Black Box Beats warm-up | Improv As Improv Does Best


Lights come up on black-clad high school students standing on and around wooden boxes of varying heights.

You know what’s coming next.

Staccato sophomoric pretension. A wonder to laugh at, if you’re not in the actual audience and/or have to drive a performer home afterward.

Like with The Invocation, a structure of that kind of high-falutin performance can help us practice the different types of contributions we have available in service of Group Games.

Statements. Words. Sounds – emotional, mechanical, animalistic, etc. Callbacks, Call-and-Response, and Choruses. Each are available to us. Why not utilize the full suite?

As a structure, we’ll follow the Shamrock, three extending projections connected at one node.

The node can be the suggestion or the first move inspired by that suggestion. The group blows out that idea together as the first leaf. Reaching an apex in the first projection, a player repeats the node, triggering the group to blow out a new aspect of that inspiration into a second leaf. Repeat. Maybe even return to explicitly restate the node as a closing button.

As a terrible example –

Suggestion: Money

Progression of lines:

  • Money
  • Cah-ching
  • Money is power
  • Cah-ching
  • “Gimme 1000 shares of gold.”
  • Cah-clunk
  • “And put the rest on black.”
  • Spa-innn
  • “Check for you. Promise to me.”
  • The sound of a tally mark being added to a secret ledger
  • Money
  • Clink clink clink
  • “Sorry, I don’t carry cash”
  • Money is the root of all suffering.
  • Whomp-whomp
  • (Robot Voice) Insufficient funds.
  • “Okay, that’s eleven, twelve, thirteen…$2.13 on pump five.”
  • “And put the rest on black.”
  • Flu-ussshhhhh
  • “How much?”
  • Past due.
  • No credit. No problem. Sign away your life today!
  • Whomp-whomp
  • Money
  • “Make it rain!”
  • Fwip, fwip, fwip, fwip
  • “I’m singing in the rain.”
  • “Don’t worry be happy now.”
  • You can be money even if you don’t have any.
  • “You’re so money, you don’t even know it.”
  • The sound of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy off of the Swingers soundtrack
  • Money can’t buy happiness
  • “You don’t have to be rich to be my girl.”
  • “Money can’t buy me looooooveee!”
  • “Money, money, money, mon-ney!”
  • “Money!”

“Patrick, I see how important establishing a shared emotional perspective is to each leaf.


“But, Patrick, there were neither clear progressions inside or across the three leafs,” you say?

That’s fine. In fact, as a warmup it’s nice for students to relax into that freedom. While they should seek to mirror and heighten, what ultimately holds the piece together is the repeated node. A player can feel confident they can reach into insanity – “Cha-Ching-Ding-Dong-Bong-Bubblin-Cashed-Out!!!” – knowing the group can easily recenter on “Money.”

Go nuts. We have a safe word.

Just blow out the shared emotional perspective of each leaf with all the myriad contributions available to us. And why not play up that emotion to 11 – we’re riffing on high schoolers here. Have fun.

Here’s a video of me presenting the idea to a class and their first go at it.

Fun first outing. I love the way “Keep up!” in the second leaf echoed the beeps in the first. I love the experimentation in the third leaf with connected and unconnected dialogue.

Remember to explicitly and firmly return to the central idea.

And then BLOW that out.

I’m conditioned by my daughter’s love of Zootopia to add the following link when reminding us all, when thinking how many different types of contributions we can make to serve the group, “Try Everything.”


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