Marty McGuire

Posts Tagged improv

Fri Dec 8

Some notes from a Rick Andrews improv workshop

I was in some great workshops with some amazing folks at Camp Improv Utopia East this year, including this one from Rick Andrews

Kristen aka KMac asked me for my notes after I used some exercises from this workshop in a coaching session with Topiary. So, here they are! I hope they are useful to someone.

Any great ideas and brilliance in here are because of Rick and the other workshop participants. Any bad advice or mistakes below are my own.

Warm up - sound and motion hot spot

  • circle up.
  • someone enters center and does sound and motion alone.
  • a 2nd person joins and matches
  • 1st person fades back into the circle.
  • 2nd person morphs sound and motion into a new one.
  • repeat.

Level up:

  • same as above, but people come out in pairs.
  • watch as new pair discovers new sound and motion together

This workshop is about getting out of the way of that discovery.

We often improvise like people who need approval from the audience. It's exhausting for players and audience alike.

Black holes are detected by how their gravity affects things around them, warping light. An addict filters all decisions through their addiction. We are addicted to being interesting.

If someone tells you to do a cave scene, almost everyone's first idea will be "Oh no, we are trapped!" But have you ever been in a cave? Probably! Have you ever been trapped in a cave? Nope. So why don't people do scenes about just being in a cave?


  • 2 people in chairs having a conversation
    • start w/ a word as inspiration
    • truthful conversation as if no audience
    • real facts and beliefs
  • real human interactions are believable. not like the people in Drive w/ Ryan Gosling (lol)
  • lots of surprises happen, and quickly.
    • "I love podcasts." "Oh, me too!"
  • The saying that you should wait for your third thought is garbage.
  • Also, the people in these scenes are strangers and that is fine and not awkward!
  • if people are affecting and reacting to each other, we like the scene.
  • if they are not affecting each other, no one cares about the scene.


  • Same as above, but instead of sitting the players are miming an unrelated activity.
  • Improvise with each other. Little things are not missed.
    • We notice odd things. "I want to hear more about that."
  • People ask questions in real life! it's not out of fear and trying to push along or push against a scene, but out of real curiosity.


  • Same as above, but each player adopts a weird voice or at least a different voice from their normal speaking voice.
    • e.g. more nasal or guttural, or change pitch
    • no affected accents
  • Only the first lines from each player needs to be true.
  • After that, follow what feels true for the character. it's a subtle change.
  • No need to overplay emotion. In real life we feel things like anxiety or shame but we don't come out and say it and we don't broadcast it by being obvious.


  • Extremely overplanned scenes.
    • Example: "You're coworkers at cocktails after a blowing outing"
    • Example: "One of you wants to buy a suit. The other is selling suits."
    • Goal: make it feel real.
  • We are afraid of starting conversations that we don't know where they're going.
    • Lots of improv is shortcuts to give us a problem to solve or a weird thing to talk about.
  • A deconstructed example:
    • input: "you're school dance chaperones"
    • players started by standing around awkwardly. one takes a breath as though they are about to speak, but thinks better of it. gets a little laugh.
      • this is kind of a manufactured nervousness, playing up the emotion unrealistically.
    • players suddenly talk at the same time.
      • this is playing off the previous bit. again, kind of false even if it gets a chuckle from the audience.
    • finally, this exchange is gold:
      • A: "I like this song. Who is this by? I can almost remember."
      • B: "It's Carly Rae Jepson"
      • A: "Oh, you know her work?"
      • B: "She is going to fucking save pop music"
      • This is a real discovery! An unexpected, genuine, super strong emotional stance.

Other thoughts:

  • We have lots of awareness in real life. we've been practicing being human as long as we have been alive. if we let ourselves take our time, we bring that listening to our improv.
  • People laugh all the time in real life. It is okay for your character to find humor in the scene.
  • People tend to like each other in real life.
  • In real life, conflict is like a squeaky door - awkward tension.
    • We don't look to pick fights. We don't make things impossible for others.
  • Working to have fun is different from working to be funny.
Wed Nov 22

Hostel Practice Notes 2017-11-22

You probably don't care about this post unless you're a member of Hostel!

5 of us practiced at the theater thanks to the kindness of Richard who let us in and helped us practice. Here are some notes that are hopefully accurate!

We explored the space and thought about ways to use it best. For example, we can bring the sidelines way forward towards the audience and give ourselves a sense of space by bringing the chairs downstage away from the wall, treating the columns like a back line.

