Theatre: Improvisation High School Course Description

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heatre: Improvisation

High School

  • Course Description

Course Title: Theatre: Improvisation SH A/B

Transcript Title(s)/Abbreviation(s): THEA IMPROV A/B

Course Code(s): 380505/06

Subject Area and Category

x “f” – Visual & Performing Arts

x Theater Arts (Intro)

Grade Level: 10 11 12

Unit Value: 1.0 (one year, 2 semesters, or 3 trimesters equiv.)

Pre-Requisites: Theatre SH, Theatre History & Production SH or Theatre Ensemble SH x Required

  • Textbooks


Title: Basic Drama Projects

Edition: 8th

Publication Date: 2004

Publisher: Perfection Learning

Author(s): Fran Averett Tanner

Usage: x Primary Text Read in entirety or near entirety
(Be sure to list any additional textbooks that are used for the class.)

Spolin, Viola, Theatre Games for the Classroom ISBN: 0-8101-4004-7, Theatre Games for Rehearsal ISBN: 0-8101-4002-0, Theatre Games File

Boal, Augusto, Games for Actors and Non-Actors

Rohd, Michael, Theatre for Conflict, Community and Dialogue ISBN: 0-325-00002-6

Kipnis, Claude, The Mime Book ISBN: 0-916260-55-0

  • Course Content

Course Purpose:

The emphasis of this course is to provide the basic skills of improvisation: listening, clarity, confidence and performing instinctively and spontaneously. Students will experience performing improvisational scenes individually, in pairs and as part of an ensemble for a small audience.

Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment, fellow actors and inner feelings. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, acting practices, dramatic structures and/or symbols. This invention cycle occurs most effectively when the practitioner has a thorough intuitive and technical understanding of the necessary skills and concerns within the domain of improvisational theatre. Film, television and other media productions based on improvisation will also be included in the course of study.

Students will gain understanding of the art and practices of theatrical improvisation, which can be thought of as an "on the spot" or "off the cuff" spontaneous activity that occurs within specific structures and parameters.

Students will consider essential questions such as: what makes an improvisational scene successful? How do the actors involved work together responsively to define the parameters and action of the scene, in a process of co-creation?

Course Outline:

I. History and Rules of Improvisation

A. Commedia Dell’Arte

B. Vaudeville

C. Happenings

D. Viola Spolin and beyond

E. Political Uses

1. San Francisco Mime Troupe

2. Teatro Campesino

3. Capitol Steps

4. Second City

F. Rules

1. Don’t deny a fact.

2. Find a variety of methods to achieve the objective.

3. Listen and respond.

4. Want your objective NOW.

G. Criteria for critiquing improvisation

II. Stories, Characters & Themes

A. Retell stories

B. Characters in new situations

C. Variations on themes

III. Action/Reaction

A. Basic partner pantomime

B. Two Characters with Opposing Objectives

C. Obstacles

D. Small Group Improvs

IV. Physicality & Facial Expression

A. Silent Film

B. Neutral Mask

C. Mime

V. Listening and Speaking

A. Two-Character Conversations

B. Group Conversations

C. Two-Way Conversations

D. Three-Headed Expert

VI. Working the Improv Muscle: Games

A. Spolin Theatre Games

B. Boal Improvisation Games

C. Comedy Sportz Games

D. Compare and contrast styles through discussion and writing

VII. Improv in Film, TV & Media

A. Improvisational Shows

1. Whose Line Is it Anyway

2. Second City

B. Situation Comedies with Improvisation

1. Mork and Mindy

2. Family Matters

3. Frasier

C. Improv Actors

1. Robin Williams

2. Jaleel White

3. Kelsey Grammer

4. Eddie Murphy

VIII. Solo and Ensemble Performance

A. Solo Improvisation Exercises

B. Partner Performances

C. Ensemble Performances

D. Audience Participation

E. Evaluate work with written critiques

Key Assignments

  • Perform before a live audience in an original production or showcase that includes improvisation or inspired by improvisational exercises.

