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Intro to Improv

Lesson 1 - Intro to Improv

Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of improvisation by playing the Where Game and reflecting on their choices

Materials: Viola Spolin's Book: Improvisations for the Theatre

Essential Questions:

  • How is improvisation used in theatre?
  • Why is improvisation an important skill to develop?
  • What skills do I use in theatre?
  • Why is awareness important in improvisation?

Hook: Exposure Game

From Viola Spolin’s Improvisations for the Theatre


  • Participants will become more aware of how their bodies react to situations, more perceptive of others responses, and prepared for more theatrical work.


  • The group is divided in two. One group stands in a line on stage, or in front of the other group. Inform both groups that they are not to make any verbal or movement responses during this activity. Joker (facilitator) stands on stage off to the side.
  • The purpose is to observe the other group, “Try and remember these observations.” Stage group looks at audience, audience looks at stage group. Say, “You look at us. We’ll look at you.” Try to keep the side-coaching to simple phrases.
  • Look at the stage group and wait for all of them to look uncomfortable in some fashion. When this happens, tell the stage group to count all of the ceiling tiles. (If there aren’t ceiling tiles, they can count chairs, floor tiles, hairs on a head, etc.) Have them count until all of them are standing more comfortably and relaxed. Once this happens, ask the stage group to switch places with the audience.
  • The audience that is now on stage repeats the same process. Tell them to look at the other group and do nothing else. “You look at us. We’ll look at you.” When everyone to some degree appears uncomfortable, give the task of counting. When everyone is relaxed, tell the group to sit down.


  • Keep on looking at the other group. Don’t talk. You look at us, we’ll look at you.
  • Keep on counting. If you’ve counted everything, start over. Focus on the counting.

Discussion Questions: First discuss with a partner, then share discussion with the class

  • How did the other group look when they first stood on stage, specifically their physical responses?
  • How did your body feel when you were first on stage? Were there specific parts of your body that you were aware of? How did your shoulders, lips, feet, hands, etc. feel?
  • How did you feel when you were counting? How did your body respond? What did you notice about the other group when they were counting?
  • Why did these changes occur?
    • The answer is, “because they had something to do or they were focused.” Do not feed this answer to the participants.
    • In each activity moving forward there will be something to do or an acting problem that will require focus. Staying focused on the challenge will help you feel more comfortable doing theater work.

Lesson: What is Improv?

Ask Students

  • What does it mean to improvise?
    • “to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation” (From
  • Why is this an important skill to develop in drama?
    • There are specific improv style performances
    • It encourages students to take risks and make choices
    • It teaches important skills like listening, responding, being present, take risks
  • What does it mean to play?
    • Exploration, discovery, questioning, trying
    • For me, play is an essential part of theatre. It should be taken seriously, but that doesn’t mean you need to be serious while you are doing it
  • Why is it important to theatre? How do we learn through play?
    • Through play, we have experiences that teach us skills. By doing, we practice.


We are going to play some games. Through these games, we will be practicing skills of improvisation. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings you experience during these activities. Be prepared to reflect on them at the end of class.

Activities (All are from Viola Spolin’s Improvisations for the Theatre)

Sensory Awareness

  • Listening to the environment pg. 57
    • Sit quietly for one minute and listen to the sounds of the immediate environment.
    • Compare sounds through discussion with a partner, then as a whole class.
  • Feeling self with self pg. 57
    • Students sit with their eyes open
    • Side-coaching: Feel self with self. Feel your feet with your feet. Feel your feet in your socks/shoes. Feel your pants on your legs and your legs in your pants. Feel your shirt against your torso and your torso inside your shirt. Feel your hands resting where they are. Feel your fingers touching your fingers. Feel the hair on your head. Your eyebrows on your forehead. Feel your nose against your cheeks. Your ears. Your tongue inside your mouth. Try to feel the inside of your head with your head. Feel the space around you. Now let the space feel you.
    • Discussion
      • What was the difference between feeling your socks on your feet and feeling your feet in your socks?

Mirror pg. 62

  • Focus on exact mirror reflection of the initiator’s movements
    • Count off students into teams of 2. Have them decide who is A and who is B. All teams play simultaneously. A faces B and A reflects all movements initiated by B, head to foot, including facial expressions. 
    • After a time, reverse the roles, calling upon B to reflect A
    • Side-coaching: Big full body movements. Reflect only what you see, not what you think you see. Keep the mirror between you. Reflect fully - head to toe. Change. Now the other partner initiates. Know when you initiate. Know when you reflect.
    • Discussion:
      • Is there a difference between reflection and imitation?
      • What did you discover about yourself or your partner?

Tug-Of-War pg. 63

  • Players must play tug-of-war with a space rope. The ‘rope’ in the connection between them. Players should choose partners of equal strength.
    • Side-coaching: Pull! Pull! Stay in the same space! Engage your whole body. Use as much energy as you would with a real rope.
    • Discussion
      • How were you able to play this game without a real rope? How did your partner influence your choices?

What Game pg. 64

  • Focus on showing a whole general activity by taking part in it
    • One person goes on stage and begins a simple activity. Upon seeing the activity, other players join in one at a time until all are participating.
    • This is non-verbal
    • Side-coaching: Show, don’t tell. See what’s going on. Join the activity. Avoid dialogue. Become part of the whole.
    • Discussion
      • What was the activity? How did you know? Were you part of the whole?


Where Game pg. 98

  • Similar to the What Game, the students now focus on showing Where they are by creating a Who (Character) and What (Action) in that setting.
    • Ask students to decide on a Where (park, supermarket, funeral, hospital, scary forest)
    • When one of then has a Where, invite them to become a character in that Where. They have to show non-verbally where they are with improvisation. 
    • When other students understand the Where, they create their own Who and What and enter the performance space. Invite students to think of who else is there and how the different characters would interact.
  • Discussion after each round
    • Where are you? (ask a few students that did not decide on the Where, it is ok if they have different settings)
    • Why did you think that? 
    • Who did you see in that Where?
    • How could the first person make it more clear where they are?

Final Discussion

  • What did you discover about play?
  • When were you successful during the games?
  • What was challenging about the games?

Remind students to do the Online Class.