Improv Incorporated


Improv, Incorporated (NDL 229-001)
Gustavus Adolphus College
Syllabus J-Term 2004

Meeting time: M,T,W,Th,F: 10:30 am – 1:00 pm

Location: FAC 128 (Black Box Theatre)

Professors: Dr. Amy Seham
221 FAC
Office phone: 933-7460

David Olson
104-H Andersen SSC
Office phone: 933-6315
Home phone: 612-827-6738

Required Course Materials

Required texts:
1. Whose Improv is it Anyway? Beyond Second City, Dr. Amy Seham, University of Mississippi Press, 2001

2. Improvise This! Mark Bergren, Molly Cox, Jim Detmar, Hyperion, 2002

Additional materials: Additional outside readings will be provided in class.

Required Field Trip(s) -- Professional improv performance(s) in the Twin Cities -- to be arranged

Course Purpose and Objectives

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there!” - Miles Davis

The overall objective of this course is to increase students’ skills in the areas of effective communication and creative thinking in a business environment. The primary tool that we will use to develop and sharpen these skills will be the art of improvisation.

The course will be divided generally into two related components. First, you will be learning and applying the fundamental techniques of comedic improvisation. These will be primarily interactive sessions that you will all participate in each day.
The second component of the course will consist of the tie-in of this improv material to business settings. In this section, we will study the impact of humor and improvisation on a company’s culture, and its communications and conflict management processes.

Following are some of the areas where the study of this material will help to build your skills:

1. Communication
&Mac183; Improve your overall communications skills
&Mac183; Improve your presentation skills
&Mac183; Use a sense of humor to improve relationships and communication
&Mac183; Use non-verbal communication techniques (body language, gestures, etc.) to more effectively communicate your message
&Mac183; Develop effective listening skills
&Mac183; Team building - learning to work more effectively in a group
&Mac183; Increase your confidence in dealing with others
&Mac183; Learn how to give and receive feedback

2. Creativity
&Mac183; Innovative and flexible thinking
&Mac183; Learn to think beyond your current barriers
&Mac183; Use your imagination to find meaning in life and work
&Mac183; Develop the ability to think quickly and act on your feet
&Mac183; Develop the ability to respond to changing circumstances
&Mac183; Develop the ability to change the focus of the situation or circumstances
&Mac183; Develop idea generation and brainstorming skills
&Mac183; Develop a more spontaneous approach to work, relationships and situations
&Mac183; Develop creative problem solving abilities

Attendance and Participation:
Theatre and improv mean being there! You can not learn this material by merely reading a book and taking a test. Attendance is critical -- as with any rehearsal or performance. Plan to be on time, dressed in comfortable clothes and low-heeled shoes that allow you to move, sit on the floor, bend, or do anything the exercises require (no short /tight skirts !).

You will be expected to participate fully and enthusiastically in class exercises and to collaborate on group projects outside of class time. As you will receive general education credit for participating in an arts-related course, daily participation in the class’s activities will be a significant part of your grade for the class.

Improv Incorporated is a very FUN class, but NOT an easy one. (Not a “blow-off” J-term). You’ll be expected to put in the full-time commitment of reading, writing, researching, practicing, doing exercises on your own, and participating every day. The more you put into it, the more fun you’ll have.

After two unexcused absences, your overall grade will be reduced (from B+ to B, for example) and will continue to be reduced with additional absences. Missing half the class periods of the semester is automatic failure. The ONLY excused absences are those with a doctor's note, or dean's note. Job interviews, rides to the airport, all-nighters, AND SPORTS EVENTS are never excused absences. (If you’re on a sports team whose travel obligations will cause you to miss more than one class, consider dropping this course. These are NOT excused absences.)

Field Trip(s)
Participation in one or more evening trips to the Twin Cities, attending professional improv performance(s) is a required part of the course. The school will provide the transportation, and will arrange for tickets at a reduced, group rate. Each student must pay for her own ticket.

