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GLOSSARY

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 terry@radicalagreement.com 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 scene, 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.

   

Chaff: The smallest idea an improviser can initiate a scene with from an opening. Chaff can be a single word, a location, a feeling, a relationship. It could be anything and does not need to be funny at all.

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.

 

Crazy Town (or Krazee Town):  A common phrase among improvisers used to describe scenes that lack a central comedic focus but do include many comedic offers.  Too many comedic offers. So many comedic offers in fact tat the scene is not funny, no one in the scene reacts to anything because there are just too many things and the scene feels crazy, as though it were occurring in a crazy town. Note, just because the ideas in a Crazy Town scene take us there, it doesn't mean the ideas are bad. They might be great! But they deserve a scene committed to them, not to be jam packed into one scene with 15 other ideas.

  

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).

Going To Crazy Town:  A phrase used to describe scenes with too many funny things in them. Often these are scenes that fail to react, unpack and justify the first funny thing that happens, choosing to instead adopt a comical stance of blase non-reaction. This often leads to many more funny offers that are in turn treated with the same blase indifference. Ultimately the Kool Aid Man could burst trough a wall and the actors in the scene would have to simply shrug, "I guess that makes sense..."

Half Idea: Something funny from an opening that an improviser might choose to initiate a scene with. A half idea is different from a premise because it isn't as well defined. While a premise is a full comedic concept, a half idea feels funny for mysterious reasons. LARGE WRENCH is an example of a half idea. It feels funny to think about a really large wrench, but who can say why?  And it might be twisted or used in many different ways that still feel like they honor te concept of LARGE WRENCH.

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:

  • Yes And...

  • Play Close To Yourself

  • Make Surprising or Counterintuitive Decisions

  • Justify Your Actions

La Ronde:  A very simple long form structure in which players perform scenes in a set order. It starts with a two person scene that ends with one player being tagged out. Whoever is next takes the stage with the remaining actor who plays the same character in this new scene that they were playing originally.  This pattern continues until te first actor who was tagged out returns and plays the final scene as the character they were in the original scene. Sometimes teams will perform a loose montage of scenes following the described format as part of a La Ronde.

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.

Long Form Improv:  As the name implies, long form improv tends to feature longer improv performances of different formats, including The Harold, The Deconstruction, The Pretty Flower, The Evente, Tracers, The Monoscene, The Macroscene and many more. The Harold was the first Long Form format, normally attributed as the creation of Del Close, though many improvisers contributed effort, expertise and ideas.  Most notably Charna Halpern who suggested the use of Time Hops within The Harold format. Some would say the difference between Long Form Improv and its predecessor (Short Form Improv) is more nuanced; Long Form scenes and sets start without an awareness of why they will be funny forcing them to make this discovering while the set or scene unfolds. Short Form games, on the other and, are typically constructed so that people playing will always be funny in the same way. For instance, in the Short Form game Pillars, players receive random lines from audience members in the middle of their scenes. Pillars is always funny because the actors playing it need to make sense of these surprising and shocking insertions.  And you could play Pillars for 45 minutes straight, if you wanted to. Similarly you could have two performers do a two minute scene based on a one word suggestion and that would still be Long From Improv, since the performers would have gone into the scene uncertain of why or how it would be funny.

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 scenes 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.

Negation: A negation occurs whenever one improvisers denies, opposes or subverts anything another improviser as established as part of the base reality. Disagreements over beliefs, opinions, taste are all outside the scope of negations. Characters can disagree with each other about whether the Knicks are a good basketball team, but if one of them says they are sitting in Madison Square Garden watching a basketball game it would be a negation to insist they were actually reading poetry aloud at an artist run bookstore.

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:  An improv saying or mantra, similar to Yes And and Don't Be Coy.

 

Premise: A premise in long form improv is a comedic concept normally created in an opening. The opening serves as a set's overture and you can think of premises as little snippets of tunes you'll hear again later in the show (just as an overture in a musical introduces the audience to short snippets of the songs they will hear later on). Initiating a scene with a comedic premise is an advanced improv skill that allows improvisers to move faster than if organically creating comedy within their scene. Premises are not the only types of material you can draw from an opening. You might also initiate a scene with a half-idea or any single word or idea from an opening, sometimes called (very rarely out loud) chaff.

Remember Don't Invent: has a few applications. It can remind you to draw on your own life experiences when improvising. If you partner asks you what you had for breakfast in an improv scene, why not respond with what you actually had for breakfast that day. That answer might seem boring to you, but you lived it. Everyone else may very well find it fascinating or hilarious.

 

Remember, Don't Invent reminds us that our most powerful tool when we improvise is our minds which rely on our life experiences. Another purpose of Remember Don't Invent is to remind us that once our scene has found something fun, there is no need to generate a (new second) fun thing. Instead we can simply "remember" our first fun thing and keep doing that.  Read more about Remember, Don't Invent here.

Revolving Door: A lesser used editing tool, similar to a tag out but shorter and more theatrical.

 

As a scene is played, an improviser leaves the backline and approaches one active player from behind. They then sharply (but you know, also safely and gently) spin the active player to face them by the shoulder. It is understood that the active player has been brought back in time.

 

The player who initiated the Revolving Door then initiates a brief scene from the past which will inform the other scene the player is in. Often a Revolving Door is only one line long. It ends when the player who initiated it spins the active player back into their original scene, again by the shoulder.

 

When a Revolving Door occurs, players who were in the original scene, but not the Revolving Door scene, should stay frozen in place. The Revolving Door will be over soon and their original scene will recommence.

Short Form Improv:  A type of improvisational comedy in which performers create scenes, characters, and dialogue spontaneously based on audience suggestions or predetermined prompts. Short Form improv relies on quick, structured games/exercises with specific rules and formats. These games often focus on wordplay, physical comedy, and rapid-fire comedic timing. Short form improv emphasizes wit, creativity, and adaptability as performers collaborate to generate humor on the spot within a limited timeframe. The preeminent example of short form improv is "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" Yes Short Form Games tend to be shorter than long form sets or scenes. More importantly, when two actors begin a Short Form Improv scene they know how and why it will be funny.  This is a stark divergence from Long Form Improv.

Tag Out: A commonly used editing device in long form improv. Players on the backline can transport one of the characters onstage to a new location and time and initiate a scene with them there. The player would quickly tag away the player they weren't taking to the new location by lightly tapping them on the shoulder and quickly initiating the new scene. 

Time Hop: A basic short form game focused on scene work.  A pair of improvisers takes the playing area and creates a scene off of a suggestion or other prompt. After a few minutes their instructor or emcee will end the scene and then instruct the players to "hop" forward in time. The location can change but the characters they are playing stay the same. Players can choose to "hop" ahead 2 minutes, 10 months, 15 years or any other time increment. This exercise is a main feature of the Harold, forming the spine of the A, B & C scene series that interweave throughout the performance of a Harold. Charna Halpern is credited with suggesting the use of the Time Hop in The Harold.

Voice Of Reason:  

World Games

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