Game Library: “Moving Bodies”

An unabashed crowd pleaser, Moving Bodies uses audience Volunteers to get the improvisers into and out of playful trouble.

The Basics

Two audience members are each assigned an improviser who serves as their life-sized puppet. While players provide their own dialogue, these volunteer puppeteers are responsible for providing all the stage movement and gestures for the scene. These physical choices must, in turn, be fully incorporated and justified by the improvising characters. Scenes typically begin with just two characters, but if a third or more are needed, puppeteers should leave their original charge to move the other characters on the stage.


Player A and B are joined onstage by Volunteer A and B who stand behind them. The premise of a wedding is proffered. The lights rise on a nervous groom (A) and their best man (B) moments before the ceremony is slated to begin. Player A sits hunched in a chair.

Player A: “I hate that I’m being so clichéd … “

Volunteer B has lifted B’s arm who is now pointing at their friend, the groom.

Player B: “You… you get to feel whatever you’re feeling today. “

Volunteer A starts gently rocking A’s body back and forth in the chair.

Player A: (almost chanting) “I know this is what I want. I know this is what I want…”

Volunteer B raises both of B’s arms to the heavens.

Player B: “Then let’s make this happen. I’m coming over. All it takes is putting one of those cold feet in front of the other.”

Volunteer B, receiving the cue, slowly starts to move one of B’s feet, then the other, to bring them closer to the seated groom. Volunteer A awkwardly lurches one of A’s feet forward…

The Focus

As I’ve disclosed in my consideration of maintaining freshness in our work. I have a personally complex relationship with this short-form mainstay, but there’s no denying it’s a fan favorite. You’ll get strong laughs if you commit to the absurdity of the central premise, but there’s no need to sell our artistic souls as improvisers in the process. My suggestions below seek to unlock more untapped potentials than the simpler gimmicks inherently present when you approach the scene purely as a parlor game.

Traps and Tips

1.) Rehearse. Whenever we bring audience members to the stage, it’s important to set up clear expectations, both in terms of how to appropriately play the game, but also how to keep the improvisers safe. At my current home venue, we’ve developed pretty standard banter that usually talks the volunteers through making their puppets wave and then walk. This is usually followed by a lighthearted warning not to bend the improvisers in ways nature didn’t intend and not to have players hit each other or walk off the steep lip of the stage. This all seems like good common sense, but getting everyone on the same page before the scene proper commences is wise. Improvisers will be touched in this scene, so assign your puppeteers accordingly with care.

2.) Model. A little trick I’ve found useful is not starting the scene physically neutral but rather placing yourself in a dynamic pose to begin. This tactic gives you a little initial agency to “start in the middle” or pitch a clear first move while also giving your puppeteer some context from which to respond. When the game has a true blank start, with the improvising characters just standing passively, it can prove challenging not to resort to rather bland exchanges in an effort to encourage movement. It’s likely some of this coaching will be required, but if you’ve already made strides towards establishing vibrant CROW elements then at least you won’t be stuck in an improv limbo awaiting some sense of definition.

3.) Justify. Whether inexplicable, inspirational, or mundane, it’s the improvisers’ task to make sense of all their puppeteers’ choices. It’s rare for such physical offers to come at the perfect pace, and the scene will frequently struggle under an avalanche of excess or in a barren desert of absence. When improvisers feel inclined to immediately verbally justify every small move (or the lack of any small move), the scene can quickly become overwhelmed with overtalking. Yes, you shouldn’t ignore a volunteer’s offer, but justifications can take many forms: from a look or raised eyebrow to a subtextual adjustment or emotional response. Make sure you’re still sharing focus with your scene partners generously and not accidentally engaging in uninterrupted justification monologues.

4.) Connect. It’s really easy for this game to devolve into a yelling fest with characters barking over each other in an effort to make sense of their physical realities or to instruct their puppeteers to make helpful adjustments. Perhaps it’s somewhat inevitable that this chaos is where many scenes will end up, but mayhem is a guaranteed outcome if this is where you begin. Yes, seek a fruitful connection with your volunteer, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of forging strong relationships between the characters. A grounded scene with rich characters pursuing honest goals only heightens the comedic contrast while also introducing the possibility that you might craft a story of some earnest significance.

In Performance

Neglect generous focus gives and takes at your own risk. When players lose sight of more traditional sharing techniques in a misguided effort to verbally justify even the smallest gesture the moment it happens, there’s little likelihood that the scene will transcend an albeit amusing cacophony. If this has become your venue norm, selecting just one volunteer to move all the puppets can assist a little in artistically shaping the clutter.

Cheers, David Charles.
Join my Facebook group here.
Photo Credit: James Berkley
© 2023 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Concept: Volunteers

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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