In the Canadian Improv Games there are a variety of games, tools, and tricks used to teach new-comers (to improv). A common tactic is to take what must be learned and turn it into a game. One of the most widely known Improv games that does this is the Five Element Game. Part of its extensive use is that it's easy to do and easy to teach. As well, it's an immediate kick-off into the theory of Improvisation.

The game begins with a team (usually a group of 5-8 people, but could be any number) on stage. They ask for a suggestion (ie: location, object, emotion) and then someone off to the side (usually the coach) begins to call out the elements. As they call them, the team is supposed to begin incorperating them into the scene. The five elements, in proper order (with some minor disagreements) are: Setting, Character, Problem, Rising Action, and Solution.

At the beginning of the game (or scene, as it is commonly referred as) the Improvisers begin to create a setting. They do this vocally, physically and through mime. If the setting was a jungle, one player may begin to do a cooing sound of a parrot, another makes himself into a gnarled tree, while a third could pull themselves out of some sort of wreck. From here, we've established that it takes place in some sort of rain forest area, there are birds here and that a plane (or similar vehicle) crashed.

The Five Elements of Improvisational Theatre in the Canadian Improv Games

1. Setting (The when and where of a scene, as well as the what is around)

Remember, settings don't have to be static. Just because you've got a barber shop, doesn't mean you cannot move (have a wandering barbershop quartet that performs and cuts hair!). Make it an active problem. Don't keep the scene on a single part of the stage.

Whatever has been created cannot be uncreated. There is a 2x2 desk, center stage, four feet high? It exists in that space. Treat is as if it were real. If you hit it, complain about injuring your leg as you knock it over. All actions have reactions, definately so with mimed objects and creations.

Don't feel you cannot start as a box, table, tree or stamp-making machine. All players should (I know you'll disagree with me, but on a good team this can be true) have a use in the scene (be it as a phone, a table, an annoying bird, ect). Also, don't feel obligated to stay as such. Objects can become people, but the reverse can also be very true (and effective).

The only limitations you have are those placed brought on by your team and by yourself. If you are a table and someone is leaning on you, confine yourself to such a state and continue with that limitation.

Be bound by the rules of Improv-land (remember, you make your own, so you should never feel bad about these) and those of your team. Be consistant in these (in at least some recognizable fashion).

Break all rules sooner than doing poor improv.

2. Character (the who and how do the characters relate of a scene)

Feed your teammates with characteristics. You don't need to be doing the character event to have strong characters. In fact, strong characters with real lives (choices, feelings, desire and needs) should be essential to all scenes.

Instead of asking or explaining, just assume. "James is a wealthy business man. I'll be his low status (but still helpful... who would keep someone who was useless) butler." Your teammates will pick-up on your offers if you make them strong and with a definate choice (eventually, people will just recognize offers subconciously and go with them). Be clear in your own offers, to help your fellow improvisors.

Make characters and be consistant in them. If you are the student, don't start ordering the principle around unless you are willing to justify it (and accept the consequences. People in positions of authority usually wield it, as needed. Think about it, would someone really, out-of-the-blue, demand that a cop go get them a drink?). Stick to your own abilities. If you cannot keep a French accent for more than a couple words, don't. Create your character as a well spoken English-man working for the French guard (or whatever).

Real people have goals. So should your characters. They don't have to directly relate to the scene, but just having this will colour your character. It does not matter if they reach this goal in the scope of a four minute scene, but it just being there will make your characters more interesting and fuller.

A minor problem can still be captivating with believable relationships. Go beyond just the skin of a character. How do they react to their environment? How do they react (and what do they think about) the other characters? What do they want RIGHT NOW? What do they want, eventually? Pick these and stick with them, as long as it's viable (and in character for you to do so). Don't hold a character that is just bogging down the scene.

Never get so into a character that you stop forwarding a scene. Your main goal should be to continue forwarding the action of a scene.

3. Problem (what goes wrong in the scene)

Many new improvisors make the mistake of immediately jumping a problem. Don't. In order for a scene to go anyway, you'll need characters and a place to act them in.

When creating a problem, don't immediately make it the worst thing possible. Keep it important to the characters, without being deadly.

Problems come naturally from interesting characters in well-created settings. Although it may not seem entirely obvious when you start, if you let the characters put themselves into a problem, you can create a much more interesting scene.

One problem is enough for any scene to be wonderful. And even the smallest problem can be made important.

4. Rising Action (why do we care about the problem)

Here is where you make things worse.

After the problem is established, find a way to make the audience care. Why is it so important that the characters solve the problem?

Although the easiest way to go about this is to have it end with, "I'll die if I don't get ______", this doesn't mean it's the best. You want to create empathy and find a reason for the audience to be so involved with the problem.

Just because you need the audience to care, doesn't mean it has to be a serious scene. It does mean you have to take the scene seriously, though. Remember, if you don't care, the audience certainly won't.

Remember, though, there is a big difference between making the problem worse and in creating a new problem. Although it can be funny to keep throwing things at a character in an impossible to solve manner, the scene ends up going absolutely nowhere.

5. Solution (how is it solved)

By the time you get here, everything should be coming together.

An "act of god" solution, although easy, rarely leaves the audience satisfied. Try to make the solution organic to what you've already created.

Where you are and what you've already done should play a major part in the solution. Good improv involves looking back at what has been created and using it to bring the scene to a close.

Once the problem is solved, the scene is over. This may seem obvious, but when you're up on stage you may find yourself wanting to create more and more. This is unnecessary. The scene is over once we have resolution.

No matter how your scene goes, in your opinion, end it with enthusiasm. Nothing kills an audience more than to see people just walk of stage, kicking themselves about how poorly they did. If you end high, the audience ends high.

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