Most theater games are a form of spontaneous story-telling. So much of improv depends upon the sudden generation of setting, character, conflict and plot. Traditional actors begin with a script and rehearsal the scene hundreds of times. Improv actors are required to invent a story on the spot. It's not easy, but it certainly is fun.
Some improvisational exercises focus on a performers ability tell stories "off-the-cuff." These activities are often stationary theater games, meaning the actors are not required to move about very much. With this in mind, a story-telling improv game might not be as entertaining as other more physically dynamic games, but it still an excellent idea to sharpen one's imagination.
Here are a few easy-to-perform story-telling improv games, each one ideal for a class activity or a warm-up exercise at rehearsal:
Known by many other names, "Story-story" is a circle game for all ages. Many grade school teachers use this as an in-class activity, but it can be equally fun for adult performers. The group of performers sit or stand in a circle. A moderator stands in the middle and provides a setting for the story. She then points to a person in the circle and they begin telling a story. After the first storyteller has described the beginning of the story, the moderator points to another person. The story continues on; the new person picks up from the last word and tries to continue the narrative. Every performer should get several turns to add to the story. Usually the moderator suggests when the story comes to a conclusion; however, more advanced performers will be able to conclude their story on their own.
Best / Worst: In this improv activity one person creates an instant monologue, telling a story about an experience (either based upon real-life or based upon pure imagination). The person begins the story in a positive way, focusing on terrific events and circumstances.
Then, someone rings a bell. Once the bell sound, the storyteller continues the story, but now only negative things occur in the plot. Each time the bell ring, the storyteller shifts the narrative back and forth, from the best events to the worst events. As the story progresses, the bell should ring more quickly. (Make that storyteller work for it!)
Nouns from a Hat:
There are many improv games which involve slips of papers with random words, phrases or quotes written on them. Usually, these phrases have been invented by audience members. "Nouns from a Hat" is one of these types of games.
Audience members (or the moderators) write nouns on a slip of paper. Proper nouns are acceptable. In fact, the stranger the noun, the more entertaining this improv will be. Once all of the nouns have been collected into a hat (or some other container), a scene begins between two improv performers.
About every thirty seconds or so, as they establish their storyline, the performers will reach a point in their dialogue when they are about to say an important noun. That's when they reach into the hat and grab a noun. The word is then incorporated into the scene, and the results can be wonderfully silly. For example:
BILL: I went to the unemployment office today. They offered me a job as a... (reads noun from the hat) "penguin.""Nouns from a Hat" can involve more actors, as long as there are enough slips of paper. Or, in the same manner as "Best / Worst," it can be delivered as an improvisational monologue.
SALLY: Well, that doesn't sound too promising. Does it pay well?
BILL: Two buckets of sardine a week.
SALLY: Maybe you could work for my uncle. He owns a... (reads nouns from the hat) "footprint."
BILL: How can you run a business with a footprint?
SALLY: It's a Sasquatch footprint. Oh yeah, it's been a tourist attraction for years.
Have fun inventing stories! If you have a great improv idea to add to the list, let us know in the Plays / Drama Forum.