Patterns: at the heart of improv

Author: Preston Smith

Every scene has a patter. There I said it.

Improvisors usually refer them as the game with in the game, but I think we can get more clarity by studying patters with in the scene.

First, lets look at the simplest patter in improv or comedy for that matter, the rule of 3. The best example of this in the theater and comedy is the movie and play, Noise Off. The best example in improv is the game, New Choice. At several points in a scene the director will call out, new choice… when new choice is called, the performer who just said something or did something must redo what they just said of did in a different way. The idea is to make the pattern more elaborate as the pattern repeats, like you can see in the picture to the right. Other games to look for this pattern: Actors Nightmare and Survivor.

The rule of 3 can be used in every aspect of improv, the important thing is to recognize the rule of three and find your place in it. Are you a 1 a 2 or a 3 in this scene? Don’t be a 3 if you are a one and don’t be a 1 if you are a 3.

Above are examples of where the patter is inherently in games. However, patterns are every where in improv, if you know what to look for and how to play them. A patter is always established by the 2nd person. Really the first person has little to do with the patter besides offering a base, but it is usually not intended. The 2nd person takes something that the 1st person said or did and makes it into a pattern… after that it is all about listening to the pattern and filling it in with you.

Listening to the pattern is all about well… LISTENING. Listening for patters in emotion, relationship, dialog and so on… If you are hyper listening to the scene, you will find opportunity for patterns in every thing.

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