A culture check-in

A good tradition that has been borne in Zoomprov, is to give a little check-in of where everyone is zooming from. We haven’t gone over the fascination that one European improviser is in the evening and another in Asia is at sunrise. It’s fun! Yet for the most part, it ends there, as a fun piece of trivia, to snap a screenshot that shows 5 countries and thank someone for staying up til 3 a.m.

I invite you to go a little further.

An observation from “Aree & A Friend”

For almost a year now I have been collecting “Aree & A Friend” guests from around the world for a 1-on-1. We get a random word. Sometimes we jump right into a scene, other times we start with a chat. Now, this is a curious observation when I have a friend from the East (Asia). When we jump right into scene, the scene is always at a Western place. When we chat first, the scene is split 50/50 between West/East. I don’t enforce it. But apparently, the chat plants a little seed that our scene might just take place in either part of the world.


It’s not that Asians have to play in the East all the time. In fact, Asians love playing a scene in the West. In improv, anyone can play anyone in anywhere. But! Improv should also provide the opportunity to play anyone and anywhere. A chat does that. When we do a little chat, it is our little culture check in.

Establishing a presence


During intros at bigger workshops, usually we hear there is someone from Munich, someone from London, someone from Bangalore and someone from Manila. But we don’t necessarily make the same mental note that our scenes can be in all of these places equally likely.

Instead, we should get excited hearing Kuala Lumpur or Texas or Okinawa or Barcelona as inspirations. When I see a room with people from multiple places, I get inspired, “Where are the scenes going to be today?” We don’t know yet. Be ready for all the possibilities. The scene might not even be in English!

In more culture-oriented workshops, I often run the check-in a little longer. In my mind, this is like warm-up. Like physical improv needs a little bit of stretching. Cultural improv needs warm up too. Talk about the tea you make, or the mountains you like to visit. Talk about the actual tropical beach you grew up in, rather than a tropical beach from a Western tourist perspective. This will prime your scenes; it’s okay to play in these places.

Otherwise it’s pretty hard, especially for Asians, to go from cold to suddenly bringing up one’s culture in the middle of a scene. We don’t wanna cause trouble for the unprepared partner. We need to warm up to say these things before we do scenes. And while doing that, establishing the presence of different cultures in the room.

Do we always need culture check-ins?

Not always. This can take up a good chunk out of your 2-hour workshop, so it depends on what the goal is. Sometimes culture is not the most important for that workshop and that’s cool. Sometimes they are central. If your aim is to make your workshop more global, give a little time to get to know a bit from where everyone is from. Start small — a favorite dessert is a nice start (credit: John Gebretatose). Everyone loves to hear about desserts.




An Impro Neuf blog. Evolving thoughts on improv from Aree Witoelar, teacher/founder of Impro Neuf International in Oslo, Norway.

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An Impro Neuf blog. Evolving thoughts on improv from Aree Witoelar, teacher/founder of Impro Neuf International in Oslo, Norway.

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