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The 2021 Charles County Improv Bee for Teens is back! This year, we’re going virtual, so some of the games have changed. You can learn more about how to play the games here:

Here is a list of the games:

  • Expert Panel: As a TV show host, the moderator asks questions about various topics and the performers answer while playing experts in certain fields, like an astronaut or a pro golfer.
  • Four Corners: Each of four players will be paired up with two other people, one at a time. The players take turns doing scenes (ex. Batman and Robin or Getting a pizza) and the two people who have that scene will play it out until a new scene has them move to the next person. They continue their scene when it’s their turn, but also need to be ready to do their other scene. It’s fun and funny, and allows for scene development to expand.
  • Freeze: Two team members start a scene, and somebody yells “Freeze” and takes over one person’s pose and starts a whole new scene. Movement is essential, so the next person can assume the pose.
  • TED Talks: Four students lead a talk on the subject that we suggest. The performers must then give a powerpoint-type presentation, but the PowerPoint “slides” are randomly shown, and have never been seen before by the performer. Each team member must explain their slide in the context of the TED Talk, and then the next team member continues with a new slide.

The Charles County Improv Bee for Teens is on Saturday, February 13th, from 1pm-4pm, and you can register for it here.

Want to learn more about Improv?

We have books available online for you right now on Hoopla Digital.

Improv Nation by Sam Wasson

In this richly reported, scene-driven narrative, Sam Wasson charts the meteoric rise of improv from its unlikely beginnings in McCarthy-era Chicago. We witness the chance meeting between Mike Nichols and Elaine May, hang out at the after-hours bar where Dan Aykroyd hosted friends like John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner, and go behind the scenes of cultural landmarks from The Graduate to The Colbert Report. Along the way, we befriend pioneers such as Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, Alan Arkin, Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, and many others. Wasson shows why improv deserves to be considered the great American art form of the last half century. 

Improv Show by Virginia Loh-Hagan

Improv Show guides students as they conceive and set up their own improv show for their friends and community. The considerate text includes easy-to-follow lists and will hold the readers’ interest, allowing for successful mastery and comprehension. Written with a high interest level to appeal to a more mature audience, these books maintain a lower level of complexity with clear visuals to help struggling readers along. A table of contents, glossary with simplified pronunciations, and index all enhance achievement and comprehension.

Improv for Actors by Dan Diggles

In this step-by-step guide, an actor and improvisational teacher brings his tested methods to the page to show how actors can take risks and gain spontaneity in all genres of scripted theater. Through 28 lessons-each of which includes warm-ups, points of concentration, and improvisation exercises-Improv for Actors provides insights into thinking and reacting with fluidity, exploring a character’s social status, using the voice and body as effective tools of storytelling, and more. Actors of all levels will soon be able to give a fresh, original approach to classic characters, create funnier performances in farce and comedy, and make dramatic characters richer and more believable.

Long Form Improv by Ben Hauck

The Complete Guide to Creating Characters, Sustaining Scenes, and Performing Extraordinary Harolds

Long-Form Improv deftly teaches the wildly popular form of improvisation that is so foundational to the comedy stylings of many of today’s top actors and thriving comedians. Crammed with innovative ideas for conceptualizing improvised scene work and “finding the game of the scene,” this crisply written manual covers techniques for experienced improvisers, curious actors, and even non-actors.

A complete long-form improv resource comprising topics like ideation and character creation, improvising scenes for extended periods of time and enhancing them-and even performing the most famous expression of long-form improv, the half-hour improvised form known as “The Harold”-this astute text is written in a friendly, supportive voice by an experienced improv teacher and professional actor whose own frustration in learning the craft drove an obsession to create a program free of confounding teachings and contradictory concepts. The book’s groundbreaking infusion with drama theory and game theory brings new life to the teachings of the craft, breaking down various aspects of long-form improv into short chapters for swift, step-by-step intake of its vital lessons.

Students of acting and long-form improv alike should expect Long-Form Improv to bolster their education and fast-track their course to improv greatness.

Want to know even more about improv?

Here are the first ten laws of Improv, as provided by the Pan Theater.

For a story to be built, whether it is short form or long form, the players have to agree to the basic situation and set-up. The who, what, and where have to be developed for a scene to work.

By saying yes, we accept the reality created by our partners and begin the collaborative process from the start of a scene. The collaborative process or group mind helps make us giants, animals, villains, saints and more importantly put us in situations that we would normally avoid.

