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Establishing a Specific Scene

Lesson 3 - Establishing a Specific Scene

Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of Given Circumstances by participating, reflecting, and observing various Spolin improvisation games

Essential Questions

  • What are given circumstances?
  • How can given circumstances enhance a scene?


  • Open space
  • White board/markers


Where Game (review from last lesson)

  • 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 them 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.
  • Side-coaching: Show where. Keep focus on where. Relate to your fellow players. Show who you are through use of objects in the Where.
  • 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?


  • Did players show us or tell us? Were the pantomimed objects in space or in the players’ heads? Were players all in the same Where?


What? Improv Takes Skill? Starts with ‘Establish a specific situation.’

  • Do you remember the 4 Ws?
    • Who, What, When, Where
  • Why are they important to establish in Improv?
    • Specificity, help make choices, limitations invites creativity

In theatre, another name for these 4 Ws is Given Circumstances. In a script, given circumstances can be found by reading the script, doing script analysis, etc. In Improv, we create the given circumstances for a scene.

  • Setting (Space, location) (WHERE)
    • A forest vs a bank
  • Time (WHAT)
    • 2020 vs 1920 or 1pm vs 1am
  • Relationships (WHO)
    • Married couple vs strangers, good marriage vs bad marriage
  • The last 24 hours
    • What happened?
  • Events (from the past)
    • Important events (car accident, divorce, law school)


We’re going to practice Establishing a Specific Situation with some activities


What’s Beyond?/Where pg. 99

  • Single player moves through the playing area making an entrance and an exit, showing what room player has left and what room player is going to. NO action takes place except that used to communicate what’s beyond.For example, a player enters yawning and stretching. While walking across the stage, player slowly ‘unbuttons’ their shirt, rubs their tongue over teeth and exits.
    • Side-coaching: Explore and heighten. Reflect the room from which you have come. Stop mid-stage. Reflect the room you exit to.
  • Discussion
    • Where did the player come from? Where did the player go? Did the player show us or tell us? Is it possible to show what’s beyond without some on-stage activity?

What Time is it? B pg. 104

  • Group sits or stands on stage. Give the same time to all of them. ‘You are to sit quietly on stage, working separately. You may move only if they are pushed to do so by the focus; but you are not to bring in activity just to show time’ So try to stay still mostly
    • Prompts: Late afternoon after school, midnight, right before bed, right before school, right before dinner, right after dinner, the minute after you wake up, 3pm, 9pm
    • Side-coaching: Feel the time in your feet. In your spine. In your legs. No urgency. Feel time on your face. In you full body
  • Discussion
    • Is there a bodily reaction to time? Is it possible to communicate time without handling props, setting up a Where, etc?

Who Game pg. 106

  • Two players, A and B. A is seated on stage. B enters. B has a definite, predetermined character relationship with A, but has not told A what it is. By the way B relates to A, A must discover who A is.
  • Do not ask questions. No need for urgency. Let Who you are reveal itself. Show, don’t tell.
  • Discussion
    • Did B show the relationship or tell? Did A allow Who to be revealed? Or did A anticipate Who?


Ask students to discuss these questions with a partner first, then share their answers with the class

  • What are given circumstances?
  • How can given circumstances improve an improvisation?
  • How can given circumstances improve a scripted scene?

Finally, invite students to put up fingers (1 - not at all, 5 - perfect understanding) as a self-assessment of how well they understand given circumstances.