Long Form Stuff Shaun Has ...

This is a collection of long form (LF) info I have picked up at festivals, different groups, SAK Theatre Playbook, Comedia Dell Arte, Impro, Spolin, personal experience and development, and from a long form file I got from a friend that contained about 3 pages of info, but he did not know its origin and the person who gave it to him knew nothing as well, so I cannot give the correct credits.

Long-Form Forms


Is the most widely used format for LF I've noticed. It is completely described in Charna Halpren's Truth in Comedy and developed fully by ImprovOlympic in Chicago. It goes:

Opening (hot spot, rant, DooWop, stop'n'go, monologues, ect.)
Scenes A, B, and C
Scene 2A, 2B, & 3C
Scene 3A, 3B, & 3C, these could all be one scene, split screen, or split focus. The Grand Finale.

The scenes should begin unrelated and interweave to the finale. The games can obviously be optional along with the opening. The description given is for the structured Harold.

The Harold is best done with a theme (love, war, honesty, ect.) or to answer a question of universal scope (examples are "will I find Happiness?" or "will I go to Heaven?").

One of the problems I have with a harold is the games, unrelated to the scenes, seem to break up the flow of telling stories and creating interesting characters, I would rather see those scenes used to elaborate on the stories, not the theme. There could always be 4 or 5 scenes to start, Who knows? The other problem I have is the almost religious use of structure that commonly goes with the Harold, I have almost always heard the Harold referred to as, this is the format, don't stray very far from the path.


Any suggestion that you usually prefer can start the deconstruction. The first scene will tend to be longer than normal so that more time can be taken to be more descriptive in creation of characterS. The characters, environment, or themes of this first scene can then be used to branch outward to experience more of each, typically to a third level. General idea is that the characters from the first scene each do separate scenes then those four characters do a scene each, and outwards. The best deconstructions will come around full circle and rediscover a common theme or idea in one of the final scenes that we saw with the original scene.

The best part of the deconstruction is that it allows the players to concentrate on their characters and not on working them into the main story line.


This formats general structure, so far as I've done, is:

1. Opening musical number, Do Wop style or without words, scat style.
2. Monologue done over the music that continues until the first scene starts.
3. Scenes inspired from 2.
4. Continue 2. Then 3. until Ö.
5. Concluded by one final monologue.

Any number of scenes can be done between the musical monologues maybe 2 maybe 5. I like it best when the scenes are inspired by something earlier and not direct relations to the monologues. The scene can be continuations of previous scenes, but still try to be inspired by something else. Don't be afraid to just do any new scene you want no matter when or how late in the show. Connections of scenes are always cool but don't force them.

At ImprovOlympic I saw a cool ending to the Drake. As the final monologue was ending the group surrounded him (still doing the music) and began to mold him as if he were a statue. When the monologue was done he froze and they picked him up and carried him off stage as the light and music faded out.


I have found two ways to accomplish this game.

1. One way is to get an audience member and find out about their lives, job, hobbies, politics, family ect. and to then enact one of their dream (or nightmares). Try to be as true to the person as you can (don't mock the audience for no reason) and in true dream tradition remember things run together and reincorporate all the time.

2. Also, get a little info about them personally, but the key is to find out their day in detail. Their thoughts on events, about people they had conversations with, or feelings about people, are what you want to reenact for them as if their day had been a dream. It should have short scenes that run together. I've seen two ways to end this, either spiral out of control until they wake up to discover it is just a dream, or else do it to the happy ending of ending up at your SHOW. TheatreSports' Life Game is similar but more realistic and typically shorter.

O.K. games, not that great for long form though, since it is just regurgitation of the info in a "funny" way. A better idea is.....


The idea is like dream but more realistic in portrayal and story telling. I am not going to try to describe this since I've seen it done differently and there is a good book about it.


Improvising Real Life: Personal Story in Playback Theatre Salas (1993).


The main idea of the horror is to bring a new event to life, and to create deeper characters and sub stories behind the article. The horror begins by letting an audience member pick a news story from the newspaper and one player reads it as the other performers sit quietly around them and when the reading is done they free associate with each other while humming and the ideas stumbled upon are used as vignettes with the humming as the background to help with mood as needed. The free association is best done in near blackness.

I have no idea where this game, especially the name, originates. From the description is seem hard to develop characters or achieve a narrative.


This is sort of like a combination of a few short form games (typewriter, movie guys, and movie trailer, all described in SAK's Playbook). The director(s) describes what the audience sees on stage while the other performers create it as simultaneously as possible. The idea in the beginning is to create a few unrelated ideas that have great detail. The difficult part is to make sense of them and tell a good story. As I was given it, "The best advice: If your not sweating at the end, you haven't done it right. If it feels like it was going to fast, you've nailed it."

It sounds very hectic and in long form I don't like the idea of a director in charge of the story, it doesn't allow the characters to create and interact as their character.


