Vectors

On Cloud Nine
3 min readApr 25, 2024

Ah, improvisers. We all have unique ways to make sense of our make ’em ups. I am a physicist. I make sense of improv through vectors. This could be a tip for math-inclined improvisers.

VECTORS is part 1 of a 4-part series

Part I: The Basics

Part II: Wants

Part III: to be announced

Part IV: to be announced

The Basics

Let’s say you have 2-person scene between Player A and Player B (Figure 1).

Assume your initial point is the suggestion. An Offer (or a move) is a vector from the suggestion. A Yes And is an additive move after that offer. So and so we do the wiggle. A scene is made!

You might notice a scene does not take the shortest path from suggestion to the edit. That’s fine, in fact it’s great. Improv is a journey, not a destination.

Not all offers are discovered/invented equal (Figure 2). You can have BIG offers that move the scene farther, you can have SMALL offers that move the needle slowly. Oversimplified, big offers are generally good, but even small ones have their uses at different times. A response can also be big or small.

There are bad offers too. There’s a bad offer that is too complicated to follow. This leaves your partner in the dust. Or the opposite, a bad offer that serves nothing but to negate the previous offer (blocking).

Now that we got that out of the way, I want to go to the main point of vectors. A vector has not only length (big/small offer) but also direction.

As a few offers are being laid down, a momentum of the scene starts to build up. The angle (Θ) between the offer and the momentum is the key (Figure 3). A small angle (Θ<90) means an expected response with a low surprise factor. A big angle (Θ<90) means an unexpected response that changes the scene’s momentum. A complete 180 is a blocking. (well, not quite, but let’s just say that it is.)

Both big and small angle are useful. You always need some kind of angle to make a scene interesting. Otherwise if Θ=0 it is a scripted play set from the initiation, which is boring. I always preach that the best scenes are the scenes where the destination is NOT pre-defined from the initiation.

As an extra note, you can see from Figure 3 bottom left that a big angle immediately creates some tension. (This is juicy stuff. We will discuss this in Part 4 of the series.).

Momentum is important for the shape of your show (Figure 3). For example, a lot of big fast improv comedy is based on big angles and ricochets. We will see a lot of incoherent twist and turns that keep the audience laughing. They might eventually find something and the momentum picks up a direction. But the fun comes from big moves with big surprises.

Meanwhile, you can also play the scene with smaller moves, but the moves are more coherent. The choices taken do not stray far from the momentum, so the momentum picks up gradually. This happens in slow burn improv. It’s also wonderful to watch, with a different kind of fun. I think the audience have satisfaction when they can predict what comes next. The fun comes not from the surprise, but from its execution.

That’s it for now! I have much to talk about Vectors, but I have decided to break it into 4 pieces. Now we got the Basics down, we can go deeper. Next up: Wants.

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On Cloud Nine

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