Final grades will be based approximately on the following schedule:

1. In-class participation 30%

2. Class portfolio (your written record of your experiences) 30%

Your portfolios will include:

&Mac183; Daily class experience/reflection journal
&Mac183; One-page response papers on each daily reading
&Mac183; Field trip performance critique
&Mac183; Group project process experiences
&Mac183; Final performance and class reflections and observations

3. Group project #1 15%

4. Group project #2 15%

5. Final (live) performance 10%

Total 100%

Academic Honesty
The student handbook outlines the school’s policies regarding academic integrity (Academic Honesty Policy). Please make sure you have reviewed this statement, as it will apply to all activities in this course.

Need for Assistance
If you have any condition, such as a physical or learning disability, which will make it difficult for you to carry out the work as outlined here, or which will require academic accommodation, please notify us in confidence as soon as possible so that arrangements may be made.
Specific Assignments and Expectations

A significant part of this course consists of in-class exercises, “games,” and explorations. Though some of these may feel difficult, silly, or embarrassing—they work! And you may be sure that you will benefit ONLY if you throw yourself into them completely, and with a good will. These exercises are designed to take you out of your “comfort zone” –to help you go places and do things you never thought you could.

To that end, the professors (like any good coaches) will urge you, coax you, even push you to make a complete commitment to each exercise. This might include making you repeat a game, correcting you in front of classmates, refusing to let you quit. Work to be good-humored and open to all of this – it’s all done to help you break out of your shell!

Just do your best and have fun. Remember, good improv is a team effort, and the team can only succeed when everyone is giving his or her best. Your positive attitude will be a benefit to you and to every one of your classmates.


General Information
Your class portfolio is meant to be your ongoing written record of all your responses to our work in class. There are specific requirements for the portfolio’s individual components (outlined below), but overall, the excellent (or "A") portfolios will include additional observations, thoughts and reflections on your work and experiences, rather than just a recap of what you’ve physically done or read for the day. Examples of this extra effort include how an exercise, experience or reading made you feel, what impact it had on you, what you learned or discovered about yourself from it, how it might apply to your life, etc.

The portfolio should be bound in a three-ring binder, and should be divided (tabbed) according to the various required sections (below). The completed portfolio will be turned in on the last day of class. However, certain individual write-ups that will go into your portfolio will be due throughout the term.

Daily Class Experience Reflection Journal
Each day at the conclusion of class you should prepare an entry into your daily journal which documents your class experience for the day. This should include not just what you did, but more importantly, how you felt, what you experienced, how you interacted with others in the class, and what you learned about yourself. Each of these daily write-ups will be accumulated and handed in on the last day of class with the rest of your portfolio. These daily reflections can be either hand-written or typed, but should be done daily so you don’t forget your experience for that day.

Daily Readings
Each portfolio will also include typed responses to each of our daily readings. These response papers should be approximately one page long and proof-read for spelling and grammar mistakes. Be prepared to hand these papers in at the class session for which the reading is due. When returned to you, keep each of these write-ups in your portfolios. These are separate from, and in addition to, the Daily Experience Reflection Journal entries, above.

Daily Exercises
Your portfolios should also include responses to specific exercises assigned in and outside of class, especially exercises described in Improvise This!. These responses may be handwritten if you prefer.

Improv Field Trip(s)
Your portfolio will also include a two-page critique of the professional improv performance(s) we attend in the Twin Cities.

Group Project Reflections
Portfolios will also include reflections on your process on both group projects, and will help you to think and write about the way your group functioned. These entries may be handwritten if you prefer.

Final Performance Reflections
Portfolios will also include typed 1-2 page "final" reflections on the final performance and what you learned about improv, business, and about yourself through the course.

A creative project requiring the group to COLLABORATE on each phase of a presentation. The group will research the uses, effects, and importance of HUMOR and LAUGHTER in an assigned area of human endeavor (i.e. health, business, disaster relief, etc.) The group will then synthesize the information, and cooperatively develop and perform a creative 15-minute presentation to the class. Grades will be based on the quality of the research material, the creativity of the presentation, and the evidence of group process. The group will hand in a joint bibliography and outline of the presentation.

