Zipper Zapper Boinger
What you can still learn from a basic exercise
I’m always amazed at how much insight you get from the simplest of improv exercises. In this case, it is the circle game “Zip, Zap, Boing” (Zip=pass to next; Zap=pass across circle; Boing=return to sender), which might be our first improv exercise ever. But I still like to give it to more advanced players.
The first test, is enthusiasm. Of course, advanced players don’t want to waste time doing Zip Zap Boing for 20 minutes. But at least one round of ZZB will tell which ones are “too cool for school”, and which advanced players can fool themselves long enough to be as excited as a newbie. After all, whether it’s ZZB, or the most complicated Level-5 forms of Organic Harold, is in the grand scheme of things, child-like make believe. It’s funny if we tell ourselves we are too good for this game but we are worthy of that game.
The ability to tap energy and be inspired is a skill. I think it was Oslo Impro Festival 2017 marathon where we got the suggestion “Pineapple”. The players were the tiniest bit deflated. Not Craig Uhlir, though. Craig Uhlir went all-in and played hard (like he does)… as if he had never heard a suggestion of pineapple in his celebrated 20+ years of improv career. Being enthusiastic and playful is a skill.
The second test is tendencies, which I admit is completely made up in my head and on shaky grounds. See, I believe ZZB has all the elements of good improv, but you need it in balanced amounts. If I see someone always doing exactly the same choice (Zip / Zap / Boing), then I make a mental note of that player for further observation.
- ZIPPERS can get too passive. Zippers like to pass it on and move the game along. That’s good for the flow, and I think should be the default choice. On my empirical data I say 70% of the time you should zip. However, zippers can succumb to being a passenger in scenes, and not contribute their own ideas, for being afraid of ruffling feathers for their team.
- BOINGERS might be self-centered. The opposite of Zippers, Boingers like to be edgy. Boings are good to keep people on their toes and create fun havoc. This isn’t a bad thing, because improv is fun when you are trying to sail while fixing a leaky boat. Some havoc is good. Total boingers though might feel that the scene always require THEM to inject energy, instead of riding the flow.
- ZAPPERS can be indecisive. Zappers are somewhere between Zippers and Boingers, like to change the course of the flow, but in a less abrupt way. Zappers move the spotlight to places it hasn’t shone for a while. What I watch out for constant Zappers though, is how long it takes to them to pick someone else in the circle. If they always take 2 seconds to scan the room before Zapping, they might be over-careful and over-thinky with their decision process.
If this sounds kind of trivial… keep in mind that, under pressure, we resort to our security blanket, be it as a Zipper, Zapper or Boinger. So even basic exercises like this exactly fits for our training to spread out new habits in a low-stakes, safe environment.
So are you a Zipper, Zapper or Boinger? I think, the nice answer is, none of them and all of them. But we don’t really know what the scene needs until that moment, do we?