Improv class 7 – 23 March 2010


Physicalization is the method used by improv players to create imaginary locations, objects, and events. For a warm-up we played a circle clap game. Then we played I’m going to the moon. Each player must say and show what object he/she will take to the moon as well as all the objects that the players before him picked. We then passed imaginary objects to each other. It was funny to see how the used tissue turned into a dead fish, the bowling ball turned into a granite block and the hot cup of coffee turned into a hamster. An important note that Mike made was that it is important to hold the object like you would hold it in real life. For the next exercise everyone had to reach under their chairs and pull out an object without thinking beforehand what it was going to be. They had to discover something and then explore it until they got an emotional reaction from it. It is difficult not to think ahead and just discover something. However when you allow yourself just to discover, your discovery is much more interesting and your emotional reaction much more authentic. I then took the class on a guided fantasy from the beach to a secondhand store, into a forest, into a castle with a table with all of their favorite food, into a garden with statues of the most significant moments in their lives. It is amazing to see how your imagination and your past experiences work together to create this dream like experience. The final exercise was an environment exercise. For this exercise a location is determined and then one by one each character must enter the location and use all the objects that all the previous players used and then add another object. It is important to remember where each object was placed.

Liezel made an important comment about following through when you use an object. Don’t just let an object disappear in mid air when you pick up another object first put down the one before you pick up another. A good way to practice your physicalization is to notice in everyday life how you hold different objects. Doing this will help you to be more present in your day to day actions. Something that Stef illustrated very beautiful is to use each object in character. This way you find a lot more interesting things to do with the object. Choosing a character and acting and reacting from that character are probably one of the most important improv practices. For me it is also one of the best applications of improv in everyday life. Who you are, is more important than what you do, because who you are determines what you do. Therefore it is more important to figure out who you are than what it is that you are suppose to do.


Improvisation class 6 – 16 March 2010


We started the class with some warm-ups (1 2 3 4, Do you like your neighbour?, What are you doing?). For the first status exercise I gave everyone a number between 1 and 10. The number represented each player’s status, 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest. I set the location on a pirate ship and told them to play their character according to their status in gibberish. Quickly it was very clear who was where in the hierarchy of the ship – Luci (1) was walking the plank, while Monica (10) and Cornelia (10) were fighting about who the captain was. For the next exercise I stuck a number on each person’s forehead representing their status and told them to play a gibberish scene in a palace. According to how others reacted towards them they had to figure out their own status and play their character accordingly. It was interesting to note how characters with low status tend to help each other, while high status characters often end up in a quarrel. High status characters place themselves higher in the physical space, while low status characters place themselves low, sometimes even crawling on the floor. For the last part of the class we played 2 person scenes in gibberish, silent or in 1 word sentences using different statuses. The silent, gibberish and one word scenes forces players to show and not tell. It also helps players to pay more attention to what the other player is doing and react more truthfully.

More thoughts on status:

In all human interaction there is some form of status interaction taking place. In everything you are saying or doing you are either higher or lowering your status, how subtle it might be. People usually have a natural preferred status that they play. Whether it is high or low it is usually a form of defence mechanism. People who prefer high status wants to keep others at a distance while those who play low status are people pleasers. High or low status isn’t inherently good or bad, but understanding how to use status in your interactions with people is a very useful social skill.

Please share some of your thoughts on status.

Improv Class 5 – 9 Feb 2010

Story was the focus of last night’s class. We warmed up by playing a name game called George. After that we played a Word association game. This game illustrated how our minds automatically make link s between random words. Then we played Automatic Story. In this game one player has to ask yes/no questions about the storyline of an unknown story that the other player has in mind. What the questioning player doesn’t know is that the person answering the questions is only saying yes to questions starting with a vowel and no to questions starting with a consonant. The person asking the questions is therefore making up the story without knowing it. This game illustrates how easy it is to make up our own stories. Cornelia commented how in life we also often think that someone else is in control of our stories, while we are actually the authors of our own life stories. The next game that we played was what happens next? This game took Monica on an adventure directed by the other players. She ended up making jam with massive peaches in a giant’s castle thanks to Mikes call back of the peaches mentioned at the start of the story. We then played yes and story and word at a time story. These games showed how important it is to listen to your fellow players and just ad to what other players contribute to the story. If you are willing to let go of your own idea of where the story should go you discover the story together. Luci introduced an interesting tilt in the story of Anny the ballerina when she said “encore”, breaking the tragic routine that was established by the platform of her broken toe.