One player gives their perspective on their days major events (less than 10 minutes, please). They leave stage and the other players play the perspective of the people and objects or whatever, that the subject encountered that day, one player portraying the subject.


This is about the movement of the focus. It start with one scene, and we leave that scene as one character who has the focus leaves that scene, to go to the next scene. In this scene the same thing happens where we follow the focus of the scene, and follow one character out to a new scene with the focus. The character does not have to stay the same; in fact, the character in focus should change nearly every time. Slackers is done, when the changing focus has come back to the original scene with a completely different character. Bouncing ball is similar except that the focus in on objects and we follow the same or different objects through time.


You obtain a non-geographical location, restaurant booth (be fairly specific), and that location never changes, not even to a different restaurant or booth. We see the people that come through all day from morning to night and the stories should start to intermingle and reincorporate from each other, even though the only thing they have in common is eating in the same booth.


Obtain and event and the players edit the scenes by using the past, present, and future of the event to tell the story (not is order).


Explained later.

Other Games

The following are games that are not typically long form, but are great builders into long form for the players, as well as for your audiences, if they are used to short form and may not immediately be receptive to long form. I have put them into the order that I like to present them for teaching the basics of long form. This is just one way to get started into long form. The most likely best way to start, is to find someone who has done it before and have him or her do some workshops for your group.


Long Scene

Just let the players fool around without the restriction of trying for laughs or worrying about being boring. They should concentrate on the development of Characters, their Relationships with other Characters, and their Location or Environment (I get fairly redundant so later this will be CRL). Once the CRL are established, then story can develop in the scene because we know who you are and maybe even care what happens to you. Take you time, many improvisers are too worried that "nobody is laughing" so it must be wrong.

Concentrate on CRL.

This isn't really a performance game.

3 Act Play

This is a little longer since there are 3 scenes, but in allows the break up of events. The first Act need only worry about the CRL to set up the story. In the second act the story can develop the tilt (conflict, point of concentration, focus, or whatever your phrase) and the characters can be changed by the situation. The third act can still continue the tilt, but now a resolution should develop to end the game.

End the scenes before you would think they are done and make them jump ahead in time before they are reedy and they will discover better things than they could plan.

Concentrate (again CRL) on the smooth transition from scenes to other scenes, very useful later. Many groups are competent long form but poor at scene transitions.

This can be a performance piece. One variation for the audience's sake is three acts, three styles, in which the same three-act play format is used but each act has a genre style to play in (like Shakespeare, Pulp Fiction, of Sci Fi). The audience doesn't realize that this makes your job easier (as long as you know what the genre is) since genres typically have their stereotypical ways of introducing CRL and the tilt as well as the resolutions.

LA's Triple Play

(must have permission from LA TheatreSports. That's how I saw it!)

This is really only 3, 3 act plays intertwined. Three separate stories are told based on three different topics. General Format: A1, B1, C1, A2, B2, C2, A3, B3, and C3. The stories don't intermingle, just tell three different stories.

Concentrate (again, CRL and Transitions) on keeping the stories flowing smoothly and this works on remembering different story lines while performing others. If one goes to fast it will be obvious that story is done.

Performance game, LATS does this with a play, movie, and a musical, a good game either way.

Movie Trailer

This is done with three quick (less than 20 seconds) scenes like you would see in a movie advertisement, maybe a action scene, dramatic, romance, scientific, ect, best done with a voice-over to keep it moving smoothly. Then the feature presentation is done where this entire movie is shown, incorporating the clips from the intro.

Concentrate (CRL, Trans, remember different scenes) on the smooth, not forced, justification of the clips into the movie. A story still needs to be developed so use the clips in scenes, not as scenes. This justification of previous scenes and the reincorporation of information is a great builder for LF.

Good performance game.

Spoon River

aka Moon River, or Spork River (all same game)

This can be with 3 or 4 (I like 3) players in a line, they step out to give monologues about themselves (the first usually just intro). These monologues begin to interweave to tell the common story. A terrific suggestion to get is "Something that would change a small town forever". The monologues don't need to be long or even complete, a mid-sentence break allows another character to incorporate their ideas and leave the audience in suspense. The thing to caution is to be careful not to playwright, or lead the entire story, make sure to work together. Careful not to get to caught up in thinking of you next monologue because this distracts from LISTENING to the others, and if you miss info, like you were shot, you could destroy the narrative (this is major Blocking). Allow others to play, if you say that the mayor has passed a law against milk in town, let the mayor decide why (lactose intolerant or mother was killed by a cow, whatever).

Concentrate on the skill of monologues and developing a good character. Learn not to ramble on, step back when you are stuck and allow someone else to continue. Make sure that when you start speaking the audience knows where you are and who you are. The biggest skill is listening and working together, these will be very useful in LF later when all scenes must be watched, to be able to be used later. These unrelated characters must be combined and justified into 1 story. Best intro into monologues I've seen.

