Improv 101 — Slideshow

Slideshow is a game that requires little explanation, but there is a lot to unpack. The success and quality of entertainment in this game relies heavily on the experience of the storyteller, as with games like Dime Store Novel. Since this is strictly a hoop game, there is no scene that needs to be developed (or at least not one that is necessary to actively establish), and this means that it can be taught to people with little to no acting experience.

This game is more pliable than most team games, and it can work from anywhere between four to six people, though the conventional four is ideal. One improviser works as a storyteller presenting a slideshow of pictures from their family trip to “X location a family would never vacation to”. (This premise isn’t vital. A storyteller can present these “photos” with any premise or location, this is simply what my troupe sticks to.) The storyteller stands downstage from the other improvisers (as if the improvisers are a screen) and gives their introduction. After this introduction, the improvisers stand in a series of poses and formations of their choosing, while the storyteller stares forward or to the side so they can’t see what they’re doing. When they make a finished picture, the ref gives a signal to the storyteller, and explains what is going on by justifying the often ridiculous poses in whatever setting this vacation happens to have been at. Once the picture is explained, the storyteller calls for “Next slide” and the improvisers take new poses to start the process over again. Depending on how long the explanation is for each slide, this should occur from five to eight times before the storyteller ends the presentation with something along the lines of “Thanks for coming, and I hope you all enjoyed my family’s trip to X.” At that point, the scene ends.

There’s a number of things that both parties should keep in mind as they play this game, as well as some more advanced things you can do when you get more experienced. As far as the posing improvisers go, their job is simple. all they have to do is make a few different poses, but there are still things to consider. First and foremost, when you take a pose, it should always be a pose that you can hold for at least a minute. If you do a squat and that’s the position you’re stuck in for the duration of this slide, your legs will start burning and you may or may not die if you’re not fit. This leads me to the second point of never breaking character. In this instance, your character is “a piece of a picture”, meaning you do not move. Ever. You get into position quick and you stay there until the storyteller says “Next slide.” Lastly, since you can choose each pose in every circumstance, you have the option of making things as easy or complicated for the storyteller as possible. Things tend to be funnier when you try to confuse the story, but it isn’t obligatory. You should also try to interact with the other posing improvisers. No collection of family photos will be filled with everyone doing things individually, there will inevitably be group pictures, so collaborate with your fellow improvisers. It makes things more enjoyable that way.

For the storyteller, things are a bit harder. Not only do you have to craft a story from scratch but you have to do it using people that may or may not cooperate with your ideas. The number one thing to remember is that you are doing a presentation. You should always explain what everyone is doing. If you have no justification for what one specific person is posing, the worst thing you can do is say “I don’t know what’s going on here” and move on. It’s your job to know what’s going on right there! You would never do a presentation where you’ve never seen the pictures you’re presenting, so find some explanation. Remember: it’s improv, it doesn’t have to make sense. Other things to think about: every picture can be independent of the next if you want it to be. You can swap characters around, only bring them up once, whatever floats your boat. As long as you give an introduction, explain each piece of every slide, and conclude the presentation, you’ve done your job.

If you’re confident in your storytelling ability, you can go further. You can say things like “The carnage that happened in this next slide still haunts me to this day” without having seen the slide. This will force you to explain why you said that, which is especially difficult if your improvisers choose to mess with you and deliberately make a particularly tranquil picture for you to justify. Audiences love when you do things like this. You can also throw in funny comments like “I don’t know how this slide got in there, lets skip it” to make the improvisers immediately change pose, or “Sorry, this slide is blurry” to justify improvisers on the slide that are laughing and breaking character. Just remember that if you do things like this, it cannot happen more than once in a game, and should never be in every game you play. These are shticks to use to cover mistakes or to get a quick chuckle, and if you oversell them they lose their charm.

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