Sunday, December 30, 2018

Scene Starter: I Must Be Wrong

Five Minutes: There Is No King

We wanted a Queen. Or, someone like a queen. Someone who knew what she was doing. Someone who was polite and followed protocol. Someone with fancy clothes.

We got a frog. Well, not really a frog, but it might as well be a frog. We got someone who didn't even resemble a queen and there is no king. Only, noise in an unhealthy ratio.

The noise to signal ratio is more than upside down, it's flippo beano.

"You should write something more positive," she said. "No one wants a steady diet of negative."
"How about a steady diet of pizza. I could use that..."
"Sushi would be better, and healthier."

I could see that she had a point. It reminded me of a cartoon with Harry Nilsson's voice. The Point. Another tenor gone too soon.

She thought of a joke about a soprano but kept it to herself. It was just as well.

We wanted a queen. A bright, brilliant woman in charge. Someone who cared about outcomes other than wealth. Instead, we got a toad. No, that's not fair to toads. We got stained.

photo: Tulsa, OK, by doug smith


1. Write for exactly five minutes, then stop.
2. Find a random image to add

Picture This: Not A Stranger

Boulder, Colorado. Photo by doug smith

He wouldn't never be caught stalking. It wasn't his style. He respected his friends and he respected her the most (until she couldn't be trusted.)

She'd call the police. She'd call her security guard of a new boyfriend. She'd call his bluff. He couldn't get caught.

But he'd see her anyway. In the shadows. Walking along a street they once walked together. Staring at her phone as if messages from the universe were working their way to her brain. Whatever was left of it...

He couldn't see her anymore. Maybe he imagined that light, that beam, that moment.

But he could have sworn that was her dog.

-- doug smith

Picture This:
1. Find a random image (truly, close your eyes!)
2. Write for two minutes, inspired by that image.

Expand Your Possibilities

"If you limit your choices to what seems possible or reasonable you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise."
-- Robert Fritz

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Scene Starter: Nine Lives

Improv Activity - Scene Starter:

Create a scene where one of the characters has nine lives, but you do not know who at first. Only one character, though, can actually have nine lives. Without denying any offers, make the scene work.

-- doug smith

Peak Partnerships

Improv is a series of partnership games. Each successful game requires collaboration and partnership. Few things are more disappointing than solo games. It takes a team, even if the team is only two.

The creative life thrives on peak partnerships.

What partnerships are you creating?

-- doug smith

Monday, November 12, 2018

Picture This: Clown Mirage

The clown convention disbanded without a sound.

Rows and rows of too big shoes sat in the street, surrounding the mailbox as if they'd tried half-heartedly to send themselves home. The clowns were nowhere to be found.

After a few minutes the whole thing felt like a mirage. Were there ever any clowns at all? Who had the power to clear the town out so quickly? Consider this: clowns, maligned as they are and misunderstood in part by their own design and in part because, well, who really understands the impulse to paint your face white and make your features look distorted? All to juggle? All to ride a tiny bike?

They were going to visit, surround, transform, redefine the Corn Palace. Corny at last. But the ayes didn't have it and neither did the clowns, so there's no reason for you to take it, either. Instead, let's just ride away.

-- doug smith

Picture This:
1. Find a random image (truly, close your eyes!)
2. Write for two minutes, inspired by that image.

Monday, September 17, 2018


I'm not a good dancer. I used to think that I was, but then I figured out that it was my partner who was such a good dancer that she could also make me feel like a good dancer. It was wonderful. And, when I realized later, when she'd moved on to a new partner, that I was NOT such a good dancer, at first I wanted to stop dancing. It was so disappointing. It was all just an illusion.

And then, I realized. It didn't matter. There are degrees of dancing. Somewhere there are people who dance even better than my former partner. Somewhere there are people who can hardly dance at all. No matter where we start, in dancing or in leading, we can always level up. Start where we are and get better. And, realize that the dance is not about us at all anyway. The dance is, and always has been, about your partners.

Your creative muse likes to dance. It will open up new roads to you. It will light you up and allow blood to flow to the places that make you tingle. It will make your art more alive, your improv more convincing, your life more light.

Listen to that muse and walk past the edge of whatever is stopping you. It doesn't matter if anyone is watching.

Your creative muse likes to dance. Dance.

-- doug smith

Monday, September 10, 2018

Workshop: Improv for Everyone

doug smith - improv workshop

Improv for Everyone - Improv Workshop

Anyone who knows me well knows that in addition to facilitating leadership workshops and helping people solve problems and achieve their goals, I am also a creative artist enthusiastic about improv.

If you're in or near Bucks County, PA, here is a great chance to explore and practice improv.

Sign up here

Monday, September 3, 2018

Quick Demos of Improv Warm-up Games

I have no affiliation with this group but found the video to be useful and filled with energy. If you picked any three of these terrific games you'd add texture and cohesiveness to your session. Big fun.

