|Montreal Improv: l-r Bryan Walsh, Kirsten Rasmussen, François Vincent, Marc Rowland (photo credit: Jeremy Bobrow)|
A Guide to Improv Terms
by Kirsten Rasmussen Of Montreal Improv
Interested in hanging with improvisers, or taking a few improv classes or just like learning new languages? Well then this guide is for you. A guide to improv terms includes my pick of the most used improv vocabulary that will keep you up to speed in any nerd-out improv session.
Here they are in no particular order with examples and each word used in a sentence. Enjoy.
Offer- An offer is any info given in a scene that helps define the scene, or any contribution to a scene. Can be as simple as, “Hey Mom.” The offer would be that the relationship is mother/child. Or as complex as “King Reginald the townspeople are so angry that you have raised the taxes yet again!” An offer can also be physical like skipping into a scene, or being a tree in the background, or stirring a coffee.
Benny’s offer of being an invisible cat was an odd one.
Blocking- Blocking is when one improviser ignores or says no to another improviser’s offer. Example 1) Jenny walks into the scene and says, “What a beautiful, sunny day out there!” and Benny replies “NO! It’s a thunderstorm dummy.” 2) Benny, to Jenny, “Hey Auntie Gertrude.” Jenny replies, “I’m a unicorn destined to save the universe from goblins.”
Jenny blocked Benny’s offer of an apple pie, by picking up the mime pie and shooting it like a gun.
Platform- Platform is the strong base created for an improv scene hopefully in the first ¼ of the story. A platform includes the elements Who, Where and What. Who is the story about? Where does the story take place? And What is the story about? The What should refer back to the Who, or in other words back to the relationship.
Example: Who: A baker and his long time assistant.
Where: In the bakery at closing time.
What: The baker is retiring and wants to share his famous muffin recipe with his assistant.
Their platform was too complicated. Did they really have to be a fire fighter and a ballet dancer on the moon if they just wanted to fall in love over a spaghetti dinner?
Wimping- Wimping is when an improviser isn’t committing to an offer, or is hesitating to take action on an offer. Jenny: “Hey Benny, you’re face is melting from that acid rain.” Benny “Oh, yeah…….. weird.”
The scene was supposed to include a rocket launch. Benny wimped by just spending the whole scene packing for a rocket launch. I WANTED TO SEE A ROCKET LAUNCH!!
Pimping- When improviser A makes improviser B do something uncomfortable or unfair, and therefore making Improviser B look bad. Like Benny telling Jenny to recite a Sonnet while performing that strip tease she has been practicing.
Benny looked like a real idiot when Jenny pimped him into reciting a haiku, and he didn’t know what a haiku was.
Short Form- Meaning shorter scenes that have nothing to do with one another. Any format like Maestro, Theatresports, Ligue Nationale D’improvisation, Sunday Night Improv at Theatre St. Catherine and Smackdown at Montreal Improv are short form shows.
Most beginner improvisers start by doing short form.
Long Form- Hmmm, well, you guessed it, longer scenes, often connected creating one narrative, or many narratives of a similar theme weaving together. Classic examples are a Harold, an Armando, and ASSSSCAT. In town examples are The Bitter End, Dick and Honey and the court format Uncalled For does every once in awhile.
In New York, the improv theatres primarily perform and teach long form.
Tasking: Tasking is miming, doing an activity on stage in an improv scene. Like digging or rolling a cigarette.
Tasking helps to create an environment without having to make a verbal offer, or in addition to a verbal offer.
Blow Line- This term refers to finding a big laugh line to end a scene on. Often needed if the platform of a scene is really weak, and the improvisers just need to find an entertaining way to stop the nonsensical scene. Often puns, euphemisms and calling back to early jokes work well for blow lines. The line is delivered, the audience laughs and the lights go out.
Benny’s lame attempt at a blow line was him referring to a Fat Bastard line from Austin Powers 3. Not cool, Benny.
There you are, ladies and gents. A few improv jargon words for ammo in any nerdy analyzing improv session. And when I say nerd… I mean the sexy kind. Yes, I do.