Key concepts:

Reincorporation: Recycling or re-using ideas or situations from earlier in the story.

Platform: The who, what and where of a scene. Success of a scene often depends on a solid and clear platform.

Tilt: Interesting twist to advance a scene, or to cause status change.

Please share your thoughts.

Improv Class 4 – 23 Feb 2010

Class 4 was about character – how they walk talk and feel. We started the class with a relaxing exercise (see outline below). We made our way into the world of emotions by playing Emotion switch and Emotion box (passing a box around the circle, each player reacting with a larger emotion than the previous player). The game was ended after Luci threw the box out the window in a fit of rage..:-). We also played some gibberish games (Emotion gibberish and Gibberish switch). Gibberish helps one to focus more on how a character talks than what they say. How a character talks is just as important if not more important than what the character says. Gibberish also helps you to get out of your head. The last exercise of the class was Character Walks. These game shows you how your body can think for you to make up a character by just changing something about the way you move. You can change any part of your body, the speed of your movement or how you fill the space around you. It is amazing how the way you carry your body influence your feelings. We ended the class with a gibberish performance game called Cluedo. I loved how kryptonite turned into dirty socks and an airplane into an ostrich farm. In the end it is not about getting it right but about making a strong choice and sticking to it.

Key concepts

Gibberish – A made up language of witch the meaning is conveyed by action, expressions, or tone of voice.

Let your body think for you – By just changing something in your body you can come up with a whoel character with feelings, wants and passions.

Make a strong choice and stick to it – It is not always important what you choose but how you choose

The XYZ relax exercise

U – Unplug
V – Vent
X – Exhale
Y – Yield
Z – zzzzzz

Improvisation class 3 – 16 Feb 2010

The third class was all about give and take, listening and awareness. We started off with George and Zip Zap Zoom to warm up. Then we passed around imaginary balls that helped us to focus and pay attention to what others are doing. Wow… then we played the mirror game. I love the mirror game because it is so simple, but it really illustrates give and take very well (it gets you out of your head and into the “zone”). Then thinks started to get weirder and weirder. We passed a move and a sound around in the circle. Then one person had to go in the middle and make a move and a sound, give the focus to another player, who had to copy the move and sound and then go to the middle and morph into a new move and sound. We played two other variations of this game. In the first everyone copied the person in the middle and at any point anyone could take the lead and change the move and sound into something else. In the second variation we didn’t stay in a circle and anyone could take the lead. These exercises feel weird when you do it the first time, but if you can let go and really pay attention to what others are doing and once again make them look good (in this case accept whatever they are doing and do it with them) it is a wonderful experience of connecting with others and being in the moment. We ended the class with Monster talk (Speaking in unison) scenes which is also a great exercise in active listening and give and take.

Key concepts:

Give and take – It’s all about giving up and taking control, and sharing and taking the focus. To do this well, you have to be aware and present so that you know whether the situation requires of you to take or give up control/focus.

Listening and awareness – In Improv often referred to as being in the moment. It requires you to be present, pay attention to what is happening around you and to focus. To do this you need to let go, get out of your head and into your body.

Thanks again to everyone’s whole hearted participation. Please share some of your thoughts here.

Why bats hang upside down – slides for teachers

How stories ignite values in children

What follows is a series of slides I used for a 90 minute workshop I presented to grade 1-3 teachers. The workshop was done first on 2 Feb 2010 in Cape Town and repeated on 9 Feb in Johannesburg. I did it in partnership with the Kids Development Academy. Thank you to them for a well put together experience! Thanks too to all the wonderful teachers who attended and participated with such enthusiasm.

