Little Imps – The First Month

Last Saturday, Little Imps was a month old.  In just five sessions, I’ve seen fifteen different 8-12 year olds, all keen to learn how to tell stories, perform and, above all else, have fun.

So, a month in, what have our intrepid improvisers learnt so far?  Here’s a summary.

How to warm up

When you set foot on stage, it’s important that you’re fully prepared. That means if you’re not physically warmed up or you haven’t done your vocal warm-ups, you’re unlikely to do your best work.

We start every session with a short warm-up. Warm-ups are important as they help the transition from the ‘real’ world into the ‘drama and performance’ world. Physical warm-ups include stretches and shakes to get our bodies moving and ready for doing exercises.

Vocal warm-ups get everyone used to using their voice and help to break the ice and to get a session going.  Our most popular vocal warm-ups including impersonating Wallace from the Wallace and Gromit animations, making motorboat sounds and repeating a tongue twister faster and faster.

Circle exercises

Circle exercises are a brilliant way of getting everyone in the group to focus, concentrate, appreciate the contribution of others and to listen carefully.  They are designed to promote agreement, careful listening, concentration and working together to achieve results.

Whizz/Bang is a fast, fun circle exercise that demands concentration and focus.  Keeping invisible coloured balls in the air requires improvisers to focus on another player and to make a clear verbal and physical offer.  And, preventing an improviser from sitting down on the one spare chair that is available encourages teamwork and risk taking.

The basics of improvisation

Here are the opening lines of two stories:

Story 1 – “It’s a beautiful day in the forest”, said James. “No it isn’t”, said Rebecca.

Story 2 – “It’s a beautiful day in the forest”, said James. “Yes it is a lovely day in the forest, and that means that the dragons will be out by noon”, said Rebecca.

Which story do you want to learn more about?  Story 2, of course. Over the five sessions we’ve been learning how to make an improvised sketch come alive. One of improv’s main rules is ‘agree and add’. Always accept the reality of the situation suggested by your scene partner and add more detail.

We’ve done lots of exercises where we’ve established quickly who the characters in a scene are, where they are and what they are doing.  By building a strong foundation at the start of a scene, the story you subsequently tell will be richer and more interesting for the audience.

Telling stories

Improvisation is basically about telling stories. However, in improv it’s extremely rare that you’ll tell a story on your own. So, making up a story with one or more other players requires several skills. You need to avoid denying what your scene partner has established.  You have to focus and listen to what has already been said before responding accordingly. And, you have to add to the story by providing detail or developing a relationship between the characters.

We’ve created stories by telling tales a word at a time. We’ve done scenes with no words where players have relied on strong physical decisions to drive a story. And, we’ve put ourselves in the shoes of specific characters and made decisions based on how we think those characters might behave.

What we’re going to work on for the next month

It’s been a brilliant start and the Little Imps I’ve seen so far have been brilliantly imaginative and, importantly, bold enough to have a try.  So, for the next few weeks, we’re going to be working on:

i) More on the basics of improvisation – agreement, adding information and establishing the basics of a scene

ii) Some new circle games to promote concentration, teamwork and listening skills

iii) Improv and drama etiquette – how to behave when others are performing, being courteous to performers and being more supportive to on-stage players

iv) Character work – how to inhabit a character, using what you know about characters to inform a scene, playing scenes as characters

v) Playing some basic shortform improv games (like the ones you see on TV)

Thank you to everyone that has come along and supported Little Imps so far. It’s been a brilliant few sessions and I sincerely hope all our Little Imps have enjoyed it as much as I have.

Back on Saturday at 9.30am! See you there.

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