Lessons from Improv 201 (Game of the Scene) at UCB

Notes from my Improv 201 class at Upright Citizen Brigade's Theater in New York. The class is called "Game of the Scene: Learn how to find and play games within scenes and create smart second beats." My instructor was Porter Mason.

I'll start with some bits that I think apply to doing standup too...

  • Whatever scares you, do it.

  • Specificity is our friend. Add it. 

  • Establish and repeat. Hit the same note a couple of times.  

  • Heighten: Have the stakes get higher and higher, keep one upping. 

  • Honesty is our safety net. We can never go wrong if we speak how we honestly feel at the time. 

  • Whatever you feel uncomfortable doing is exactly what you should try doing. 

  • When in doubt, confess. "I think I have a problem." "I need to tell you something." Etc. 

  • Go from A to C. Leaving the B out is often the interesting part because it lets the audience's brains make the connection. 

  • First laugh line is often the audience telling you where the game of the scene is. 

  • Give the audience relief by calling out the truth ("Phew, it's not just me.")

  • Be ahead of the audience. If you just thought of it, go for it. If they already know where you're going, you've lost.

And some other notes that are more improv-y...

  • The game is the central pattern of the scene. It's based on the first unusual thing that happens.

  • Scene rules: Don't ask questions (answer them instead), don't deny the other person (build together), "Yes and...", avoid transaction/negotiation scenes (conduct the transaction and go), avoid teaching scenes, keep things active (show don't tell).

  • The audience has a memory like a rat. They only pay attention to what's shiny and new. They'll forget whatever happened 30 seconds earlier. 

  • Give reason(s) why for the game/action of the scene.

  • Characters can disagree as long as you move the scene forward. If you deny, add information.

  • Make future choices based on your first choice.

  • Get out who, what, where early on.

  • Ways to edit a scene: Add sound effects, be an inanimate object, swinging door, tag outs.

  • Rules for editing a scene: 1. Edit at the peak. 2. Edit, don't comment. 3. Edit hard. 4. Late in the scene, if you want to walk on, edit.

  • "If you think you should edit a scene, you probably should have done it 10 seconds ago" -Amy Poehler

  • Answer "Why do I care?"

  • 2nd beat of the scene #1: time dashes = same characters at diff time in their lives. 

  • 2nd beat of the scene #2: analogous situation = diff characters in similar situation. 

  • 2nd beat should heighten scene.

  • If you come in with a premise, you have to be willing to drop it. Don't steamroll your idea into the scene. 

Related:
Lessons from Improv 101 at UCB [Sandpaper Suit]
Interview excerpts about the game of the scene [ITC Notebook]

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