The slides below will probably make more sense to the teachers who attended than to the casual net surfer who happen to come across them. If you have any questions, by all means contact me.


• Insight into the link between story and values
• Ideas for lessons
• An experience of the power of stry.

Building character

The link between stories and values

Between the head that understands and the hand that acts, lies the treacherous landscape of the heart.

Why bats hang upside down

The story

Reflection questions

• How many of you have felt like this in your life?.
• Close your eyes and think about bat hanging upside down weeping.
• What is he feeling?

Get the feelings expressed

• Draw this weeping upside down bat.
• Lets all pretend to be bats. What clever way can you use your bodies to look like upside down bats?
• Let’s close our eyes and think what a bat’s cry might sound like.
• Let’s right down the words that describe these feelings


• Pretend that you are one of the animals or birds at the party and you heard about bat being thrown out.
• Make a card for bat to make him feel better
What can you draw/write to make him feel better?
• Put it aside for moment.

How values work – the story

Values diagram, simple

How values work – the theory

How values work, meaty

Counter reflection

• How many of you have been in Baboon or vulture’s shoes?
• How does it make you feel?
• Knowing how bat feels, does that change anything?
• Are there situation where kicking people out is important? Discuss/ find an appropriate story.

Stories hold up a mirror to your heart

Why use stories?

• Creates a safe space
• Brings distance for reflection
• Transforms abstract into concrete
• Participatory: involve entire person
• Purpose driven
• Particular to a community
• Communicate universally: symbols & archetypes
• Playful
• Learner centred

Final reflection

• What kind of person are you?
• What sort of class are we?
• Make a big painting/write the words/ create a song…

Why bats hang upside down – the story

Once upon a time before humans ruled the earth, animals reigned on the ground and in the tree trunks and birds reigned the sky and the tree tops Both animals and birds loved their world and loved who they were.
One day the animals decided to celebrate their ‘animalness’ and the word was spread across the land. When Bat heard the news he was very excited. He loved dressing up and he loved making friends. So, on the night of the party, he brushed his hair, gelled it with a bit of tree gum, cleaned his wings and set off. On the way he caught his reflection in a puddle and he winked at himself.
At the party he was just about to swagger in after the tall giraffe when a foot shot out and tripped him. Wait a minute’ said Big Baboon who was playing bouncer for the night. “You can’t come in”.
“Why not?” asked Bat surprised.
“Because you’re not an animal”, said Baboon, “you are a bird. Look at those wings and you only have two legs. OUT!”
“But I have fur and teeth. Look at me, I an animal”, pleaded bat.
“What about my ears?”
“Owls have ears and they are birds”
Bat tried a desperate dash through the door, but Baboon grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him out. He landed on a wing and bruised it. Limping home bat began to cry. At home he sat on a branch and the tears just kept streaming. He cried so much that the branch on which he sat got wet and slippery and Whoops! He slipped round it, his feet still clinging and there he hung, upside down, weeping.
A few weeks later the birds had a party. They too wanted to celebrate their ‘birdyness’ and the words was spread. Again bat got excited. He loved dressing up and he loved making friends. Again he brushed his hair, gelled it with gum and cleaned his wings. He paid extra attention to his wings. As he slinked off he caught his reflection in a puddle and winked.
At the party e was just about to glide in after Little Sparrow when a curvy beak grabbed him from behind. It was Vulture who was the bouncer for the night “Wait a minute”, Vulture said, “You can’t come in”.
“Why not?” asked Bat surprised, this time he did not expect trouble.
“You are not a bird, look at you, you have fur and teeth.”
“But look at my wings” said bat confidently, and I have two legs. Clearly I am a bird.
“Nonsense” said vulture” you don’t fool me, look at those ears”
“Owls have ears” bat whimpered.
“Owls ears are just sticky outy feathers, not real ears. OUT!”
“But the animals say I am a bird” he tried one last time
“OUT!” Said vulture and flung him out with a strong talon.
Bat landed with a leg twisted in under his body and sprained it. Limping home bat began to cry. At home he sat on a branch and the tears just kept streaming. He cried so much that the branch on which he sat got wet and slippery and Whoops! He slipped round it, his feet still clinging and there he hung, upside down, weeping.
And now ever since, bat hang upside down because they are neither animals nor birds.

