Out with the CROW in with the AEIOU

For many years, I taught CROW (Character, Relationship, Objective, Where) to beginning improvisers. This was something that I was originally taught and it seemed good. Unfortunately, teaching CROW — while it sounds like a great way to get scenes off to a good start — doesn’t work for new improvisers. Drilling CROW often leads to scenes that begin like this:

Improviser A: Bob, brother of mine, here we are at Wal-Mart. God I wish I could pick up that hot sales girl!

Improviser B: Well George, I have always wanted to teach you those skills since we were in ‘Nam together.

The basic problem with CROW is that it leads to improvisers inventing or creating things, rather than discovering them. The desire to establish CROW often leads to a rushed exposition of ideas and a flood of offers, many of which get lost after the first few beats of the scene.

It is my basic belief that watching improv can and should be like watching good play. Good plays never spill all the beans in Act I, Scene 1. When you watch a play (or movie for you strange people who never see theater…) you discover who the characters are, where they are, and what they want as the story develops, not all at once in the first scene. Great plays drop you into the middle of the story, with characters who have hidden objectives and relationships that are gradually revealed as the story progresses. What makes this kind of theater so engaging is that feeling of discovery. You, as the audience, are discovering what is happening as the story unfolds. Improv should be the same way; the only difference is that the actors are discovering the characters, relationships and objectives at the same time as the audience.

The second problem with CROW is that, as a concept, it is that it is rather vague and, well, conceptual. How does one teach new improvisers to create characters? Yes, there are physical exercises etc, but once you have taught those, how do they know they’ve created a character? Furthermore, by asking new improvisers to do CROW we are thrusting them right into their heads. (Don’t we also teach new improvisers to get out of their heads?)

So I eventually came to the conclusion that, while CROW is all well and good for analyzing a scene, I wanted a clearer, cleaner way to help improvisers discover CROW rather than invent it.

With that in mind I began to teach AEIOU. AEIOU (Ya know… the vowels) is a handy acronym of improv moves (which my wife and I invented). Players can make these moves to discover CROW in a more organic way while furthering the story.

It stands for:



“I” statements


“U” (You) statements

Over the next couple of weeks I will explain more about how and why AEIOU works, and I’ll share the kinds of exercises I do to reinforce these skills. While it cannot promise to churn out flawless beginning improvisers (And who would really want that anyway?), I can say that since I began teaching AEIOU it has made my first timers more relaxed, more confident, less in their heads, and much more fun to watch.


Today’s Improvmantra: AEIOU, and always Y(es and…)




About improvmantra

What is an improv mantra? An improv mantra is a phrase you repeat to yourself just before you go on stage, and continue to keep in your mind while you are in a scene. An effective mantra makes you a better improviser. Todd Erler, like all living creatures, has been doing improv every day since he was born. He has been performing improv on stage for more than 20 years. He is a teacher, writer, musicain, director, actor, and member of The Portable Reality Show.
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12 Responses to Out with the CROW in with the AEIOU

  1. Sounds like you’ve been doing it for years!

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  6. Lizanne says:

    This is wonderful! I have always taken issue with CROW, but couldn’t really verbalize why. You have hit it on the head by explaining why it doesn’t work for beginners, which is my usual group. I am going to try this next week with my Comedy Camp for beginners – kids – and see how it goes. Thank you!

  7. Catherine says:

    Went to my first improv class last night and the instructor taught CROW. I like your idea much better as it makes the skit more interesting.

  8. Angela says:

    Where can I find your activities on this? I am struggling to teach improv to middle schoolers, and this may be why (that and I am not confident in my own abilities…but I digress).

  9. Mark Di says:

    This totally makes sense to me! Only took one class, but I was confused because I thought of Improv as a progression of a scene, not like you expressed, everything thrown out there at once. The scene I did with my partner just didn’t make sense. I just have to figure out how to blend your advice with what the instructor wants us to do.

    • improvmantra says:

      Once you get the AEIOU basics just play that way in your scene. Challenge yourself to do only Action offers or observations – until the scene needs a different sort of response. Or run through AEIOU sequentially. Ie, your first offer is action, then emotion, then I statement… Etc. Mix it up, have fun. When you are stuck for something to do or say, choose a vowel.

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