In addition, each student will hand in an individual two-page paper (typed) discussing the effectiveness of the group’s process in terms of the improv principles we are studying in class. This piece will end up being included in your individual portfolios after their return to you).

A creative project requiring the group to respond (using improv principles developed in class) to a business scenario to be assigned. Grades will be based on the creativity of the 15-minute presentation and the viability of the solution proposed. As with Group Project #1, each student will hand in an individual two-page paper discussing the effectiveness of the group's process in terms of the improv principles we are learning in class. A more detailed description of this project will be distributed when groups are assigned.

All students will participate in a public performance of improv games on the last Thursday evening of J-term (1/29/04). Friends and family are definitely invited! Please mark this date on your calendars now so that you avoid any potential conflicts with this date. This is a required component of the course.

This syllabus is detailed for your convenience. It is up to you to be responsible for assignments listed without additional reminders. This syllabus may be adjusted by the professors if time constraints demand it. You will be informed of any changes.
(subject to change or adjustment)

Week One (Jan 5-9)
Mon Introduction

Tues Improv Principles and Ideology
&Mac183; Read Improvise This! (IT) Intro and Chapter 1
&Mac183; Read Whose Improv (WI) Preface and Introduction
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in

Wed Introduction to Business/Organizations
&Mac183; Read Business hand-outs
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in

Thurs Improv History and Technique
&Mac183; Read IT Chapter 2/ Make your Yes list
&Mac183; Read WI Chapters 1
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in

Fri Business: Communications
&Mac183; Read Business hand-outs
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in

Week Two (Jan 12-16)
Mon Improv History and Technique
&Mac183; Read IT Chapters 3 and 4
&Mac183; Prepare a journal entry on Theme song and Spark exercise
&Mac183; Read WI Interlude and Chapters 2 and 3
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in
&Mac183; Begin research for Project One over the weekend

Tues Business: Organizational Culture
&Mac183; Read Business hand-outs
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in
&Mac183; Continue research

Wed Improv History and Technique
&Mac183; Read IT Chapter 5
&Mac183; Prepare journal entry on Listening exercise
&Mac183; Read WI Interlude and Chapter 4
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in
&Mac183; Continue research for project
Week Two (Jan 12-16) - cont’d

Thurs Improv History and Technique
&Mac183; Improv warm-up
&Mac183; Meet in groups for project
&Mac183; Field trip evening??? (TBD)
&Mac183; Continue research/prepare presentation

Fri Improv History and Technique
&Mac183; Read IT Chapter 6
&Mac183; Read WI Chapter 5
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in
&Mac183; Continue research/prepare presentation for project

Week 3 (January 19-23)
Mon Improv Technique
&Mac183; Read IT Chapters 7 and 8
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in
&Mac183; Bring funny story to share in class - prepare journal entry
&Mac183; Continue research/prepare presentation

Tuesday Presentations of Project One

Wed Business: Organizational Cultures
&Mac183; Read Business handouts
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in
&Mac183; Meet in groups outside class

Thurs Improv History and Technique
&Mac183; Read IT Chapter 9
&Mac183; Read WI Chapter 6 and Conclusion
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in
&Mac183; Meet in groups outside class for Project #2

Fri Improv Technique
&Mac183; Improv Warm-up
&Mac183; Meet in groups for Project Two

Week 4 (January 26-30)
Mon Improv Technique
&Mac183; Read IT Chapters 10 and 11
&Mac183; "Make a moment" over the weekend – prepare journal entry
&Mac183; Meet in groups outside class for Project #2
&Mac183; One-page reading journal entry to hand in

Tuesday Presentations of Project #2
&Mac183; Practice games outside class in game groups

Wed Prep for final performance
&Mac183; Rehearse improv games
&Mac183; Practice games outside class in game groups

Thursday Rehearse improv show
&Mac183; Performance run-thru


Fri Course wrap up
&Mac183; Hand in completed portfolios, including performance critique and "final" reflections

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