exploring ones we’ve already seen.


  • 1: “I’m a squirrel.”
  • 2: “I’m a nut”
  • 3: “I’m a tree.”
  • 1: “I’m taking the tree.”
  • 2: “I’m a nut.”
  • 4: “I’m a mental institution.”
  • 5: “I’m the warden.”
  • 2: “I’m taking the mental institution.”
  • 5: “I’m the warden.”
  • 6: “I’m a barricaded office.”
  • 7: “I’m a filing cabinet in front of the doors.”
  • Et cetera.

Sound & Motion

Standing in a circle, the group mirrors exactly what everyone else in the circle is doing, physical-movement-wise AND vocally.  You’re never the least committed to doing what EVERYONE else is doing. You’re not TRYING to change anything, but as soon as you see the slightest change around the circle, commit 100% to that new action.  No sound or motion is unimportant (cough cough hair swoop).

Character Mirror

A pair of players mirror each other completely, taking turns leading the pair’s movements. The suggestion is a character type, and the players cooperate to silently create this character’s personality.


Take a minute to comment below.  STARTER IDEAS: What are some characters types you would love to see in scenes (common like principal or singular like astronaut)? What kinds of characters do you find yourself playing a lot? What kinds would you like to challenge yourself to play?

Be A Character (Part 1)

September 29, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Posted in Practice Notes | Leave a comment

Last week, we focused on games specifically dealing with big characters…HOWEVER:

One crucial piece of shortform improv that not many people put into play on a regular basis is this: The Game Doesn’t Matter As Much As The Scene.This ain't a scene; it's a g-d! d-mn! arms! expert!

The reason that shortform games EXIST is that people were doing such great scenework that their director gave them a challenge that turned out to be even funnier than their great scenes. BUT! Without that quality scenework as support, the games would have been (and still will be) nothing but the shortform equivalent of a fart joke; it might be funny, but it’s not what you want people to compliment you on after the show.

With that thought in mind, any time we look at games and say, “This game’s focus is huge unique characters, or short lines associated with big motions, or an active activity,” what we’re ACTUALLY saying is, “ALL scenes should have huge unique characters AND short lines associated with big motions AND an active activity.” And when we say, “This game’s focus is replaying the scene in 30, 15, 7 seconds,” what we’re ACTUALLY saying is, “This game is called Countdown…and it should have huge unique characters AND short lines associated with big motions AND an active activity.”

SO! Characters!

The Other Side
Each player is a huge unique character. At any point in the scene, I can call ‘Switch’ and the players take each others’ position and trade characters, taking the other person’s character up 10% and continuing the scene. I can call ‘Switch’ as many times as I want.

Three (or more) players perform a scene. Afterward, the audience votes one player out, and the remaining players must take over that eliminated player’s role. Repeat until there’s only one player playing the entire scene alone.

Character-World Exporation
Two players (A & B) start with a normal scene. Player A gets tagged out, and another player (C) comes in as a character who would know Player B and who would heighten B’s character game. Player D tags out B and repeats this for Player C. etc.


Take a minute to comment below. STARTER IDEAS: What are your thoughts on character? Did you want clarification about anything from Friday or from this post?

Giuseppe 2009 Cast Announced!

September 11, 2009 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment

Opa!Giuseppe Verdi, mascot to the stars.

We were very excited to see almost 30 people come to the 2009 Giuseppe Auditions, and after a long three-day-weekend decision-making session, we are proud to announce the 2009 cast of DSI’s high school team, Giuseppe!

2009 Giuseppe
Jon Davies (East Chapel Hill High School)
Dylan Derby (East Chapel Hill Hogh School)
Travis Edgerton (East Chapel Hill High School)
Blake Elliott (East Chapel Hill High School)
Louie Green (home-schooled)
Seth Hart (Cedar Ridge High School)
Max Huffman (East Chapel Hill High School)
Samantha Lanter (Cedar Ridge High School)
Jordan Miron (East Chapel Hill High School)
Breanna Pellett (East Chapel Hill High School)
Ian Phillips (East Chapel Hill High School)
Liz Shipman (East Chapel Hill High School)
Fiona Stewart-Taylor (East Chapel Hill High School)
Nick White (East Chapel Hill High School)
Colin Williams (Cedar Ridge High School)

Congratulations to the cast, and thank you to everyone who auditioned. We were really impressed with the talent that we saw.

Here’s to a great year!

Auditions This Friday

September 3, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment



THIS FRIDAY, September 4 at 430pm

How many of your friends do you know who want to improvise? Wait, DO YOU WANT TO IMPROVISE? Well, now’s the perfect opportunity.

*Practice once a week
*Perform once a month
*Receive weekly coaching from a DSI instructor
*Get discounts on DSI shows / classes

No experience necessary, so get out here and try out.

The Rest of the Year

April 14, 2009 at 7:29 pm | Posted in Announcements, Practice Notes | Leave a comment

Looking at the rest of the school year, here’s the full schedule of practices and shows:

Well we got no class. And we got no principles. And we got no innocence. We cant even think of a word that rhymes.

FRI 4/17: Mr Voicing (Sound FX, 4 Rooms, What Are You Doing?, Styles Replay, Meanwhile Back On The Ranch)

FRI 4/24: Show Weekend Rampup (specific games the teams want to play that Sunday)


FRI 5/1: Hosted Clip Games (Movie Reviewers, Slide Show, Ad Agency, Nightly News, Timeline)

FRI 5/1 at 11PM: DSI Improv Jam – The team’s welcome to come play games with the rest of DSI

FRI 5/8: Rhyming (Do Run, Beastie Rap, Irish Drinking Song, Rhyming Couplets, Poetry Corner, Shakespeare)

FRI 5/15: Motivation (Story Story Die, Totems, Status Cards, Secret Wants, Emotional Small Business, Subtext)

FRI 5/22: Restricted Speech (X-Word, Pick-A-Play, 2 Lines, A to Z, Chain Death Murder, Telephone)

FRI 5/29: Endowing (SloMo Olympics, Dubbing, Superheroes, Conscience, He Said She Said)

SUN 5/31 at 730pm: LAST HIGH SCHOOL LEAGUE SHOW of the 08-09 school year

FRI 6/5: Goodbye Seniors Pizza Party


April 9, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Posted in Practice Notes | Leave a comment

Fortune Cookie Scenes

Two-person scenes where each player got a fortune cookie, and that fortune gave them their character for the scene.

  • How do you play your personal game but still heighten your scene partner’s game?
  • How do you play both games and still have a good scene that can stand on its own if the audience doesn’t know what the fortunes said?
  • Have fun being that character.  It’s easy to know what to say next if you accept who you are from the start.

Wizard’s Duel

Three, Two, Wand, Contact!

Two facing lines. One player from each says what they are back and forth, a la “The Sword And The Stone” (Merlin VS Madame Mim):

  • I’m a paper clip.
  • I’m a thief who bends you into a lockpick.
  • I’m the hi-tech security system.
  • I’m a power outage.
  • I’m a backup generator.
  • I’m an oil shortage.
  • I’m the Beverly Hillbillies striking Texas T!
  • I’m proper grammar.

Details are crucial, and it’s never just what would KILL the other person; it’s what would DEFEAT them.

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