  • Research the work of noted contemporary improvisational theatre companies including the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Teatro Campesino, Capitol Steps and Second City. Present results to class orally and in a written report.

  • Describe the ways that improvisation in theatre reflects and influences culture and politics.

  • Participate in discussions and improvisational activities and theatre games.

  • Keep a daily reflective journal.

Instructional Methods and/or Strategies:

  • Research projects will be developed and shared.

  • Improvisations will be created, critiqued and revised.

  • Journals will be kept; prompts will be provided.

  • Samples of improvisational performing will be viewed.

  • Theatre Games will be done regularly.

  • Discussions of work viewed and developed will be done regularly.

Assessments Including Methods and/or Tools:

  • Journals will be read and graded. They will include class notes, improvisation ideas, comparisons of student work to work observed, and self reflection.

  • Research projects will be graded. Projects will provide an analysis of a type of improvisation and show how it relates to culture and politics of the period.

  • Rubrics will be created and used for performance skills. Students will create and apply the rubrics to their own work, the work of other students, and the work they view.

  • Students will self access as well as be accessed by the instructor. They will use assessment to determine ways to improve.

Artistic Perception:

  • Students will view and discuss various styles of improvisation using the language of theatre. They will learn vocabulary associated with improvisation. They will compare various types of improvisation they experience. They will analyze the connection between improvisation and culture and politics.

  • Apply technical vocabulary to acting and production problems.

  • Use appropriate theatre vocabulary to respond to productions in terms of acting values, style, genre, design and theme.

  • Document observations and perceptions of production elements noting mood, pacing and use of space through class discussion and reflective writing.

  • Demonstrate an understanding of form, content and dramatic structure in theatre.

Creative Expression:

  • Students will be performing theatre games regularly as part of daily instruction. They will perform short improvisations as they learn the techniques. They will perform several types of improvisations before various audiences.

  • Use movement and voice to convey character and setting.

  • Create improvisational scenes that demonstrate expository technique by communicating information to the audience through story points.

  • Apply a high degree of sensory awareness in improvisation, pantomime and play making.

  • Write plays developed from group improvisations that illustrate dramatic concepts for scripting (character, conflict, crisis and resolution).

Historical and Cultural Context:

  • Students will research and present information on various improvisational groups from different historical periods, different cultures or different political and social interests. They will view works of various groups and compare and contrast as well as analyze how improvisation is reflected in and also reflects a culture or society.

  • Participate in and learn the structure of an extensive repertory of theatre games from Spolin, Boal, Rohd and others.

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the history and use of improvisation in theatre forms from around the world including indigenous theatre and story telling from pre-literate cultures; stock characters (clowns, villains, lovers, etc.) from medieval pageant plays, commedia dell’arte and melodrama; and satirical improvisation.

  • Explain how culture affects the content and production elements of improvisational theatre performances.

Aesthetic Valuing:

  • Students will reflect on their own work in their journals and by applying rubrics. They will compare their work to the work of their peers and to the work they view. They will analyze why they appreciate some work more than others. They will continually strive to improve their work based on criteria in rubrics.

  • Develop criteria to use in critical reviews of improvisational performances.

Connections, Relationships, and Applications:

  • Material for improvisations will connect to subjects of concern to the students. They will use issues from their lives for the work. Learning improvisational skills prepares students for the unexpected occurrences they meet in life. They learn how to listen and respond appropriately even in uncomfortable situations.
  • Apply collaborative improvisational theatre techniques in the exploration of personal and social issues and in problem solving.

  • Use time effectively to accomplish tasks on deadline using a variety of theatre techniques and technologies.

  • Integrate theatrical skills with other art forms to make improvisational presentations in other curricular areas and classes.

Common Core State Standards: See Guiding Principles for connections.
Credentials required to teach this course:
One of the following:

General Secondary

Special Secondary English

Standard Secondary with major/minor English

Standard Secondary with major/minor Drama

Single Subject English

Subject Matter Authorization Drama/Theatre

Supplementary Authorization Drama


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