Extreme improvisation challenge.
- Set a field of live mousetraps on a stage.
- Demonstrate to the audience, preferably with a carrot as an example, the startling and yet hilarious results which occur when the trap goes off. You're building tension here.
- Blindfold two or more improvisers.
- Set two other players or stagehands to watch the sidelines and to physically intervene should one of the blindfolded players wander off the stage.
- Have the blindfolded improvisers remove their shoes.
- Start the improv. Anything. Get a suggestion of where two people might meet. Or not. It really doesn't matter what the scene is about, because the audience won't be paying any attention to the narrative, or the emotional truth, or for that matter any clever jokes the improvisers might be making. The audience will be laughing like mad and screaming for blood.
Although familiar to many improv audiences from the live shows of Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie, who play an Alphabet Scene in a field of 100 live mousetraps, Sherwood credits TheatreSports with the game.
Sherwood, a former member of Los Angeles TheatreSports, likely learned the game from Dave Bushnell and Dan O'Connor. O'Connor saw the Three Canadians play the game as part of their busking at the Orlando Fringe Festival in 1994. At the same time, Paul Killam brought the game to San Francisco to Bay Area TheatreSports, where he and Bushnell introduced it to audiences (Killam had asked Derek Flores of the Canadians for permission to "steal" the game). Killam describes how it went over: "They howl and scream like NOTHING you've ever heard at an improv show... The audience reaction is NOT howls and screams of laughter. It is more akin to a roller coaster." Bushnell and O'Connor had played it in L.A. by 1996. O'Connor introduced the game to Ireland, and from San Francisco, Sean Hill brought the game to Austin, Texas's TheatreSports.
It's entirely possible, however, that the game is not a Canadian import at all, but something that Eric Amber picked up from other buskers in New Zealand and added to The Three Canadians repertoire.
Notes for improvisers:
- The hindbrain exerts a powerful force. It will recoil from entering into situations which may cause physical pain, and makes it very difficult to perform a scene. You will have to will yourself to move out on that stage without your sight.
- Speak first. Tell the other actor, "Come here. I need to see you."
- If the other actor beats you to it, reply "Yes, sir, you're ready for your skipping practice, aren't you."
- No, you can't lose a toe from this game.
- Yes, it hurts like a motherfucker.
- Walk with your toes up.
- You're a jaguar. A kangaroo rat. A tightly wound spring. If something so much as breathes on your foot, jump straight up. And if you do get snapped, milk it. The audience will scream more. Bushnell would use the adrenaline rush of the pain to become more animated, and stomp around the stage, setting off more traps and more audience screams.
- Move light and fast, but not too far too fast. You don't want to outwit the safety techs and walk off the stage.
- It makes a great fundraiser for your troupe, if you start with a dozen mousetraps and then say, "for every dollar you contribute, we'll place another one on the stage."
- This is common sense, but you don't open a show or come back from intermission with this scene. You've got to have the audience on your side already. You can't save a dying show with this gimmick. It is possible for this scene to come across as gratuitous and boring at the same time, when what you're aiming for is gratuitous and exciting.
- Don't play it often. It loses its value seen too many times.
- Oh, and if you actually were to avoid setting off any mousetraps, and be perfectly safe... your audience would be sorely disappointed.
Tim Ereneta, Paul Killiam, Chris Vose, Barbara Scott, et al. "Mousetrap! (Three Canadians)" alt.comedy.improvisation. April 30, 1997.
Paul Killam. "Moustrap Game." alt.comedy.improvisation. January 20, 1999.
Dan O'Connor. "Mousetrap/Copyrights/Hero's Journey." alt.comedy.improvisation. January 19, 1999.
Brad Sherwood. Interview with Ben Kharakh. One Trick Pony. <http://onetrickpony.ws/brad_sherwood> (8 November 2005)