Warm-ups we did:

  • Pass-the-clap. Around the circle, across the circle, moving around the room.
  • Vocal warm-ups led by Kim. Roll head down one vertebra at a time, bend all the way down to touch toes, wiggle around while rolling up one vertebra at a time. Make noises while mashing up cheeks and temples to loosen face muscles. Make sounds from different parts of the sound apparatus, starting with nasal "hee hee hee", then throat "heh heh heh", mall-Santa belly "ho ho ho", creepy dude groin "huh huh huh". Then go back up making sounds in reverse order.
  • Flocking exercise. As Richard played a song, one leader leads an improvised dance around the stage. Everyone else follows along trying to match movements. Richard changed song after about a minute, new leader self-selects and we repeat.

We did an exercise that is from Rick Andrews, though many folks learned a similar one from other instructors. It involves two players at a time.

  • Round 1: Audience gives a one-word topic. Players are seated and act as themselves having a normal conversation. Say truthful things that you believe or happened to you. Not trying to be funny, not trying to be characters. The conversation can become funny because conversations can be funny, but should not be jokey.
  • Round 2: Audience gives an activity that requires some amount of doing things and moving around the space in addition to a new one-word topic. Players do the activity while talking about the topic (not about the activity), still being themselves saying truthful things, not jokey, etc.
  • Round 3: Audience again gives an activity and one-word topic. Each player chooses a voice modification like talking more deeply or nasally or gritting their teeth (slight modifications only, no accents). Scene begins same as round 2, but the voice modification draws you into a character, so you can drift from your true personal stories/beliefs.

We were almost out of time, so we did a little ~6 minute set that started with "Real Talk" - basically starting with an input and doing Round 2 of the exercise until someone comes in to start a tag run or scene based on it. Any full scene wipe starts again with a real talk conversation and some object work.

Sun Jul 16

Great time doing a set at the Unified Scene Theater tonight with Remote Possibilities!

Wed Jun 7

Hostel returns to the Single Carrot Theatre

This Friday, June 9th, at 9pm. And every Friday at 9pm, thereafter!

Tickets available now!

Sat May 13

Excited for Whose Live Anyway at the Lyric in Baltimore.

Sat Apr 15

Thanks to everybody who came out to see Hostel perform secondary screenings last night! Please enjoy this retro-active advertisement for the show.

But that’s not all! Come see us again tonight! 8pm at the Single Carrot Theatre! Tickets only $5 and can be found here:

Fri Mar 17

🗓️ Two for the Road w/ Old City (feat Hostel!)

Single Carrot Theatre 2600 N Howard St Baltimore MD 21218
📆 Add to Calendar: iCal | Google Calendar

There are a thousand bars in Old City, and, every Friday at 9, you’ll spend the evening in a new one.

The show begins with a warm welcome to stay with Hostel. Then Old City serves up their justly famous comic hospitality. So, raise a glass with Old City, and enjoy Two for the Road.

Thu Mar 16

Dave has something to say about how you should spend your Friday.

Spoiler alert it’s watching Hostel do make-em-ups for you at 9pm at Single Carrot Theatre! Tickets Only $5!

post from
Single Carrot Theatre 2600 N Howard St Baltimore MD 21218
Two for the Road w/ Old City (feat Hostel!)
There are a thousand bars in Old City, and, every Friday at 9, you’ll spend the evening in a new one.
Wed Mar 15

🗓️ BIG's Free Open Mic, featuring Hostel

Single Carrot Theatre 2600 N Howard St Baltimore MD 21218
📆 Add to Calendar: iCal | Google Calendar

Come out this Wednesday for the return of the Baltimore Improv Group’s Open Mic, with your warm and welcoming hosts - BIG mainstage troupe Hostel!

The open mic is free to attend and free to perform at and is open to improv, standup, and sketch performances.

Looking to improvise? Drop your name in the bucket for a chance to play in with Hostel!

Sign-ups start at 7pm, performances start at 7:30pm!

See you there!

Wed Feb 15

🗓️ BIG’s Free Open Mic featuring Hostel!

Single Carrot Theatre 2600 N Howard St Baltimore MD 21218
📆 Add to Calendar: iCal | Google Calendar

Come out this Wednesday for the return of the Baltimore Improv Group’s Open Mic!

The open mic is free to attend and free to perform at and is open to improv, standup, and sketch performances.

Just want to get some reps in? Put your name in for a chance to play in with BIG mainstage troupe Hostel!