Great game, it is one of my personal favorite, and it can be done in very different time lengths as needed.


Gets into the format of structured LF. DooWop gets a topic like fruit and begins a song with different aspects of fruit. It uses words or phrases as musical instruments, for example, ëoranges, oranges' repeated in a slow, low, base voice in a set count could start and then ëpesticides can kill' can be sang over the oranges to the same count. Others can be added as long as it does not become cluttered, enter louder to let the audience know what your doing, then quieter to blend in. Once this is established (it needs to be set or when the monologues start it will be hard to keep track of the tune) someone steps out and starts a game or scene about the topic using some of the DooWop phrases, then fades back and the song continues with solos, monologues, games, or scenes using the topics and reincorporating from earlier. It does not have to tell one single story, but it's cool when it does. The musical aspect is tough to grasp without hearing it, find someone who knows it or call me and I'll sing a little for you. This can also just use scenes, and progress like a Harold without the structure, just the three stories and the DooWop.

Concentrate on maintaining a solid song and flow smoothly, once you can do this; the transitions of any LF are easy.

This is a great game that does not have to be mastered to do other LF and can be used as a structure for any LF.


If you made it this far you are capable of doing pretty much any long there is (not that you need to follow my road map), since they revolve around the same basic principles (yes, one more time), Character, Relationships, Locations, Tilts, Transitions, Reincorporation, Justification, and Working Together.

Some EDITS to help.

  1. Walking completely in front of the scene, will clear the stage and a completely new scene will start when you have crossed the stage and turn, trust that your fellow players will be there to help.
  2. Tag out a person or people in the scene by tapping their shoulder, the remaining person(s) are the same characters that they were before the tag out, but in a different place or time.
  3. Walk on (Canadian cross) join the scene from the side or the back preferably, as to not confuse the players on stage as to which edit you are doing. If you are just crossing the scene to add something be sure to make eye contact or say something so not to let the players think you are clearing the stage.
  4. Do a monologue from a scene by just stepping straight out to the audience and delivering to them, come back to the scene when done or cross the stage when done to clear the stage. The scene behind can continue in slow motion silence or freeze (I prefer the freeze).
  5. You can also do a monologue during a scene you are not in. Walk up the side of the scene to the front of the stage and deliver the monologue, when done either go straight back and the scene will continue or cross the stage and the scene will be edited.
  6. Start a solo scene by tagging out all of the characters on stage, since you did not cross the front of the scene no one should come out to join you, trust that your fellow players will edit you when you need it.
  7. Initiate a split scene by starting a scene to the side of the scene currently on stage. Give and take is very important, as the audience cannot hear both scenes at the same time. Some ways it is used is to show the same character(s) at a different time, or the effect on other at the same time. Either scene should feel free to leave, as one becomes the focus.
  8. The swinging gate is the hardest to get started (for me). The idea is that there is a split scene on stage but one character (the middle one) is in both. While one scene is going the other is frozen. Anyone can initiate the swing to the other scene. The best way I've used to start the gate, is to walk up the side all the way to the front of the stage to let your fellow players on stage know you are editing in some way. Then turn back to the (now) middle character and make a statement (say something), they should turn to join you. Feel free to leave the gate when you feel your scene (either one) is done, leaving the other scene on stage. Two of these COULD be done at the same time (three scenes on stage) I've only tried this once.

** The thing to remember is that as these become more natural for your group they can be a lot less obvious as long as you know what your fellow players are doing.

The following is the long form that I come up with and would love any feed back that you can give me after you try it. I tried to pick and choose what I thought were the best parts of all the long forms I know.


** This, like wine, has changed with time.

Instead of a tower of suggestions, get a single inspiration from the audience. Initiate three scenes that are started by some one who is inspired to a character from the suggestion. A monologue is given after each scene (keep it short) to make the characters even more detailed and set up their development. The monologue does not have to be the main character; it could be the old lady's grandson who talks about her and how he is sick of watering her plants. At this point it becomes more free form with scenes and monologues and asides within scenes. Let the characters' scenes continue with out forcing the connections into the town of Four Seasons. The three stories continue until they naturally connect. The characters that we encountered along the way (barber or milkman) should be there to help, but don't force characters into the story or scenes. The story should be allowed to go wherever the scenes take it. Be careful not to overuse the monologues, they are primarily to give insights into the characters motivations or just to point out the "game" or the "stakes" in the scene you want to heighten. They can also be used to advance the narrative more easily into the future, "... the plants began to grow faster and faster over the next three years..." Again, some helpful hints are, don't overuse the monologues and keep them short, also keep the scene up to the energy they need, I've found the monologues pace (usually slow) tend to slow down the scene to a low energy level. Keep the energy where you need it. Most importantly, be sure to have fun and save the day!

Links to Other Long-Form Formats

Happy improv and let me know how any of this works for you!

Shaun Himmerick



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Last updated 20-Jul-98 by Fuzzy, fuzzy@fuzzyco.com