Faster, Faster Improviser: November Newsletter

Second Sunday Improv at ZACH:

Get your tickets for this Sunday’s Improv at ZACH November 10th, 2013:

–FREE Merlin Works Improv Jam at 6:30pm
–Full Bar open at 7pm
–Show at 8pm
–Free Parking (even during ACL!)
–Reserved Seating
–Professional Tickets, Ushers, and Bar staff
–Clean Comedy and Even Cleaner Bathrooms

This month’s show features Merlin Works Improv Singing 301 Graduation,  The Intentions,  and the house troupe, The Known Wizards, on ZACH’s 230 seat Kleberg Stage.

Buy tickets now. RSVP on Facebook and spread the word

Merlin Works Winter 2014 Classes
Now Online at Early Bird Prices

Improv 101 Mondays 7:30 – 10pm January 13th – March 3rd

Improv 101  Sundays Noon – 2:30pm January 12th – March 2nd

Improv 201 Tuesdays 7:30 – 10pm January 14th – March 4th
Improv 301 Wednesdays 7:30 – 10pm January 15th – March 5th

Improv 401 Mondays 7:30 – 10pm January 13 – March 3rd

Improv 601 Tuesdays 7:30 – 10pm January 14th – March 4th

Improv Singing 101 Sundays Noon – 2:30pm January 12th – March 2nd

Improv Singing 201 Wednesdays 7:30 – 10pm January 15th – March 5th

New Family Improv Class Sundays 2:30pm – 4:30pm January 12th – March 2nd

Join Our New Facebook Group

Is this Facebook thing still happening? We hope so, because we just launchedThe Merlin Works Students and Alumni Facebook Page. Join now to get in on the conversation and have the latest updates on the Merlin Works community.

Holiday Party Entertainment

We bring the show to you: Hire The Known Wizards to perform at your business or organization’s events this holiday season. Our shows are custom made to include as much audience involvement, group-specific content, and clean (or dirty) comedy as you like! Check out our Comedy Works pagefor more information or to get a quote.

Merlin Works Newsletter

Pick Up On Pacing
by Shana Merlin

We want to build a fence. Well, really we want to do some new landscaping, but first we need to get the new fence put in. Good news: we are sharing the fence with the neighbors and working with them on the project. And we agree with the neighbors on just about everything. We are cool with the style fence they want, even if it is a little more expensive. They are cool with footing the bill for getting the hackberry trees on their side removed before we start. We both want a gate in the fence so our little ones can play together in the yard.  But making this happen is driving my husband and I crazy. Why is there such a problem when we all agree and are okay with sharing costs? Because there is one thing, something unspoken that we haven’t agreed on. Pacing. We are feeling way behind schedule, trigger happy, and ready to go! They, like any normal person, are not.If we can get in agreement about pacing, this will all work out. Pacing: the speed at which an activity is accomplished, is often not discussed. People bring a lot of assumptions about pacing to thier work and it can cause a lot of problems. So I want to take a little time to talk about pacing.

If you have taken a Merlin Works Improv class in the last few years, you’ve heard about EPIC: my acronym for making anything you do more fun for you, more fun for your teammates, and more fun for anyone watching. EPIC: Energy, Pacing, In the Moment, and Commitment. In improv when we talk about pacing, we usually mean going fast. Why is it useful to go fast in improv?

  • It gives you less time to plan, so you can get out of your head and in to the game
  • It’s challenging and keeps you on your toes
  • It gives you less time to censor, so you can make more instinctual choices
  • It makes you more likely to mess up–which is fun for everyone
  • It gives you less time to judge, so you can be less self conscious. There’s no time to reflect, we’ve already moved on

When playing an improv game, there’s a very specific time that pacing is most important. It’s the moment between the end of your partners turn and the beginning of your turn. We want that moment to be as quick as possible. Hopefully it can be almost non-existent. For example, if you are playing Word Association, a classic listen-and-respond game where you and your partner are facing each other taking turns saying a word, hearing your partners word, and responding with the first thing that comes to you.

Improv Warm-Ups : Improv Warm-Ups: Word Association in Pairs

Watch the Video
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You don’t need to say your word fast. Or say a short word. What you want to do is try to have as little lag time between your partner’s turn and your turn. Unlike the real world, in improv, we want to practice speakingbefore you think. This helps you learn to trust your instincts. There’s often a part of you, beneath your conscious brain, that knows exactly what to do or say. We are trying to access that more and more. Advanced improvisers might have to push this idea further and respond as soon as their partner begins their turn, interrupting with agreement, accepting something they aren’t even sure of yet, and responding to just an inkling of an offer.

Now, in the workplace or at the dinner table, speaking before you think isn’t always the best idea. But pacing can still be a valuable tool. In applied improv, we want to think about pacing in terms of blending. How can you move at the speed of the person you are trying to connect with? Or how can you get them at your speed?

Dealing with a slow talker? Take a breath and get in their groove. Often, trying to hurry them up just makes them want to slow down more so you don’t miss anything. On a project with a team that wants to go-go-go? Pick up the pace, even if it means cutting some corners. Just let them know, quickly, that corners have been cut and you can go back and fill them in later when there’s time.

Need to get someone to speed up? Be explicit about the pacing you are expecting. Let them know the time pressures you are under so they can get on board. Want to be more thoughtful or deliberate about the process? Let your cohorts know there’s plenty of time to explore before decisions are made.

Blending with someone’s pacing is especially useful in terms of persuasion. It helps align you with the other person, so they feel you are with them. This can be true for business relationship and personal ones too. Reading those pacing cues and matching them can prevent a lot of conflict. Now, I gotta go email those neighbors… again.

Shana Merlin
Founder, Merlin Works

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.
Replies: 2


  1. Mike said:

    Interesting, because I’ve been told by several teachers that I should slow down and not be afraid of silence. Personally I like quick timing. I want to listen and make sure my partner has finished (I try very hard not to be thinking about what to say next while they are talking), but I also don’t want any pause at all between their stopping and my starting. I think keeping the flow is important. I’ve been chastised for that, and told that I missed offers because I reacted too quickly. I didn’t agree with them and said so, which got a few eye rolls, but I guess every teacher has their pet peeves. Personally I say trust your instincts and that of your scene partner and you’ll be fine.

    • My picking up the pace advice is about increasing spontaneity, especially in warm up games. It also works in scenes but I wouldn’t do it all the time. My overarching improv mantra is: it’s good to do both. Good to play fast. Good to play slow. Best to be able to choose the technique in the right situation and not have it be a default based on nervousness or fear.

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