An improvised scene can’t move forward or advance unless we add new information. That is why new information is added after the “Yes” of “Yes ‘and!”

Example: Yes, I washed big dawg and I fed him your steak too!

Rather than: Yes, I washed big dawg. (SILENCE)

Example: Yes, I accept being your assistant Heir Doctor and will gladly get you the princess’s body from the morgue tonight.

Rather than: Yes, I accept being your assistant Heir Doctor. (SILENCE)

Saying “Yes, and” does not mean there will not be conflict or that we would accept something our character would not accept.

The opposite of saying “yes, and” is blocking or denial.

Denial destroys or stops the addition of new information or worse negates what has already been established. Blocking is a way of minimizing the impact of new information. It is also a method for the performer to play it safe. The performer maintains control and avoids vulnerability by blocking. But in improv we say the opposite of what we would say in real life, “go there.”, rather than don’t go there.

Blocking at its simplest levels involves saying “no,” or avoiding a subject. At a more advanced level, blocking is something that keeps the action from moving forward or the players from changing.

Another form of blocking (in its more subtle form) is asking questions. Questions force our partners to fill in the information or do the work. It is a way of avoiding committing to a choice or a detail. It is playing it safe. However, on more advanced levels, questions can be used to add information or tell your partner the direction to go in.

Example: I know you’ve been seeing Jenny for four years.

Rather than: Are you going to tell me about her?

Example: I can see how excited you are about going to Pirates Isle in the ghost ship, me too!

Rather than: How do you feel about going to Pirates Isle on that ship?

Another useful rule is to keep the focus on the here and now. A scene is about the people in the scene. The change, the struggle, the win or loss will happen to the characters on the stage.

Focus on what is going on right at this moment.

  • Why is your partner moving away from you?
  • Why did she use a questioning tone?
  • What did the slight smile mean?
  • How do you, as your character, feel about what she is doing?

Remember, it isn’t just about the words; it is about what is happening. The words are tools used to accomplish or to pursue a goal (objective or need).

Good scenes take place somewhere and at sometime. They do not take place on an empty stage. A location can easily be established in one or two lines without breaking the scene.

Examples of opening lines that establish a location:

Example One: My God, Bob you’ve put the tiger in with the bison again. The zoo manager will be so pissed at us.

Example Two: Cast off the main line already Sheila, we’re going to win the race, the 1970 Lake Boona race, not like the 67, 68 and 69 races! With the new rudder we should have smooth sailing.

Example Three: Hmm, so you’re riding one of them auto-mobiles. Dang, well it is the 1890’s. You New York City people, Markus, have all the modern things. Next you’ll say you have electricity. I knew coming to New York would be exciting, my dear brother.

Each of the opening lines above provides an idea of a location. By working with your partner, the specifics of the location are further worked out. Of course, it is even better when you can establish location without words or with minimal use of dialogue. (We’ll talk more about establishing location in silence in a future article.)

Details are the lifeblood of moving a scene forward. Each detail provides clues to what is important. Details help provide beat objectives and flesh out characters.

Example One: You’re the best brain surgeon in all of West Valley, Mark. That’s why I chose you to operate on mom.

Rather than: You’re the best doctor in this town, which is why I chose you.

Example Two: You mean like when you stole Dad’s purple heart, you know the one he received in World War I for charging the German Foxhole with just a pistol!

Rather than: Like when you stole the medal he won in the war.

Improv is about character change. The characters in a scene must experience some type of change for the scene to be interesting. Characters need to go on journeys, be altered by revelations, experience the ramifications of their choices and be moved by emotional moments. We go to the theater to see the unusual days characters have, not the everyday moments of stasis and stagnation.

A long form improv set should contain a variety of scenes. Some scenes will be emotional, some will be tense, and some should be funny. The easiest way to make a scene serious is by focusing on the relationship of those on the stage (their characters).

Other ways to make a scene dramatic is to hold a moment, use the silence, and focus on the shifting emotional points that emerge as a scene unfolds.

A good long form set is balanced. Shakespeare knew that too much pathos was wearing on the audience; hence, he had minor characters in humorous scenes such as the drunken porter in MacBeth. To create humor in improv, commit to choices to the nth degree or focus on actions and objects. Another way to create humor without doing so at the expense of the scene is to take every offer literally.

These are some of the skills and rules we teach in our Improv Basics classes and our advanced improv classes. We also drill these skills in our troupe rehearsals. For more information on what we do visit our site at: www.pantheater.com