List of Games Demonstrated:

Rapid Fire Freeze WordBall Knight, Mount, Cavalier 5 things Numbers/21 Goalie/Firing Line Flock Dance Big Booty Kitty Wants a corner Trifecta Environments Yes Let's Circuits Horseshoe HotSpot Corridors Headlines Whoosh Woah Turning Circle 5 Element Game Stakes Circle Johnson File Yes, AND

Friday, August 31, 2018

Picture This: Another 2065 Night of Clarity

2065 Pennington Road, middle bedroom, year unknown

Tom stood in the hallway, up late as usual.

"The desk could be on the other side of the room."
"You're thinking of the future, not now."
"You honor me to think that I'm thinking at all."
"Do you think so?"
"It's commendable that you seem to be studying."
"Seem to?"
"You're not, right?"
"Of course I am. For all posterity."
"For all posterity."

-- doug smith

Picture This:
1. Find a random image (truly, close your eyes!)
2. Write for two minutes, inspired by that image.

Create the Treasure

The creative life creates the treasure.

-- doug smith

Five Minutes: The Parade at the Hub

She spilled her hot coffee right in my lap. I didn't know if I was more angry or more in pain. She'd been balancing a full arm load of books, her phone, and her hot coffee. Oh, if only the phone had landed in my lap.

"Oops, sorry..." she said, as if she'd tapped my shoe with her toe.
"What the heck! Are you kidding me?" I think I said, although it might well have been peppered with some saucy language often heard in a commercial kitchen or volunteer fire house. I was not please. She kept on walking.

The coffee, about half escaped and half still in her cup, caused me to jump up and though I had nothing to spill, my journal did hit the floor and tear the page I was writing on. Stream of consciousness meet scream of coffee.

She kept on walking, still holding half a cup of coffee and whatever important information was displaying on her phone.

Be calm, I told myself. Maybe I shouldn't have been sitting on the floor. Maybe I should be glad the whole cup didn't hit me. Maybe I should change my pants.

Coffee. It's so much better to drink it than to spill it.

-- doug smith

Five Minutes:
1. Write without stopping for five minutes.
2. Add a random (if possibly related) image.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Make It Appear Real

The trouble with bad improv is that it looks fake. Maybe the actors are having fun -- they're certainly getting bigger and bigger with their broad attempts at humor -- but it makes me squirm when I see someone acting. Obviously, acting in ways that say "isn't this funny?" and "aren't we all cool?"

No, it's not funny. And, no, it's not cool. Improv is bigger than that, better than that, much harder than that.

Real improv looks real. Characters are developed. Plots evolve instead of becoming fabricated. Dialogue sounds like overheard conversations with built in subtle yet compelling drama.

That's asking a lot from improv, which is why it's so rare. But what if you delivered at that level? What if we each took our improv to a level that is even with the best acting available?

What if no one could tell that you were improvising?

Wouldn't that be amazing?

-- doug smith

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Workshop: Improv for Everyone!

If you're in or near Bucks County, PA, here is a great chance to explore and practice improv.

Sign up here

Friday, August 17, 2018

Do Not Go For The Laugh

The first mistake I see many improv actors making is trying to be funny. It's not funny. It's too broad. It's not real.

What is funny? Characters who are making the best of bad situations, and still failing. Characters who think they are making things better but are really making things more complicated. Sincere, realistic, true-to-life characters. Not too big. Not with funny voices. And, absolutely, no sound effects!

It's much funnier if you don't go for the laugh.

-- doug smith

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Improv as Reality

Done right, done real, improv adds reality to a scene and to a performance. Responding in time by building on the ideas of the other performers, rather than trying to steal the show with an impressive show of your own skills - can turn even the most preposterous of pretexts into great texts, great moments, real-feeling moments of artistic joy.

Improvising in collaboration, egos aside, serving the scene.

Improv can add just the touch of reality that any fantasy needs.

-- doug smith


Improv, while spontaneous, is also a discipline. It takes practice. Going for the obvious jokes is so common because people don't practice enough to get beyond them. It reminds me of a technique one improv company used to do in their warm up - they'd say all the cuss words they could think of just to get it out of their system. It's not an easy laugh, it's a tedious gratuitous string of cuss words unless it is all attached to character.

To get to character in improv takes practice. To build trust -- in your own skills and in the skills of your company of actors -- takes practice.

Just because we make it up on the spot doesn't mean we don't have to practice.


-- doug smith

Sunday, August 12, 2018

At Our Strongest

Creativity Quotes - doug smith

We are strongest when we allow our creativity to shine every day.
-- doug smith

Scene Starter: Lost Object

You put something where you knew it would be. Now you don't know where that is.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Picture This: Say Yes to Mr. Tubs

Tubs - Improv and Creativity Generator by doug smith, improvarama

Can anyone really say yes better than a dog? Hardly.

