I originally learned this game as Pass the Clap but that always got chuckles so I now refer to it by the more innocuous title of Simultaneous Clap. Under the deceptively simple premise lies a challenging and rewarding warm-up that also reinforces helpful Rehearsal Etiquette principles.
As is the case with most warm-ups of its ilk, players begin in a circle with one member (usually the facilitator when you’re first encountering the game) holding the focus.
Phase One: The first player (A) turns to either side and makes strong eye contact with the improviser beside them. Each player claps their own hands in sync with their counterpart and in this manner the “clap” has now been passed to the next performer in the circle, Player B. Player B then turns and repeats this process with Player C with both players connecting and clapping their own hands in unison. The focus is moved steadily around the circle in the same direction multiple times until there is general comfort with the process and mechanics.
Phase Two: After several rotations any player can now elect to send the focus back in the direction from whence it came by not turning but rather initiating a second shared clap with the person who just passed the focus to them. The clap should now move in this new direction until another player elects to reverse the course. There can be a temptation to suddenly collapse these exchanges into a small subset of the greater ensemble so be wary of this and continue to strive to have the entire circle of players engaged.
Phase Three: In addition to the two above choices of either continuing the established direction of the simultaneous clap or sending it back, in the third phase players may now clap “across” the circle to another individual who should join them in the established passing ritual. This iteration requires even more focus and players should concentrate on the connection between the two players interacting in the moment of exchange. If the exercise starts to falter, or the rhythm degrades, encourage players to return to the simpler focus exchanges above – at least for a while – to regain the group connection and flow.
To excel in this exercise, players must retain strong focus, build an awareness of others’ presence, and work together to lift the ensemble as a whole. These are all core tenants of an effective and joyful rehearsal process as well.
Traps and Tips
1.) It’s about the connection. As the energy and excitement of the game picks up it can become very easy to lose track of one of the most important features of the exercise – the connection between the players. Improvisers should clap with their teammates rather than at their teammates. (It’s also the difference between trying to catch people in rather than catch them out.) The clap won’t be truly simultaneous unless both parties are equally confident, prepared and engaged. It can become easy to lose sight of this goal but the game will quickly decay without this clear commitment. Eye contact is everything.
2.) It’s about the rhythm. When the exercise finds its groove there is often a delightfully steady rhythm pulsing through the various passes. There will be ruptures and stumbles – especially when the game enters the more challenging third phase – but don’t actively strive to upset or needlessly increase the tempo. Players (especially those revisiting the game) can tend to want to skip a few steps in the process and dial up the rhythm which generally decreases the aforementioned connection. While it’s fun to play a little on the “edge,” allow the group to get to this point patiently and organically.
3.) It’s about the group’s success. It’s unpopular in improv circle to talk about “wrong” choices but if players are continually catching each other off guard and clapping alone then something isn’t working. Improvisers shouldn’t be looking to surprise or “win” but rather to elevate and facilitate the joy of the group as a whole. As I note in most of these warm-up games, this is why it’s also so crucial that side games don’t emerge that shut out a subset of the ensemble from actively participating. If everyone isn’t involved and having fun, then the group as a whole hasn’t succeeded.
4.) It’s about the group’s presence. If you’re lucky this game can almost feel as if the group itself starts to steer the focus exchanges. Rather than individuals consciously selecting a partner across the circle their attention will move freely to the fellow company member who is clearly primed and receptive. Similarly, if someone else was inadvertently overlooked in such a moment, the group quickly finds a way to honor their presence and sends the focus along to them. I’m not sure if there’s a way to “coach” getting to this state of graceful effortlessness, but it’s a magical thing when it occurs!
An added bonus to this warm-up is that by the end of it most players will have had at least a small moment of eye contact and connection with the majority of their fellow teammates. This is a simple but potentially profound way to start to forge those all-too-important bonds that create strong ensembles and generous rehearsal processes.
Connected Concept: Rehearsal Etiquette