Stop and Go enables players to explore a full range of potential physical and verbal Offers. It serves as a fast-paced warm-up that fosters a greater sense of awareness and ensemble.
Players scatter around the workshop space and one player begins by assuming the focus or energy. While this player explores the space, everyone else should adopt a soft freeze, making sure that they do not accidentally compete for attention in any way.
Phase One: The three phases of the game closely resemble those of the more stationary Focus Ball exercise which you can review here. (If you are returning to this exercise after playing it successfully on numerous occasions, you can usually leap to the third iteration.) In phase one, focus is moved exclusively through “gives” that are initiated by the player currently in motion. They can transfer the focus to their designated target through a clear physical choice (tagging them gently on the shoulder) or verbal offer (calling out their name.) When a player is in focus, they should explore the space and play however they see fit, just being mindful of others’ safety and that they do not allow the energy to become lethargic or unclear. Continue passing focus exclusively through confident “gives” until everyone in the ensemble has had at least one opportunity to play.
Phase Two: Generally this phase organically continues from the first with the facilitator merely noting that focus exchanges should now occur in the form of “takes.” There should still only be one player holding onto the focus at any given moment, but during this phase they must retain this focus until someone else in the group initiates an unambiguous physical move (they just start running) or verbal initiation (they begin whistling.) Once focus has been successfully shared, the new player continues joyfully playing in the space until a new improviser decides to become the center of attention. In the event that more than one player is competing for the focus, players should quickly defer to the bigger energy or take. This round should also continue until everyone has had a chance to don the hat of the energy taker.
Phase Three: Once everyone has successfully explored giving and taking offers, the facilitator can signal the third round which involves players using either method at whim. It’s important, however, that there is still one uncontested player exploring the space at any given moment and that the exercise does not devolve into a free-for-all where no-one is certain who is in focus. Players should continue to playfully explore the space and new ways to share, quickly addressing any ruptures when they occur and ensuring that everyone has ample opportunities to contribute. As participants become more comfortable with the logistics of the exercise, there is a lot of fun to be had with conjuring the full range of offers imaginable.
In addition to just serving as a nice energetic warm-up, this game also provides an opportunity to explore exchanging offers in a low stakes environment. Subtle and nuanced focus gives and takes can thrive when the ensemble keeps their attention sharp and the initiator’s intention leaves little room for doubt. Played with confidence and attack, the exercise will prove delightful.
Traps and Tips
1.) Enjoy the sunshine. Don’t forget to play. When you have the focus and are moving around the space, fill this time with abandon. As is the case with all improv exercises, the game won’t thrive if approached with lethargy. When you make an offer to others in the group (as gives or takes) make sure you are doing so from a place of collective joy. Don’t let someone who is struggling under the burden of prolonged focus remain in the spotlight unnecessarily long if you have the power to kindly take the attention from their shoulders. When you are thrown the focus, grab it with delight and seize the opportunity to explore.
2.) Avoid focus dissipation. I’ve partnered this exercise with the concept of offers as it underscores the importance that improv choices need to be resolutely given and received in order to assist in the creative endeavor. Be wary of having the focus just disappear. This can tend to happen if a player in focus just suddenly stops without an accompanying directed give. It’s important that all of these exchanges are energized and deliberate so as to avoid any unnecessary confusion. Similarly, players should be careful not to accidentally introduce movement or noises that might be misinterpreted as “moves” in the game.
3.) Push your boundaries. If you find yourself more comfortable with one form of offer over the other – and most improvisers tend to have a clear preference – challenge yourself to explore the other side of the game. If you love assuming the role of leadership and holding onto the focus, consider playing with an eye towards greater patience and generosity. Alternatively, if you tend to shy away from the spotlight, enjoy this opportunity to unapologetically take up some space. And keep your eye out for organic games that emerge within the greater event. While I wouldn’t encourage seeking a narrative per se, enjoying recurring relationships and patterns are all definitely part of the fun too.
4.) Elevate the ensemble. This is really a standing note for all improv warm-ups and exercises, but be sure to pursue energies and discovered games that unite rather than divide the ensemble. No-one wants to feel overlooked or ignored, especially in the rounds where they are dependent upon another for their turn with the focus. Subgames – where a small subset of players keep going back to each other – can quickly take as much from the experience as they give if such dynamics sideline or marginalize others. If someone isn’t blossoming under the attention of the focus, then an attentive ensemble should quickly extend a helping hand to relieve their fellow player from any undue stress. Yes, this exercise provides ample opportunity for personal growth as players increase their comfort and range when it comes to giving and receiving offers, but the pleasant experience of the ensemble as a whole should also be front of mind.
If you’re working in a new space, or folding in new company members, this warm-up provides a helpful way to collectively explore the present energies and potentials. Especially as participants take larger risks – throwing focus over large expanses or communicating transfers with the subtlest of gesture – Stop and Go serves as a palpable reminder that even the simplest of improv tools can have countless dynamic applications and variations.
Connected Concept: Offer