Favourite Warm Ups: “Endless Box”

One of my favourite quickfire warm-up games is called “Endless Box”. This is how I play it:

Two improvisers – for our purposes named Improviser A and Improviser B – crouch or sit opposite one another. The game begins with Improviser A with his hand resting atop a mimed cardboard box, about two feet square.

At a given signal, Improviser A opens the mimed box, reaches inside and pulls out random objects and names them. The aim of the game is to go as fast as possible and to get as many different objects out of the box within a given time, usually only or minute or two.

Improviser B’s job is to help them in three ways:

  1. by reacting with joy and excitement to every object that appears
  2. by helping them overcome any stumbles or blocks
  3. by encouraging them to go faster

Tips:

  • When naming the objects, avoid additional words such as “It’s a”. So don’t say “It’s a shoe, it’s a horse, it’s a flatiron.” Go straight to: “Handbag! Apple pie! Rhino! Clothes line!”
  • If you get stuck on one object, for example, pulling only shoes from the box, you can push your mind to other places, by pulling different types of shoe: “Brown shoe! Old shoe! Tennis shoe! Tennis racket!” etc. Improviser B can help by pointing to different parts of the box, which for some reason yield different kinds of object.
  • If your whole head goes blank, then literally draw a blank and name it. “Blank! Blank! Blank!” Keeping the fast rhythm going will help to restart the flow of new ideas. You won’t find anything by trying to think stuff up in advance. 
  • If you start pulling filthy, dark and depraved material from your box, don’t worry! No one is judging you except you! That stuff in your head is the result of anxiety, and if you simply allow it to come out and don’t feel anxious, your box will start to deliver up happier goods. 
  • Have fun.

I’ve noticed that different improvisers seem to develop different tactics for discovering and naming the objects they pull from the box. Some manage to really “see” and “feel” the objects before they name them. Others go faster, but pull abstract or gibberish words out, without physically feeling them. Whichever you find to be your default method, try it the other way.

There is joy in absolutely surprising yourself, of stepping outside your comfort zone and allowing yourself to be an egoless conduit for ideas, and this applies in both the role of naming objects and that of assisting.

I played this game for the first time in ages at a Crunchy Frog workshop led by Ruth Bratt a few weeks ago. I noticed how easy it is to get locked into the same set of objects, to go around in circles, or to get attached to a set of related ideas.

It occurred to me that the difficulty wasn’t in coming up with objects, but in letting go of them. Amazing ideas are everywhere, but even when we’ve named them and used them in a scene, there can still be a sense of ownership over them. Thoughts are adhesive, remaining stuck to their originator long after they’ve emerged from the mouth. But as soon as they’re spoken, the words, ideas and feelings we produce should belong to the entire scene. When I’m on stage, I want to be like Improviser B, encouraging my scene partner to let go of their ideas so that they don’t get stuck in their heads, and so we can all enjoy them.

I played the game again, concentrating less on what object I was going to pull out next, but on how to get rid of the object in my hands. It became much easier.

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