Improvisation class 2 – 9 Feb 2010

The focus of the second improv class was to introduce the participants to improv basics.  We started the class with two warm-ups (Hero’s and Pattern circle) to get everyone playful and focused.   The gifts game followed to illustrate accepting a blind offer.  We played Yes but and Yes and to illustrate the difference between blocking and accepting.  The questions game showed how asking questions can be a way of accepting without adding new information.   In Improv this is called wimping.  Then we played Blind offers to illustrate how physical movement can also be an offer.  The class was ended with everyone doing two person scenes.

Key concepts

Blocking – Not accepting another player’s offer.

Accepting – Embracing each offer made by other players to advance the scene (Yes and).

Wimping – accepting offers but refusing to do anything with them.
Examples are:
Asking open questions , thus leaving the action to be decided by the other player.
Waffling, babbling without accomplishing any action.

Talking heads – When players talk about what they are doing or want to do instead of actually doing it.  Too much talk, too little action.

Thanks for everyone stepping up and doing your first scenes in front of others.   Some of you commented to me after the class that you have learned a lot but that it was difficult.  Applying these basic improv principles are difficult at first because we have to break through our defence mechanisms that makes us want to block and not take the risk of taking action.  I also think it is because we are not used to being in a space where our partner is there to make us look good.  As we get to know each other better and build more trust it will become easier.  Please share your comment…

Improvisation class 1 – 2 Feb 2010

Last night was the first class in a series of 8 Improv theatre classes. The objective of the class was to get everyone in a playful mood and to let everyone connect and get to know each other. In order to do this we played some name games such as Name circle, Super Heroes and Bang Bang. To get more playful we played Bodyguard, Yes lets and Giants, Wizards and Goblins. We ended the class with a word association game (To do dodo).

Key concepts that came out of the class:

  • To play you have to be present, focus on your fellow players and interact with your whole body not just your thoughts and words.
  • Make your partner look good.
  • We struggle to play because we are afraid of judgment so we try to hard
  • It is okay to make a mistake. It’s often our fear of failure that causes us to fail.
  • Everything is an offer even a mistake.
  • Let go and focus on the process not the outcome.

What struck me about the class was how everyone really engaged and took part even though it was a first class. I would like to thank you all for that.

Please feel free to add your comments.

  • What did you enjoy the most about the class?
  • What was difficult for you?
  • What new insight did you get?
  • Anything else you’d like to share?

The ABC of Self-confidence

Self confidence and self esteem – Can you have one without the other?

Can self confidence be learned? Is there a set of skills you can master and once you have them, you will be self confident? When you have self confidence, do you also automatically have good self esteem?

Self confidence is the belief and feeling that you can accomplish something worthwhile, something that somehow expresses who you are. You feel you can face whatever life throws at you. You may not win every time, but you will find a way to make it. It is a ‘can do’ attitude as opposed to an ‘I can’t’ attitude.

If you do not have a sense of mastery or personal power, you have no self confidence. You feel like you are good at nothing and fail at everything you try.

Self esteem, on the other hand has two components: Self confidence and self worth. The one cannot be without the other.

Your self esteem is a combination of how much you like yourself (self respect) and whether or not you think you can cope with life (self confidence). It is both an appreciation of your inner beauty and a recognition of your innate ability.

Self respect is the belief that you are okay with all your idiosyncrasies. You know that you have inner beauty and you are worthy of receiving love and admiration. Self confidence is the ‘can do’ attitude that makes you believe you have the ability to measure up to the challenges of life.

Looking at our definition of self esteem, it seems clear that self confidence is only a part of self esteem.

The difference between self esteem and self confidence is that the first comes from inside and must be coupled with respect for your own worth. Self confidence by itself can be learnt by mastering the skills of presentation and communication.

