The Way of Improvisation

A Resource for the Thoughtful Improviser


  • Accepting

    Saying “Yes” to the offers made by other performers in order to advance the scene. Accepting isn’t always saying the word “Yes.” Sometimes saying “No” can actually be a way of accepting an offer.

  • Advancing

    The process of moving the scene forwards.

  • Blocking

    1) Rejecting information or ideas offered by another player. One of the most common problems experienced by new improvisers.

    2) Blocking could also mean movement on stage; The physical blocking of action.

  • Breaking the Routine

    Interrupting the action started at the beginning with a conflict or counter-action in order to advance the scene. (This is not always a problem, but it is always something new or different).

  • Canceling

    Making previous action irrelevant. Once an action has been cancelled, it's as if it hadn't happened at all. Usually a bad idea.

  • Commenting

    Stepping out of the reality of the scene by saying or doing something that refers to the fact that it's a scene being played. Could be considered meta-improv because it is usually self-referential.

  • Complementary Offer

    An offer that fits well with the previous offer by building on it in some way.

  • Conflict

    The third element of story structure. Many (but not all) scenes are about a conflict of some sort. If there's no conflict, the scene could still be entertaining, but the narrative will be uneventful.

  • Corpse ( or Corpsing)

    To break character and start laughing during a scene.

  • Denial

    Declaring something to be untrue. See "Blocking".

  • Endowing

    An offer that specifically assigns characteristics or attributes to another performer's character.

  • Focus

    Wherever the audience's attention is, is the focus of the scene. Their attention should only be on one place. If more than one thing is going on simultaneously, we have what we call split-focus.

  • Gibberish

    A nonsense language. Used for many improv games.

  • Gossip

    Talking about things instead of doing them or talking about things that are offstage or in the past or future.

  • Hedging

    Making small talk, or “fluff” dialogue instead of engaging in action or making strong offers. Could also be called stalling.

  • Improv

    The act or art of improvising.

  • Joke

    A thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, often at the expense of the story or scene.

  • Keith Johnstone

    Keith Johnstone is a drama instructor whose teachings and books have focused on improvisational theatre and have had a major influence on the art of improvisation.

  • Listening

    To make an effort to hear something.

    "Listening is the Willingness to Change." - Some Wise Man

  • Long Form

    A form of improvised theatre where the players perform a complete piece of longer than 30 minutes.

  • Monologue

    A long speech, often directly to the audience, by one improviser. They may be true-to-life or done in character.

  • Narrative

    The narrative is the story being told by the improvisers. A narrative is comprised of many elements ranging from the simplest: beginning, middle, end, to the more complicated Hero's Journey. The word "story" may be used as a synonym of "narrative".

  • Offer

    Any dialog or action which adds an idea to the scene. Offers should be accepted.

  • Platform

    The first two elements of story structure. The setting and characters (also often includes the “what” of the scene, or the routine.) The success of a scene often depends on having a solid platform.

  • Questions

    A question is generally considered a wimp, even though not all questions are wimping. A question that does not give an offer but instead asks your partner for an offer is a wimp. A question that gives your partner information is an offer. i.e. "What's that?" = Wimp. "Are you going to shoot me with that gun?" = Offer.

  • Raising the stakes

    The fourth element of story structure. Making the conflict, or events, of the scene have greater consequences for the characters and therefore making the characters and audience care about the story.

  • Reincorporation

    Bringing back an idea from earlier in the scene, or from a previous scene in the show. Also referred to as a call-back.

  • Shelving

    Acknowledging an offer but not doing anything with it, with the intent of using it later. But later never comes.

  • Status

    A character's sense of self-worth. Many scenes are built around status transfers, in which one character's status drops while another's rises. Physical environments and objects also have status.

  • Talking Heads

    A scene in which all the characters stand still talking through the scene instead of actively playing it.

  • Tilt

    A tilt is an offer that tilts the platform of the scene. It doesn't cancel what came before but instead reframes the scene with a different context.

  • Viewpoints

    The Six Viewpoints, a theoretical deconstruction and reconstruction for post-modern theatre, is a technique originally developed by choreographer Mary Overlie in which a character’s thoughts and actions are inspired and informed by movement and gesture using these six viewpoints: Space, Story, Time, Emotion, Movement, and Shape (SySTEMS).

  • Waffling

    Failing to make decisions, or make any action happen. Could be the result of talking about what you're going to do instead of just doing it.

  • Wimping

    Making an offer halfway by not being clear. For example “Here’s your thing”, the offer is only half of an offer. Could also be used to refer failing to act on an offer.

  • Yes And

    The basis for all improvisation. Improvisers say "yes" to accept their partners offer and then say "and" to add an offer of their own.

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