The Sequence Game warm-up provides a helpful mechanism for reviewing material or brainstorming potential content. I’ve used it frequently in support of my Dramaturgical Improv projects such as Upton Abbey and Private Lies.
Players form a circle…
Phase One: One player (A) volunteers to initiate the first sequence and offers a specific word to another (B) located across the circle. Player B now offers a second word that they associate with the first to a new player (C). This process continues until everyone has been featured once in the circuit and the sequence returns to the original Player A. When used to review material, the “topic” for associating may be provided, such as “law and order in Prohibition America.” If you are using this exercise as a more generic warm-up, the connection between the various offers should organically emerge and (hopefully) become clear as the circuit continues.
Phase Two: Once a complete circuit has been created with each player receiving and then providing a related idea, the group should then “burn in” the sequence by passing it around the circle a few more times with players repeating their original offers and sending them consistently to the same person as they did the last time. In the event that players may have inadvertently repeated the same idea as someone else in the circle, this also provides an opportunity to adjust that mis-step if that suits your purpose. The initial volunteer (Player A in our example) becomes the “owner” of this sequence.
Phase Three: The original “A” sequence is now put on hold for a moment. A new volunteer (Player B) provides a different offer as the first step in a new sequence and sends it across the circle. They should ideally select a recipient that they were not connected to in any previously established circuit (in this case, Player A’s sequence). The Phase One process is replicated generating new material until the circuit is complete with the last player sending their word back to Player B. Once created, it is wise to burn in this sequence too by passing it around the circle several times in the established order.
Phase Four: Pre-established sequences are now passed simultaneously around the group with Player A initiating their chain and Player B doing the same with their own. Each sequence should replicate its original path and content and players should strive to keep the process alive and accurate. Allow the sequences to successfully pass around the circle multiple times until considering moving onto…
Phase Five: Depending on the size and success of the group, additional sequences can be added, each initiated by a new volunteer and focusing on a newly assigned or discovered theme or concept. Establish each new circuit in the same manner as above, with players attempting to avoid passing or receiving words from players they are already connected to in a prior sequence.
Player A points across the circle and nominates Player B:
Player A: “Prohibition”
Player B: (pointing across the circle to nominate C) “The Mob”
Player C: (pointing across the circle to nominate D) “Speakeasies”
Player D: (pointing across the circle to nominate E) “Hooch…”
Generally this serves well as a listening, focus and connection game. When adding a dramaturgical lens, the warm-up also helps with information recall, exploring a common mood or style, and brainstorming appropriate content for a specific genre or historical period.
Traps and Tips
1.) Build the layers. Especially if your ensemble is first encountering this warm-up, don’t rush into the later phases. Take your time to craft and secure each sequence before striving to add new ones. As you are burning in circuits, the “owner” (initial volunteer) can also start their sequence more than once so that two or three chains are passing through the circle at the same time. This is a simple way of gently raising the level of challenge and energy without prematurely establishing multiple competing circuits.
2.) Hands up. When you are establishing new sequences it can prove helpful to have everyone raise their hand and lower it once they have been woven into the round. In this manner it’s easier to quickly ascertain who hasn’t been used yet. It can also be helpful before each new round to have everyone quickly point at the two players they have connected with in the prior circuits so as to minimize the risk of repeating combinations from round to round.
3.) Calm within the storm. Avoid giving into the chaos of the game and seek an inner calmness (which is great advice for our improv in general). Players need to seek an awareness of the whole group so that they can sense when they are the intended recipient of the focus. If you have three or four sequences moving around simultaneously, the likelihood that you’ll be tagged twice at the same moment increases exponentially. Breathe through these moments and enjoy them!
4.) Forge connections. Another helpful tactic is to make sure your offers in the various chains are clearly received. If you just throw out your words into the ether without firmly connecting to the intended receiver, you have increased the chance that the ball will get dropped. Direct your voice (although you don’t have to “yell”), seek clear eye contact with your chosen target, and confirm that they have accepted your offer before moving onto the next order of business. This deliberate system of communicating, one could easily argue, serves as an apt paradigm for the improvisational event in general.
There is a bit of an up-front time investment when a group first learns this dynamic, but once the basics are firmly understood and practiced, it’s possible to effectively get a few sequences going in ten minutes or so. If you’re using source material to help inspire or create the world of your improv, this also really helps to bring that front of mind before you begin your rehearsals or performance.
Connected Concept: Dramaturgical Improv