You've found it! A fully incomplete glossary of improv terminology frequently used in Radical Agreement classes and free workshops.
Notice that a word or phrase you hear a lot is missing? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your word/phrase and it will be added promptly.
A to C: (sometimes also referred to as going A to C) Typically used to describe the method improvisers use to explore ideas in a pattern game opening. Players in this opening are asked to free associate from one word to another.
The word they are working off of is considered A. The first thing A makes them think of is the B, but they keep this to themselves. They then leapfrog the B by asking themselves what B makes them think of. The result is the C. Consider the example below in which the A's and C's are bolded:
Chair Comfy Slippers Breakfast Bacon Farm Government Subsidy Economics Advanced Degree Debt Credit Card Fine Print Squinting Eye Doctor Lab Coat
In the pattern above, each bolded word would be spoken by a different player. Maybe Craig kicks off the pattern by saying Chair. Nancy wants to add a word, so she thinks Comfy, because most people associate chairs with comfiness. Comfy is now her B, but is too close to the original, so she keeps it to herself and says Slippers, her C. This C then immediately becomes everyone else's A. Stan wants to add a word, so he thinks of Breakfast, because he often wears slippers during breakfast. He keeps this to himself, asks himself what breakfast makes him think of, gets Bacon (his C) and says it out loud, making Bacon everyone else's new A.
There are a myriad of exercises and scenic aesthetics that might request improvisers to use their ability to go A to C.
Base Reality: The foundation of any improv, typically thought to be comprised of Who You Are, Where You Are and What You Are Doing. Some would include How You Feel in the base reality.
Character Improv: An approach to improv comedy that uses character relationships as the primary driver of comedy within a scene.
Chekov's Gun: A reference to Chekov's advice to never include inconsequential details in your writing. In improv we must work to fulfill the promise of the details we add into our scenes. If you start a scene in an airplane and mention a nearby parachute, you most likely need to use that parachute in quick order. Otherwise you have teased the audience with something fun they will never be able to enjoy.
Cut To: A method of editing a scene. Instead of simply wiping a scene any player not in the scene can blurt out "Cut To" followed by details of the new location/scenario. The Cut To edit was developed in Chicago by the team The Family when they were performing improvised movies at IO. It allows a player to add more detail than is typical before a scene begins. You might hear "Cut to a deli where the deli slicer is wearing a bunny suit. Rachel walks in." Another popular use is to activate scenes caught in describing offstage events or people. If, for example, Rachel said in a scene, "Guys I just had the weirdest experience at the Deli. Sam is dressed up as a rabbit, even though he is serving everyone deli meats." then a simple "Cut To That" takes the focus directly to the action.
Disaster Presentation: A silly opening developed during RA's free 4 PM workshops. One player begins a presentation on anything they like. After a few introductory statements, everyone else is encouraged to ask the presenter accusatory questions about their presentation. Whatever the presenter is accused of, they must say it is both true and intentional. If they can, they should say why. After an accusation has been confirmed and explained, players are encouraged to edit out of the opening into scenes that explore the discovered premises.
Edit: The method by which teams end scenes in order to start a new one, the most popular/ubiquitous being the wipe or sweep edit in which a player from the backline runs in front of the current scene. Other popular edits include Cut To's, Tag Outs, Organic, Macroscene and prop edits.
Frame The Game: Improvisers are thought to Frame The Game when responding to the first game move within a scene. The first game move may be described as a First Unusual Thing (FUT) or a Strong Move (SM). Typically the framing move will verbally repeat or underline the FUT or SM in order to clarify both players are on the same page. The framing move will also usually determine if the game will have a Voice of Reason/Unusual Point of View or Matching dynamic. Other particulars related to the pattern of the game will often be determined during the framing move, such as an emotional component.
Game: Game may be easily described as the funny part of a scene. A more advanced description might be, the funny part of a scene that follows a consistent pattern. An even more advanced description might be, a pattern of behavior that is surprising given the scene's base reality, which is also repeatable, heighten-able and engaged in for a specified reason (or justification).
Harold: The first long form improv structure, created by Del Close and substantially influenced by hundreds of artists including Charna Halpern. The Harold uses an opening game to generate ideas and then explores those ideas using scenes that are visited in 3 different beats. Group games separate the beats and often influence their tone, themes and other elements. This poster, created by UCB improviser Dyna Moe, details the form's structure.
The Kitchen Rules: Some say there are three, others four, but everyone agrees that Elaine May and Ted Flicker developed these rules early in improv comedy's performance history, while hanging out in a kitchen after a performance. These rules are as important today as they were then and influence the art forms evolution. They are:
Play Close To Yourself
Make Surprising or Counterintuitive Decisions
Justify Your Actions
Lazzi: A term used to describe prepared comedic bits used by artists in the Commedia Dell'Arte. While the elements of these bits might be highly specific, performers learned to "improvise" around established plot points, allowing for impromptu jokes, references and individualized takes to color each performance.
Matching: Matching can refer to a type of game of the scene (ie a matching game) or the act of mirroring another player in a scene (which often leads to matching games). Matching games are one of the most common types of comedic in improv, sharing the honor with the also ubiquitous Voice of Reason / Unusual POV scene.
Mirroring: Mirroring is similar to Matching. It is the skill of observing and then duplicating motion, emotion, vocal energy and all other observable qualities of another player. Mirroring is often worked on in exercises rather than scene study, though the term may be used to describe a player's actions in a sound & movement opening, organic opening or matching work within a scene.
Openings: Openings are improv group games that appear at the beginning of a long form set. Their typical purpose is to establish, hint at or otherwise determine comedic bits which can be used later in the set more fully. You might think of an opening as the orchestration at the start of a musical. All of the tunes you'll hear later in the musical will appear in the opening orchestration, but they won't be fully realized. That will happen later in the show. Similarly, an improv opening will often feature all of the comedic premises that will appear later in the show, but you'll only get a taste of them in the opening. There are openings that look to establish different touchstones in the show, such as themes, emotions, locations, relationships, etc. Popular openings include The Pattern Game, Scene Painting, Sound & Movement, Organic, Documentary, The Living Room, Monologues, The Invocation and many, many more..
Pattern Game: A common, perhaps the most common, opening. The Pattern Game asks participants to free associate words, concepts, comedic premises, lines of dialogue and more. It was the original opening for The Harold and has had many groups put their spin on it. Some say that most openings are derivative of The Pattern Game or that they grew out of it. As a result, there are many, many different ways to perform this opening.
Generally speaking, performers will stand in a semi circle. Once they have a suggestion they will begin to explore it through free association, possibly using A to C thinking. This will continue until the performers find themselves back at the original suggestion. Typically performers will then repeat the process two more times. When they return to the suggestion the third time the pattern game is over. This can be described as a three leaf clover, with each exploration of the suggestion ballooning out before cinching back in to its point of origin.
Remember Don't Invent
Voice Of Reason