TRAINING IN IMPROVISATIONAL COMEDY is enjoying popularity everywhere from corporate offices to elementary school classrooms. In improv, performers create scenes in real time, developing characters and scenarios without using a script. This approach requires a strong commitment to agreement and positivity, which is why so many improvisers credit the form with building confidence, teamwork, and social skills.

“Sounds cool,” you’re thinking, “but I can’t make up a scene on the spot in front of people.” No improviser is expected to create scenes from scratch right away. There are hundreds of games and exercises that build the skills necessary for good improv — and good acting. You can use these games to hone your improv abilities, improve your scene work, or just have fun with friends.

If the thought of improvising makes your blood run cold, here are five easy games that will have you saying “Yes, and” in no time.

Thespians learn new improv skills during the 2015 International Thespian Festival.

Thespians learn new improv skills during the 2015 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Susan Doremus.


Pass the Energy is a foundational improv game. While it is simple to play, it requires all the elements necessary for successful improv: paying close attention to other players, accepting what they offer, and adding your own twist.

Here’s how it works.

  • Gather three or more players (the more, the better), and stand in a circle.
  • To begin, “pass” a sound and gesture to the person on your right. That person will then recreate your sound and gesture and pass them to the person on their right. This continues all the way around the circle.
  • Each player should try to recreate the sound and gesture passed as closely as possible. This ensures that everyone is truly listening and watching. Watch your sound and gesture evolve as they travel around the circle.
  • Any player can initiate a new sound and gesture at any time, but give each combination some time to travel around the circle.
  • Focus on making eye contact as you pass the energy.

To make the game your own, choose a theme for your sounds and gestures, such as sea creatures, superheroes, or Ariana Grande vocal runs.


A favorite among improvisers, this game gets everyone moving. The player in the center of the circle is in the “hot spot,” so the focus should be on supporting whatever that person does with energy and enthusiasm.

Here’s how it works.

  • Gather three or more players, and stand in a circle.
  • To begin, one player stands in the center of the circle and hums a song. The first player to shout the title of the song then goes to the center and hums a new song.
  • The players in the circle should dance, clap, and otherwise rock out to the song being hummed.

To make the game your own, transform your circle into a shoulder-to-shoulder line. One player steps forward and sings a song, and the others immediately support that choice by becoming backup singers and dancers. Try to coordinate your movement with the other players in line.

A group of Thespians circle up during an improv workshop at the 2017 International Thespian Festival.
A group of Thespians circle up during an improv workshop at the 2017 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Aaron Nix.


Improvisers use gibberish exercises to help players avoid overthinking, bickering, and rambling. These games also help focus on the whole person in the scene, instead of just on the words.

Here’s how it works.

  • Two players sit in chairs facing each other. A third player stands between them, upstage of the chairs.
  • The seated players conduct a conversation entirely in gibberish. This does not need to be fancy. “La la la” works fine, as long as you use inflection and facial expression.
  • After each line of dialogue, the standing player provides a translation of the gibberish.

To make the game your own for two players, give one player a specific character (like poet, scholar, or preacher) and have them speak or read to the audience in gibberish, using emotion and gestures as much as possible. A second player introduces the speaker and provides the translations.


In improvised scenes, performers must draw on small suggestions or details to create fleshed-out characters. Character creation exercises (which may remind you of Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints method) help sharpen this skill and make actors more comfortable playing characters who aren’t similar to them.

Here’s how it works.

  • All players walk around the space. One leader calls out questions: “What body part does your character lead with?” “Where was your character raised?” “What makes your character angrier than anything else?”
  • Players should not answer these questions aloud but should adjust their character’s body, countenance, and movement as they select their answers.
  • After about 10 questions, the leader calls one player to the center of the room and interviews them in character. Then the leader can either interview more characters or start the exercise again to generate new ones.

To make the game your own, instead of an interview, allow the characters to move around the space and interact with each other. Notice the dynamics among different characters.

Two students improv a scene during a 2015 ITF workshop.
Two students improv scenes during a 2015 ITF workshop. Photo by Susan Doremus.


Each participant in a theatre production is crucial to the success of the show, and the same is true of improv. Whether you’re initiating new scenes or simply providing detail and color, you must be willing to take control when it’s your turn, and let go when it isn’t. In this game, each player must make choices that help the entire group reach its goal.

Here’s how it works.

  • All players form a shoulder-to-shoulder line.
  • One leader calls out a large object or machine (like a train, hot air balloon, or roller coaster), and the rest of the players use their bodies to create the machine, each player making up a single component.
  • Players should add themselves to the machine one at a time so that each participant’s intention is clear.

To make the game your own, instead of a machine, try creating an environment, such as a beach party, family reunion, or the red carpet at the Oscars.


Improv is an excellent way to grow into a more flexible actor and more confident person. These five exercises should help you set aside your fear and start playing.

If you’d like to perform improv or sharpen your skills, search online for classes near you and keep an eye out for our annual International Thespian Festival workshop lineup. Happy improvising.

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