The Quest Group Game

by Ben Whitehouse.

Angela Dee, a fellow New York improviser, discusses one of her favorite group games The Quest. Although I spent years performing the KROMPF improv form, the quest was really not something we focussed on when we performed group games. I think it’s a type of group game many improvisers don’t have in their repertoire, or even know exists and one they should think of adding.

One thing to note, Angela explains The Quest group game is “pretty plot-driven which a lot of improvisers worry about” being that most of the times in scenes, we want to stay on game and not follow plot. However, in this context we are talking about plotty in the sense of having a narrative, not in the sense of the absence of game. We still want to follow the game of the scene, although those scenes are part of a greater narrative context.

Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to do the Gator 600/performance class at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. I don’t know how that happened (I think a little birdy said a little something to a certain someone, but he flat-out denies it). It was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken and it changed the way I played. I wish Ryan Karels and Neil Casey would teach more than they do, dammit!

One of the many great things about The Gator (the “Krompf” form as taught by Ryan and Neil) is a group game called The Quest.

How is it that no one knows about this game? It is frigging excellent!

First off, I should say that group games are a complete mystery to me. Basically, I had a crash-course in them with my 301 class and we touched on them in one of the eight 401 sessions I had, but other than that I’ve basically been winging it ever since. Gavin Speiller used to teach a Group Game 501/ASH which I really wanted to do, but it doesn’t seem like he does those anymore and, other than that, it seems like group games are not really a focus at the UCB (might be a good elective for someone to teach… hint, hint). So, when we set out to learn The Quest in the Gator class, I was excited!

The Quest is an improv take on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey – If you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

It is pretty plot-driven which a lot of improvisers worry about, but when it’s done right it is magic. It is a great game to play when a character needs to do something very important – i.e. save someone, find something, get home, etc. There are 7 steps to the game:

Continue Reading: An improv post – The Quest group game

The Secunda Argument Wheel

by Ben Whitehouse.

Going through my improv notebook today, I found a wonderful description and questionable diagram from an improv 401 class I took with Billy Merritt back in 2007. The illustration depicts what Merritt described as the “Secunda Argument Wheel” lovingly named after his Swarm teammate Andrew Secunda.

What the digram illustrates, rather comically, is the idea of resting the game (point of interest, contention) and exploring something else in the scene. Returning to that point of interest heightens the scene and also rewards the players with a powerful pattern to play with.

I wish I had remembered this diagram last year when I took a class with Secunda, as I have no idea how he would react to anyone naming something the “Secunda Argument Wheel.” Although I do remember that Billy Merritt did preface the SAW as something he admired in Secunda’s playing.

If we hear about a retaliatory “Billy Merritt Wheel”, we’ll let you know.

What is the meaning of Improv?

by Philip Buuck.

First, thanks for the warm welcome Ben, I look forward to participating in the community here!

I’m a life long fan of comedy, and have been intrigued by improv ever since I learned that Ghostbusters was created by a bunch of guys who were good at it. And I thought, from watching many shows, that I ‘had’ it. After all, Truth in Comedy isn’t a long book. I’ll just get this 100 pages under my belt, and then practice until I get good!

Turns out that improv, like any other art, is a little more complex than that.

In my class at iO Theater with Craig Uhler (both the theater and the teacher come highly recommended) we were asked to do a basic exercise. Two people, with a conflict, but the trick was we couldn’t actually talk about the conflict itself. Simple, yes, but as a long time fan and only recent participant, it was enough to keep me occupied onstage.

As the pairs took turns, some groups made excellent scenes. Upon study of these excellent scenes, we came to realize that they were good because they focused on development of the characters instead of the conflict. That is to say, they used the given conflict as a starting point, and fleshed out their relationship from there.

In comparison, the scenes that didn’t go anywhere (I have a feeling mine was one of them) got hung up on the stuff that they were given as a start, and were unable to break away into the life behind the stuff.

When performing in a two person scene, there are exactly two topics that will make the scene work, the audience laugh, and the students sign up for your classes. These two topics are guaranteed to always be the right topics to focus on, from now until the end of time.

Those topics are you and the other person.

Anything else, the setting, the conflict, the situation, all of it is dependent on the two of you (or however many there are on stage). Don’t worry about that. Find out who that other person is, and the scene will slowly unfold organically, and the audience will laugh.

