Wax On, Wax Off

A number of weeks back I wrote about the improv tool set AEIOU. I return to the topic now.

After students have learned the basic pieces of AEIOU it is helpful to drill each of these tools individually and then in combinations in a “Karate Kid,” wax on-wax off, fashion.

Name that actor

For example, I find it helpful to have teams of two students begin scenes with actions only and then add emotions. What is particularly useful at this stage is to have each improviser only create one action at a time. For example improviser A might go on stage and begin by painting a fence. The action should be simple, repetative and open ended. Improviser B then enters and begins another simple action that can be related to improviser A’s action, say pounding nails in boards. I keep a close rein on the actors though side coaching here, making sure that each improviser begins only one action and sticks with that action. All too often our improvised actions are complicated and muddy as we start one thing, quickly throw it out for something more “interesting” and rush through things to get to the “funny stuff”. I enforce the one-simple-action-at-a-time rule tightly.

Once improviser B has begun her action, it is improver A’s turn to observe and then react to improviser B’s action. Improviser A might then put down his paint and take a “finished” board from B, add that to the fence and then paint that newly added board. B then watches and reacts to A.

Name that actor

Again, what is important here is that each improviser does only one thing at a time, reacts to the other’s offers, and they build the story together. I call this playing tennis. Each improviser makes one offer and hits the ball back to his scene partner.

Once a number of actions have been established then one of the improvisers can have an emotional reaction to the action of the other improviser. Maybe B stops pounding nails, looks over at A’s fence and smiles in approval. A then reacts to B’s emotional offer either physically (holds up his hand for a high five?) or emotionally (smiles back?).

Name that actor

These simple tennis scenes can be done using any combination of the AEIOU tool set: Actions and You statements, Observations and Emotions, I statements and You statments. Some combinations work better than others (I like nonverbal and verbal combinations the best), but really any pair can lead to interesting beginning scenes with lots of potential.

Today’s Improvmantra: Keep things simple.


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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3 Responses to Wax On, Wax Off

  1. Jess says:

    I am particularly curious in your new approach to CROW, AEIOU. I teach high school, and found improv to be the favorite unit of most students. However, I too, have struggled with the scenes going much the way your described using the CROW approach. I am particularly curious in a further explanation of AEIOU, especially, what you mean by “I” and “You” statements. Additionally, what improv exercises and activities you use to nail this home. I think you’ve really discovered something and I’m curious to know more.

  2. I just stumbled across this post and the previous CROW vs. AEIOU one … and then realized it was written by my old friend Todd Erler — small world! I’d love to catch up … send me an email! Meanwhile, I’ll be reading all your old blog posts!

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