“D” is for “Discovery”

“True improvisation is a dialogue between people. Not just on the level of what the scene is about, but also a dialogue from the being—something that has never been said before that now comes up, some statement of reality between people. In a dialogue, something happens to the participants.  It’s not what I know and what you know; it’s something that happens between us that’s a discovery.”

Paul Sills quoted in Jeffrey Sweet’s, Something Wonderful Right Away. 1996. New York: Limelight
Editions, 1978. p.19


The third and final element of CAD, Discovery, serves as an environment-based form of revelation that tilts or heightens the scenic energy. While a confession or accusation tends to shed new light on a character, relationship or motivation, discoveries use the greater setting as the source of improvisational inspiration. Such revelations are particularly unlikely to occur in ill-defined or poorly realized locales, so this facet of CAD also advantageously encourages players to imagine and build nuanced settings.


Freshly-dating Player A and B laugh jovially as they make their way down the pathway to the lodge in the woods.

Player A: “You’re sure your parents won’t mind us using their cabin? I haven’t even met them yet!”

Player B: “I’d be surprised if they even remembered this place existed. We haven’t spent a family holiday here in ages.”

Player A: (looking around) “I can’t believe how beautiful this view is… Oh, wow! When you said cabin, I was picturing something much less… grand.”

Player B: “My family loves conspicuous consumption! The key should be in this lock box…”

As Player B fumbles with the lock box, Player A continues to investigate with awe.

Player A: “Is that a hot tub out back?”

Player B has become frustrated and then worried and finally a little embarrassed…

Player B: (after a moment, reluctantly) “The combination has been changed. I can’t seem to get the key…”

Discovery Considerations

1.) Make it clear. As is the case with the other two revelation variants, a discovery functions as a discovery because it is framed and presented as such. Be sure to “set up” an intended moment so that your partners and audience understand you are about to offer something of import. Similarly, locate the source of your discovery clearly and resolutely. If there’s a forest fire in the distance, indicate the specific direction. If someone has broken into the cabin, designate and embellish the features of a particular broken window. As I’ve said too many times I’m sure, specificity breeds specificity after all.

2.) Make it different. A discovery is a form of revelation which, by definition, should upset the scenic apple cart a little. An offer of this ilk should feel related to but ultimately different than the previously established status quo. When Player A notes the hot tub, for instance, this is very much in keeping with the established reality that the cabin is upscale and impressively decked out. If, on the other hand, Player A were to note that there are three strangers in the hot tub, then that would likely read as an intended tilt. Thinking “same” works great for advancing games; discovery tends to thrive in the land of contrast and complements.

3.) Make it important. While the significance might not immediately seem apparent, as is also the case with accusations and confessions, a dynamic discovery should contain ripe potential for exploration. Successful discoveries can certainly start small and receive generous polishing and assistance from other players, but their first seed should unequivocally demand attention. In and of itself a changed lock box combination might appear a little mundane, but with some focus can quickly raise the stakes and energy of the scene. Is it late at night and the couple is far from anywhere else they could stay? Are there highly vocal wild animals prowling in the nearby vicinity? Is there also a “for sale” sign in the driveway indicating perhaps that Player B’s family finances have radically changed?

4.) Make it personal. Although a discovery will typically start out as an environmental, costume or prop choice, it will prove most helpful and effective when it connects to or complicates the current relationships. Players are served well when they contemplate what this new discovery reveals about them or their motivations. Has Player B had their efforts to impress Player A now upended by this awkward moment? Does the changed combination suggest that Player B is no longer trusted or supported by their family? Or perhaps this small moment eventually leads us to learn that this was never B’s family cabin in the first place and that their well-intending accomplice gave them the wrong information…

5.) Make it connect. There is certainly a value in making a somewhat random or original find, such as noticing an unconscious paratrooper hanging from a parachute in a nearby tree, but large moves such as this may more closely resemble the form and function of a curve ball or a less desirable erasure. Helpful discoveries tend to emerge more organically from the previously established given circumstances rather than insert a completely different flavor into the mix. An over-original revelation can have a tendency to eclipse the very things that we were already relishing in the scene. Without some truly skillful crafting, it’s unlikely that the focus will remain on the couple’s budding relationship at the cabin if they have to rescue the stranger dangling from the tree – although, now that I’ve written that I would actually like to see that balancing act attempted!

Final Thought

Remember that it is significantly more difficult to discover an object or facet of the environment that can ramp up the dynamism of a scene if you are performing in a “nowhere” on an essentially empty stage. The more you craft an interesting location with a wide array of props and furniture pieces, the more you will ultimately have at your disposal to inspire a scenic revelation of note. While accusations and confessions can have a tendency to put characters at odds with each other, well-executed discoveries also have the added advantage of often creating common obstacles or objectives that promote greater physical presence and action.

Consider reviewing Accusation for thoughts on how to successfully receive a moment of discovery.

Related Entries: Accusation, CAD, Confession, Specificity, Where Antonyms: Balance, Stasis Synonyms: Revelation

Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2021 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Game: Obstacle Race

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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