Improv 101 — ABA

First on the list of warm-up games is ABA. I would argue that this is the most important game for any improviser to learn, because this sets the building blocks for learning any game moving forward. This isn’t really a “game” in the sense that you would ever see it performed, it’s just for practice so that the actors can learn how to start scenes without scripts.

The game itself is simple. It only requires two performers and each run-through typically only takes about fifteen to twenty seconds. One person, Person B, starts on stage, pantomiming. They can be pantomiming anything at all. The other, Person A, walks on and says a line. Person B responds to this line, and Person A makes one second a final statement. “A-B-A”. At that point, the game is concluded.

The goal of this game is for beginning improvisers to learn and practice the basics of establishing a core scene concept designated by the acronym “CROW”. This stands for Characters, Relationship, Objective, and Where. The scene must establish ‘Characters’, involving who the two characters are individually without the other person. (Saying two people are sisters is referring to relationship, not character.) If a scene involves a mother and son, the characters could possibly ‘six year old child’ and ‘middle-aged woman/mother’. ‘Relationship’ is who the characters are in reference to the other. This could be siblings, mentor-student, coworkers, things like that. ‘Objective’ refers to the conflict of the scene. Are they trying to get to school on time, land a plane, or somehow fly a kite on the moon? Sometimes the characters have different or even opposing objectives, and that’s okay. This could easily bring more tension (and therefore conflict) to the scene. ‘Where’, of course, is simply the location in which the scene takes place. Most often you want to be as specific as possible. Don’t say ‘house’ if you can say ‘in the kitchen’ etc.

What many beginning actors learn is that a lot of CROW can be established through implication rather than statement. If B is pantomiming something and Person A runs on stating “Honey, honey, no! Not on the walls!” then, regardless of what else is happening in the scene, we can infer all of CROW just from that one line. A is a parent, B is a child (mingling Character and Relationship here). The objective is to have fun (the child) and stop the child from ruining the house (the parent). Obviously, this would take place in the house. The coolest part about that is the fact that both characters each have one more line even though they’ve already established all of CROW. This could then be used to further the scene and perhaps fine out the details. What exactly is the child doing to the walls? Where’s the other parent? Things like that.

Ideally, most scene games should start off as “ABA”. When you’re performing longer games, establishing CROW is important because if we have characters with no objective, there is nowhere for the scene to go.

The key thing here is to practice how scenes work. Remember that pantomiming requires space and weight. Don’t forget that there is a stapler in your hands and suddenly make it stop existing. Don’t deny what the other person is doing, and especially don’t ask them what they are doing. If you don’t know what they are doing or don’t know how to come on as an appropriate character, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk on and establish them as flying a plane when they were really pantomiming chopping carrots or reading. Now suddenly they have to justify why flying a plane looks like whatever action it is they were doing.

Remember, the beauty of improv is that while there are limits to what you can do to “succeed” on stage, there will still always be several ways to get there. There’s a way around every roadblock you come across in a game.

 

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