My dog friend (one of a few) Mr. Tubs is a champion say yes kind of guy, and he insists that I play just as unconditionally. When I enter my friend Judi's house, Tubs comes running to see who it is. When he sees who it is (me!) he retreats to find his favorite toy of the moment and trots to me with the offer to play.

Say yes, human. Just say yes.

If I'm preoccupied, his eyes say "say yes."

If I say "not now, Tubbers..." he remains on point, ready to go, slobbering with anticipation, unable to conceive of a negative thought between me and yes. Say yes.

Improv actors say yes. If you forget how, with a dog.

Just look at that face. There's no "no" in that face. There's no room for killing the scene. There is only keeping the playing alive.

Say Yes to Mr. Tubs.

Say yes to your improv partners.

Say yes to life.

-- doug smith

Creativity Generator: Picture This

  1. Find a random picture (seriously, keep your eyes closed and make it random)
  2. Write for 2 minutes, guided by the picture

Catching You

Improv is the high wire act of theatre and the audience is your only net. Convince them, and they will catch you if you fall.

-- doug smith

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Best Improv

The best improv feels more real than a written script, risks more for the sake of discovery, and touches more with a direct path to the heart.
-- doug smith

Five Minutes: Find Your Voice

I sat in the back of the church, in what was now her office but was once the crying room, the place where people could be in church with their crying babies but be behind a glass wall. It was her office now. Not much need for a crying room. The church didn't see many babies these days. Mostly the few people who attended had gray hair. Or no hair. They walked slowly. And if they cried, it was oh so quietly.

They did cry. Quietly.

The minister was soft spoken. A kind man. A decent enough speaker but the rare paster who was truly a minister to the people and not an ego driven speaker. But he wasn't here. It's Tuesday. A parade of hopeful teens were getting their voice lessons, hoping to be on American Idol or some other talent show. Hoping to get into the high school musical. Hoping to set the world on fire and be famous.

They didn't know the odds were slim their parent's delight the voice teacher had a rep. She had a track record. She was more than a miracle worker, she was a winner's coach. Some of her students really did go on to stardom. Beauty pageant winner. Broadway star. TV personality. Her patience, her persistence, her insistence drove these young people to ride their own enthusiasm ever upward. There was just one thing everyone needed to do more of. Much more. Much, much more:  practice.

"I know you didn't come here to pay me to watch you practice," she said, cheerful and resolved and not at all angry. Her patience was unending. "So maybe you'd like to practice more this week between lessons, sweetie..."

She called everyone sweetie. Or dear. I asked her to call me something else, something she didn't call anyone else, so she called me Honey. And then, soon enough, she started calling everyone Honey.

But that was when I really was her Honey. And that was when she did still help create stars.

German's Chocolate cake baked for my birthday by Dorinda

-- doug smith


1. Write for exactly five minutes, then stop.
2. Find a random image to add

Improv Makes You Better

You don't have to be a star. You don't have to be famous. You might even stay happier if you avoid those two possibilities. Still, practicing improv will improve your world. It will improve your communication skills, help your self image, build team work, make it far easier to think on your feet, take the fear out of the unknown...and hundreds of more benefits.

That's why I like this quote:

"More of me comes out when I improvise."
-- Edward Hopper

And mostly, more good stuff!

-- doug smith

Creativity Generator:

Think about a time when you had to improvise during an unexpected occurrence. Wild, eh? Now for two minutes list all the good that came of that improvising situation.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Five Minutes: There Is No Monologue

She got up to the front of the stage, ready to start her monologue. The lights were brighter than usual with a random slide show slightly illuminating the audience. It was a small crowd, probably no more than fifteen people. They seemed attentive and not yet drunk enough to get loud. Maybe she could pull this off.

What's up with the slides, though? She did not expect this. Maybe she should extemporaneously comment about the slides. What were they about. But no, it was time to start her monologue.

She faced the audience, at least half of which was more focused on other things. She'd better take focus NOW.

I will need two random words from the audience to begin.

"Random words"
"Global warming"
"Picture window"

She boldly selected: "Dinosaur Sex" she said. That will be the topic of my monologue.

"Sounds like a winner," said an audience member, a man about 25 who was just getting his buzz on.

"So ends the audience participation portion of this monologue," she said, not at all nervous but not at all focused. What were the two words?

"There is no monologue," said the buzzing guy's date. She seemed more buzzed than him. "And you forgot your two words, didn't you?"

How could she admit it?  She did.