Self confidence can be learned

Learning the skills of looking self confident from outside, is a great way of starting to build your self esteem. You start outside and work inward. This is why parents who want to help their kids gain self confidence enrol them in drama or acting class.

To act you must learn certain techniques and skills to overcome your fear of doing stuff in front of other people.These skills can be transferred to any other context where you must face other people like going for a job interview or asking a girl out on a date.

Many situations in real life can be compared to performing in front of people. Performance skills can help you act confidently in these contexts.

How can a feeling be learned?

Now you may be wondering: if self confidence is a feeling and a belief, as stated at the beginning, how can it be learned from outside? Surely it must be cultivated from within…?

The truth is that even amongst the best of actors and directors, there is not agreement on this matter. One side insists that acting is best when it comes from a feeling inside and the others disagree saying that you can act out any feeling without having to truly experience it. This is the difference between Stanislavskian acting and method acting as opposed to Brechtian acting.

A Story

There is a story about Dustin Hoffman, an American method actor, who had to play a mentally disturbed man. He spent days in a mental institution attempting to feel what it must be like to be mentally il. When he met Laurence Olivier a famous British actor on set Olivier asked him: “Why did you go to all that trouble?” Hoffman answered: I have to be that man.” Why, asked Olivier, “can’t you just act it?”

I will not take sides, but rather say that the two: action and feeling is inseparable and are conversation partners just like self confidence is the conversation partner of self worth when you are building self esteem.

However, when you want to start cultivating a feeling, where do you find it? My answer: start acting the way you want to feel. It is what people mean when they say: fake it until you make it.

I like to say Fake it until you feel it.

Test it for yourself:

Right there where you are try the following sequence of actions and notice the change in how you feel:

1. Rub the palms of your hands together
2. Bite your lip.
3. Breathe faster and more shallow.
4. Look from side to side and even over your shoulder.
5. Wipe your hands on your thighs and take a deep breath…

What are you starting to feel inside?

Here are some of the answers I often get:

I feel anxious, nervous, suspicious, like I am hiding something, guilty, paranoid.

And all this just because of a few physical movements.

Now try the opposite:

1. Sit up straight.
2. Open up your shoulders.
3. Breathe more deeply
4. Smile.
5. Wink at the computer.

Now what are you beginning to feel inside?

Action and feeling feed each other

By learning certain skills, or ways of behaving, you can cultivate a feeling of confidence and power. If you act confidently even though you are nervous, people will respond to you as though you have power and know what you are doing. This will feed back into your feeling that you have power and confidence and you will act even more like it.

In the words of Aristotle, ” … we become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions” (Kilpatrick, 1992:97). I would add: to become self confident you need to perform confident actions.

So what are these skills and how do I learn them?

I can teach you my ABC of self confidence. These are all external skills that you can try out and use. They are a kind of checklist for you to tick off as you enter a potentially nerve racking situation where you need to muster as much confidence as you can. They are easy to understand and you can practise them easily by yourself and try them out anywhere.

I have used this ABC to teach Rap artists and singers to market their material to record companies. I taught it to actors and performers to improve their acting. I used it to teach environmentalists to present proposals for changing policy. I even used it to teach some ‘boring’ University professors to get their students interested in their material. Now you give it a try.

What about self respect?

However, without also cultivating self respect the outward appearance of confidence remains just an empty shell. You can be enormously successful from the outside, but feel unfulfilled, worthless and frustrated on the inside.

This is because you are not expressing who you are in what you are achieving. You do not think that what you really have to offer is worth the time and effort so you only do the things you know will work and feel confident about. Yet, you will always end up feeling empty.

How do you fix this problem?

The short answer is: follow your passion.

By all means apply the skills to any situation where you need them, but do so especially in contexts where you are afraid and nervous. In the pursuit of your passion you will have to make many difficult choices where you are uncertain of the outcome and where you will risk all sorts of things: money, reputation, relationships… It is in these moments especially where you must act as though you are confident and fake it until you make it… feel it.

These moments define who you are and prove to yourself your own self worth.