Zoom In On One Person Scenes


Agreement is awesome. Don’t you think.

In class number two, we focus on that first of our 4 Key Lessons: Seek Symmetries.

Bringing characters into group games brings new opportunities for chaos. 

Simplifying character-based group scenes with balanced stage pictures and shared emotional perspectives can help a team confidently navigate the chaos. 

Here’s how we did that…

“Wait,” you say. “Stage picture? But you’re on Zoom.”

Yeah, a lot of time is spent during my in-person class on focusing stage picture. And I thought I’d be doing my class a disservice not to spend some time on it during this virtual class.

So I created a stage in PowerPoint and prepared little characters that could populate that stage.

Now the lesson there at the end – that we can be different characters but still find focus through the choice of agreeing to a shared emotional perspective – that’s important. But spending a lot of time and energy on this exercise? I won’t do it again. In my class evaluations, I think “The PowerPoint stuff was neat but it could have been in just the first class. More play!” sums it up.

You know what is as fun to play on Zoom as in-person? 21. A great little warm-up for getting people to share the air.

The greatest 21 lesson? The audience doesn’t know you’ve done something “wrong” until YOU tell them you have with your facial expressions and groans. The rubric games I teach are just MY rubric games; the audience doesn’t know what’s what. Whatever you all do is “right” as long as you accept it as right and treat it right.

Another bit that’s as valuable in Zoom as in-person is the Self-Contained Emotional Statement. Now this site is full of posts espousing the value of the old SCES. But here’s how we practiced them in Zoom.

Emotion, baby! As much as I love Patterns & Games, the foundation of all improv needs to be EMOTION. The audience loves watching adults care about imagined stimuli. Don’t miss out on the lowest hanging fruit of improv as improv does best. FEEL!

The SCES is a perfect base for any subsequent scene, be it a Two Person or a Twenty Person. It ground the initiating player in an emotional perspective without dictating the scene to entering players or demanding that any player enter at all.

What’s the easiest thing to do after one player establishes an SCES? Agree to it!

The 1st of our 4 Rubric Group Games – The One Person Scene – showcases how aligning behind a shared emotional perspective helps focus and heighten a group scene.

We simplify by minimizing the number of perspectives on stage through agreement.  We build collaboratively through enthusiastic acceptance.  Emotional reaction is most important piece of content.

  • The clearer the emotional perspective the better – If you don’t think it’s clear, clarify it by heightening the emotion.
    • Establishing a shared emotional noise right after the initial SCES – and repeated throughout – helps align people behind the shared emotional perspective.
  • Like 21, don’t rush to speak – You have something to do with your hands.  You also have an emotional perspective to fill your face with.
  • Agreeing to the emotion is more important than heightening the details with words – Remember an enthusiastic “yeah” will always be funnier than a rambling monologue. An emotional noise is always a good contribution.
    • After the first SCES, make them all make an emotional noise that shows they’re all on the same page.
  • There are no questions in agreement – When students start asking questions and negotiating the feelings rather than just heightening them with agreement, the scene stagnates with students unsure of what to commit to or when to contribute.
  • Share the air space – Put periods at the end of your sentences. 
  • Agree despite “sense” – If someone has a tumor, each person can have a tumor.  If someone’s pregnant, each person can be pregnant. 
    • Embrace even the weirdest contributions without hesitation. Make them your own instead of calling out another player’s weirdness.
  • Reach higher together – The joy of the One Person Scene is watching a group come together to blow out one perspective. Together you can really expand an idea just by agreeing and building up details – “I like that new Volkswagen” can build to “loving BP, Facebook, and all the companies that play the public like suckers.”
  • We have the power to change – If an emotional perspective is heightened to its apex, the group can follow another emotional perspective. “I love it.” “I Love It.” “I LOVE IT!” “I hate it.” But we want to explore the heights before changing. Don’t flip too soon.

Even when we’re all agreeing to a shared perspective, we can layer on different games. To explore this idea, the class worked through some Invocations.

The Invocation connects One Person Scenes (shared Emotional Perspectives) with Kick The Duck Red Rover (finding a collaborative rhythm and following organically established rules.) Mirroring language, heightening silos, and rules of cause-and-effect are important lessons to tease out of the Invocation.

• Be clear about what “it” is – don’t be vague for artsy sake; the sooner everyone knows what “it” is the sooner everyone can dig deep into the details
• Unite behind an emotional perspective on “it” – “what we hate about Microsoft” will collaboratively heighten faster than “what we know about Microsoft”
• Simplify with mirrored language – switching between phases is clearest when there’s a defining cadence to phase one (“Oh, God”) and a new cadence to phase two (“Sweet, Jesus).
• Leverage Callback – What does a detail from phase one signify in phase two and can be used for in phase three?
• Establish rules of reaction – Y follows X: “…who is never afraid,” “You’re a chicken who’s not chicken;” “…who never stops going,” “You’re a chicken who’ll always win at chicken.”
• Establish Siloes – What can be the filter through which your contributions come? I’m the guy who: said, “Eyes as red as flames” so I’ll say, “Heart as black as coal.”

Agree. Agree to simplify. Agree to find focus. Agree to reach heights as a group that no one person could find on their own.

Agreement is both the easiest and the most powerful tool. Right, Maddie?

If you want to continue this virtual journey through my first Virtual Patterns & Games class, here are the other links:


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