Random image for "There Is No Monologue" by doug smith

-- doug smith


1. Write for exactly five minutes, then stop.
2. Find a random image to add

Scene Prompt: Many Balconies

Show the photo, start the scene

Creativity Generator: Picture Scene Prompt

1. Display the picture
2. Start the scene

You can also use this as a Picture This Prompt:

1. Display the picture
2. Write for two minutes inspired by the picture

-- doug smith

Scene Prompt: Lower Level Goal Achievement

Stop Trying To Be Funny

You can always tell someone who is still new to improv: they try desperately to be funny. They go for the laugh. They do outrageous things. They try to tell jokes.

The trouble with doing all that, besides it NOT being funny, is that it's really hard to do that and listen to what your fellow performers are also doing. To build on the work of others you've got to listen, to pay attention, to accept and build on what they're doing. Involving yourself by writing an elaborate script will feel more like a wall between you and the audience, leaving nothing but cheap gags to try to rescue it. Cheap gags will not rescue you.

The funniest people are those trying desperately NOT to be funny. They live thru stuff that would aggravate us but on someone else it seems oddly funny. Every act, every nuance, every pause and every word works to avoid the situation that strikes us as funny. Not to be funny, but to escape the humor. And that is funny.

The next time you catch yourself trying to be funny, convert that to a reaction of what your character would really do in an attempt to avoid the absurdity. That will be much funnier, and feel better, too.

-- doug smith


You are meant to be creative.
-- doug smith

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Improv is LIfe's Attentiveness Optimized

Great improv keeps us in the present. The past is too boring to play and the future is up for grabs so we must live every present moment tuned in, generating ideas, and sharing responsibility. Improv is life's attentiveness optimized.

-- doug smith

Improvise A Better Life

You can improvise yourself right into a more exciting, more fulfilling life.
-- doug smith

Listen and Respond

People leave open offers out there dangling unanswered every day. Improv is all about putting all offers to use. If you want to live and act more spontaneously, listen for those offers and respond.
-- doug smith

The Fast Path

Improv is your fastest path to creativity.
-- doug smith

Learn to Improvise

Learn to improvise and a thousand other important things suddenly become much easier to learn.
-- doug smith

Make Peace With Silence

A truly great improv actor makes peace with silence. Silence from the character and silence from the audience. It's not about the laugh.
-- doug smith

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Five Minutes: Train vs. Bicycle

You could hear the train for a full thirty seconds before it got within range. Anyone interested in their own safety would give it room.

We waited with our musical equipment to watch the train pass. No need to turn your back on a train. It's like turning your back on the ocean - you just don't do it. Not if you want to be safe. Not if you don't want to be bad news.

Or, maybe I was overly cautious. My mom filled me with fear saying that a train would suck me right under it and cut off my legs and arms if I got too close. How close is too close? We were nearly too close.

I hear laughter from the band. It was a good night of music and the tips were decent. Plus, the beer was free and flowed plentifully. William even enjoyed a giant marguerita. It took three hours to drink, but there was beer in between. And oh, the sizzling fajitas (which we did pay for) hit the spot.

We played every song we'd rehearsed, and then because they wanted more, we played them all again. We could have gone all Grateful Dead and jammed twenty minutes on two songs, but instead repeated the set. I was ready to improvise new tunes, and we even tried that.

Now the load out and the train. So loud we couldn't even hear Dee's voice (normally audible even in a stadium filled with people) and then it happened. With the train just a few feet away and not slowing for a moment, a bicycle sped across the tracks.

For a moment I saw the rider sucked under the massive train, severed limbs flying in every direction.

But the train missed the rider, the rider missed the train, and life for now went on.

"What the hell! Is he crazy?" she said, now perfectly audible for about a mile.

Trains. Bicycles. And we weren't even in Boulder.

-- doug smith

Five Minutes: Writing improvisationally without filters for five minutes and then stopping. Then, perhaps, finding a random image to go with it.

Genuine Play AND Understanding

"Improvisation is an effective means of creating a situation in which genuine play takes place and also provides a way of understanding our complex lives."
-- Kenneth Pickering, Drama Improvised, p.45

Improvisational Affirmations

Affirmations are a useful development tool in many fields. Positive phrases that affirm your instant ability to be who you want to be and to do what you want to do contribute to building your success by framing your expectations, boosting your confidence, and lighting up parts of your brain that bring about the very success you are picturing.

Here are some improv affirmations to help you develop your improvisation skills, creativity, and sense of artistic play:

  • I am instantly ready to create
  • I take all offers and make them magnificent
  • I play with adventure and creativity
  • I am completely tuned in to the people I perform with
  • Every moment sends opportunities for creative play
  • I connect in meaningful ways with other artists
  • I bring instant insights to the people I play with
  • I can work hard and play both simultaneously and instantly
  • I see the drama in every circumstance
  • I thrive on the ideas of others
  • I offer everyone great ideas of my own
Trying a few affirmations each day is like stretching your body before exercising, or tuning your instrument before performing. It is a great and useful warm-up that enhances your performance and attitude. Go ahead, you can do it!

-- doug smith