A basic point, sure, one that the experienced and intelligent readers of Improvoker have had drilled into their heads for years. But the next time you’re watching a scene that isn’t quite working, whether it’s a performance, a class, or whatever, be sure to keep an eye on how much character development you are seeing. Odds are, it’s not enough. There’s no humanity in the improv, just an attempt at jokes. And without humanity, there’s no scene and no funny.

12 Week 501 Starting in August

by Ben Whitehouse.

I just finished up my second 501 at the Upright Citizens Brigade with Anthony King and by the end of 8 weeks it was clear, we wanted more classes together. We had all started to “get” each others playing styles and were also starting to see what Anthony was talking about in scenes. After our final performance we all wanted more.

This was also true of my first 501 a year ago with Chris Gethard for another reason. Chris had really let us devise our own path with our improvisation and was pushing us to own our philosophies. By the end of 8 weeks we had just scratched the surface of what was possible. After our final performance we all wanted more.

So when news that UCB had decided to start offering classes for August with a 12 week class schedule, I have to admit, I was excited. I think the major reason I was excited was because I have a problem in letting my inhabitions go around performers I don’t know. It takes me at least 4 weeks to feel comfortable enough to let loose in class and by week 8 I am finally feeling totally comfortable (this is one of those ongoing things I battle with in my improvisation).

I’m also a firm believer, due in large part to the teachings of Chris Gethard, that group mind in one of the pillars of longform improvisation. It’s that magic glue that binds performers on stage to one another and let’s them seemingly read each other’s minds. If you are really working on forming group mind, it may be possible by 8 weeks, but again it’s another reason why 12 weeks appeals to me. That’s good group mind territory.

Unfortunately all this extra class time doesn’t come without a price. A 12 week 501 class is now $475 up from an 8 week class of $350. If you do the math, UCB has not raised the price per class, about $40, but for students looking at their scant checking accounts it may be a deterrent. However, I think it’s a move in right direction and as always, UCB still offers other 8 week classes at lower levels.

UCB also let us know that they have no plans at the moment to discontinue 8 week 501′s. So everybody gets the best of both worlds.

So, is 12 weeks the right time, or was 8 great? Speak up.

Which Improv School is Right for Me?

by Ben Whitehouse.

Hi Improvoker folks-I was just wondering if you could enlighten me on something. With so many improv schools available, it’s hard to decide which one is the best, or if there even is a best. There’s PIT, UCB, Magnet Theater, National Improv Theater, etc., etc. I’ve already taken a level 1 class at UCB. Do you recommend that I stick with them and go up the ranks or is there one school that is better than the other?

Sometimes I get intimidated by all the glitz and glamour attached to UCB and it makes me want to go somewhere that is not as high profile. Of course, then I become concerned that I won’t be getting as good an education from a less high-profile school or that agents tend to frequent one school more than the other yada yada yada. Any words of encouragement for a new improv-er?

I really appreciate it!


Well TC, as you can imagine this is some pretty subjective and delicate territory. What works for some people doesn’t work for others and people can get very defensive about their chosen school. You will undoubtedly meet people who will slag a school because “they suck,” but at the end of the day, every person’s sense of what is funny is different. I can only talk from personal experience and my involvement in the New York improv community, but I’ll try to give you as objective an opinion as possible

Read on…

Tis’ The Special Class Season

by Ben Whitehouse.

As summer makes it’s ways into our collective hearts and armpits, so do the rise of special classes taught at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center. One instructor to always keep an eye out for is the unparalleled Christina Gausas. If I were a bit more pretentious I might even venture to say that Christina is the closest thing to my improv guru I have ever come across.

One of the classes I took with Cristina which changed my perspective was her Openings & Group Games class. I had thought it would be a throw away class, I was bored and wanted to take a summer class after my Billy Merritt 401 to pass the time until my Gethard 501 started up. Group games and openings? That’s like a cooking class on boiling water, right? Fortunately for me, I was completely wrong. Christina opened my eyes to the science of group games. She worked with us on matching energy, unconditional support, devising form out of pattern, listening, using openings more effectively to begin scenes, and showed me how to accurately perform my favorite opening of all time… the true Del Close Invocation.

“An opening is like an artist’s palette — it is the foundation for all your scenes.”

– Christina Gausas

The class was different than any I had ever taken before. Christina’s “from the horses mouth” experience makes her an instructor who can lay ideas out in ways you may never have heard before. I found her teaching style super supportive, extra caring, and unlike anything I had experienced before.

Lucky for you, she’s teaching her Openings & Group Games class Thursdays 7-10pm starting Jun 26, 2008. Get thee registered. Nice work yall, it’s sold out! Hope you enjoy it.