This fast-paced improv drill rehearses the basic but critical skill of entering and exiting the stage with purpose and gumption. If you, or an improviser you love, suffer from Sticky Feet, this jaunty exercise should provide the solvent you need.
Players number off to establish a set order. (I’m using letters below just for consistency.) The first player (A) begins an activity in a provided location. After a moment, Player B makes an energized and justified entrance with an accompanying line or two of dialogue. Upon receiving this offer, Player A immediately responds with a similarly supported exit. A moment later, Player C enters with heightened vim and vigor, providing a line of their own which, in turn, cues Player B’s justified retreat. Players continue to briskly come and go until everyone has had at least one moment in the scene with Player A returning to complete the sequence with the last assigned improviser.
Player A begins on all fours weeding the much-loved garden in their family front yard with a small trowel and bucket.
Player B: (arriving with fanfare) “I’m home early from college, mum. You’ve got me for the whole month!”
Player A: (exiting after giving her child a warm hug) “What a sight for my sore eyes! Let me get your bedroom ready!”
Player C: (entering) “I clocked your doing 45 in a 30 zone. I’m going to need some identification.”
Player B: (exiting back into the street) “My apologies officer – I was so excited to get home. Let me get my wallet out of my car and we can clear this matter up.”
Player D: (slinking into the yard) “So, look who’s come back to the neighborhood all these years and promises later…”
Player C: (feigning a call on the radio and walking offstage) “What was that, headquarters? A robbery in progress? I’m on the case…”
You’re unlikely to create sharply etched and nuanced storylines with this game but that’s not its intended purpose. Relish the challenge of making each and every arrival and departure strong, clear, and fully embodied.
Traps and Tips
1.) Breathe. The tempo of this exercise can inadvertently work against its own goals as characters hurriedly come and go. While the premise is certainly a little absurd, don’t allow your choices to fall into this category as well. Take the challenge seriously even if the content is lighthearted. You’re ultimately unlikely to get anything of much value out of the experience if it merely becomes a gag-delivery system. Don’t rush through or approximate your own choices. Give each entrance and exit its full weight and treat it as if it were the moment of the scene as a whole. It’s also a trap to just get louder or bigger or angrier than your predecessor: actively seek new energies and rationales (or previous tones in new ways) that feel honest and connected.
2.) Build. Each new character should seek brevity in their dialogue but don’t overlook the value of some good old fashioned CROW. Your arrival will take on greater meaning and significance if everyone clearly knows your identity and relationship to the current onstage character. The drive and challenge decreases if the exercise morphs into actual vignettes: this would move you into La Ronde territory which is admittedly fine territory to explore but serves another end. (You can read about this long-form here.) If you’re able to keep the larger environment alive and growing, that’s a great additional finesse. Perhaps someone trips over Player A’s trowel on their way out, for example. And don’t ignore the potential of reincorporating the greater stage geography. Who is or could be in the house with the college-aged student’s mum? What neighborhood features have been established stage left and right? Did the police officer leave their patrol car in view on the street?
3.) Accept. The urgency of the exercise can, unfortunately, result in players slipping into old or bad habits. Waiting in the line to go on almost invites planning, and so it can be easy to push that clever idea you came up with offstage a minute ago into the narrative flow regardless of what actually just happened. So be extra wary of clumsily blocking, pimping, or erasing the reality of your scene partner. Similarly, don’t just do that thing that you hope will impress, get a laugh, or “win” (whatever that might mean to you). The game feels markedly more exciting when each new entrance truly utilizes what has gone before so don’t neglect the improv basics in a misplaced effort to avoid the risk of truly being responsive and in the moment. Troubled waters await when players start rejecting obvious choices for fear they’re not being clever enough.
4.) Land. For an additional finesse make sure each character truly lands in the scene. While the game can quickly feel like a series of transitory Canadian Crosses – and, in fact, this is largely the case – characters should not enter with the foreknowledge that they will then be immediately departing. Assuming this reality tends to make players approximate their choices which can add to an overall unhelpful hectic quality. Rather, each character should arrive and ground themselves with the – albeit unfounded – expectation that they are now serving as the much anticipated star of the scene. This small adjustment in owning the space can make a surprisingly large difference in how the game plays out.
This whimsical drill always reminds me of the power and potential of bold entrances and exits. This critical element of our improvising play doesn’t always get the attention it needs, but little of quality can transpire without the measured and deliberate shuffling of characters on and off the stage.
Connected Concept: Sticky Feet