Everyone loves to hate acronyms. Learn Improv’s acronym for every offer is LACE. Listen, Accept, Commit, Expand.
What is an offer? An offer is most commonly described as a verbal statement made by a player onstage. For example, “Here is an apple” is an offer. It may be accompanied by a mime action from the player reaching out with an apple sized cupped hand.
“Here is an apple” is a very concrete example of an offer in improv comedy. The offer must be accepted by the other player for the scene to progress. It is this series of offers and acceptances that grows into a comedy scene.
However everything is an offer. The spoken word is an offer, the nature of the mime is an offer, the emotion of words is an offer, the demeanor of the character is an offer. Noises from the audience are offers. Technical errors are offers.
Every offer needs to be subjected to LACE for the best possible improv comedy outcomes.
Most important rule of improv is that there are no rules. However there are goals. LACE is an example of a collection of goals that players will try to apply to every offer every time. Choosing the terminology of goals creates a more supportive and caring learning milieu.
When a scene goes wrong it is usually because an element of LACE was missed on an offer. Instead of making a player feel punished for breaking a rule, a goal re-frames feedback as a success to reach for.
Why LACE and not Yes and? Why replace No Wimping, No Blocking?
Many learners can readily associate with the concepts of “yes”, “yes, and”, “no wimping”, “No blocking”, “rules of improv”, etc. These concepts are not just pithy aphorisms to be thrown away for some asshole’s new acronym. However after decades of teaching, the limitations of these pithy aphorisms can no longer be ignored.
LACE does not eliminate the use of pithy improv aphorisms. The old language of improv is still useful and important. LACE is a teaching tool for every offer. LACE is composed of positive and supportive language. LACE protects players by empowering their choices. LACE reduces inherent bias. LACE is the power the way and the source of all light (only kidding).
Listen. Accept. Commit. Expand.
You cannot accept an offer you do not hear. This is a patently obvious observation. If you don’t hear about the apple you can’t accept the apple. Sadly this is one of the most overlooked elements of improv comedy teaching. It is also the improv comedy skill that is most useful in the real world.
Listening in improv comedy is deep listening. It is not just about hearing words. It is listening, and observing everything all the time. We will spend most of our time training listening to words. This is extremely important.
The Listen in LACE refers to listening beyond words. Some players are natural at this. For most of us we will start by listening to words and as we grow as players and humans we will listen to more than just words. Listening beyond the words includes: emotions, physicality and context. If you are hearing the words “I love you” and not the subtext of “I don’t really love you” you are missing a higher level offer. If you do not see the environment that your scene partner has created you will walk through it. Destroying your scene partners work and much of the magic for the audience.
- Your ears.
- Your eyes.
- Your heart.
- Your brain.
You cannot build on an offer you do not accept as real. An offer must be accepted as real. If you are planning to build a narrative every offer must be accepted as real. For example if a player decides that the apple offer is not an apple but a rock the scene will have trouble building. What is to keep the next player from deciding that the rock offer is a branch? Nothing can build if offers are not accepted. The old language would call this blocking an offer.
If a character suggests jumping off a bridge to certain death and her scene partner says “that is not a bridge it is my bathtub” the story of the scene stops. This is the classic denial, the block, the no that we work to avoid. Whereas responding “that would kill us, luckily I have a bungee cord.” would allow the narrative to continue.
Acceptance does not mean approval.
You must accept the offer as real however this does not mean compliance. As described above an offer In a very reductionist sense accepting, is saying yes. YES is the most repeated truism of improv comedy. However from a teaching stand point yes is fraught with challenges. Yes does not actually mean yes all the time. Yes is a simplification of acceptance. We use yes and exercises all the time. They are essential, however when a scene partner gives an offer you need not say yes, but you must accept the offer as real.
So if a character asks another character to carry out a deplorable act the act can be accepted as real but met with a resounding “fuck off.”
Your first reaction is right and will be accepted. So many of us are denied our dreams and ideas. We spend a lot of time second guessing and weighing cost and benefit with so much of what we do in the mundane world. When improvising on stage we should enjoy full commitment to our idea. Our first idea.
Commit to your response to the offer. Trust yourself. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t edit yourself. Commit does not mean huge, or zany, it means believe in your idea. Your idea is worth committing to. Your first idea is worth committing to. That idea can be quiet, gentle, loud, but it is the best idea in the world and you and your team are behind it.
This is the modernized version of no wimping. Wimping refers to lacking complete commitment to the idea that is in your head. With LACE we avoid the term wimping. Wimping is fraught with judgement and potential bias. Often the term “wimpy” is used to judge an offer as not strong enough. That is editing and has nothing to do with LACE.
Expand, don’t explode, the offer given. If the player expands a bit on the offer given them the new offer is more likely to add to the narrative. For example if the offer is “apple” and the offer in response is “a lovely green apple.” The narrative has moved minutely, but it has not been broken either.
Let’s consider another example. If the offer is “apple” and the response is “my space alien klaatu vaporizes green apples.” The offer has not been expanded it has been exploded. The world now has space aliens, dangerous weapons, a new character and specific intent. Is this wrong? Not at all. Expand is a goal, not a rule. However a better narrative is more likely if the offered is expanded just a little bit.
Expand is the goal of improv comedy most likely subjected to bias. Expand is the element of LACE that is most difficult to teach. A player could listen, accept, commit and subvert the spirit of LACE with a zany polyglot of offer suffocation. Workshop leaders must show patience and support for players that explode offers. It is more important to nurse a player’s creativity than edit what they committed to. Expanding is a nuanced skill. Expanding grows with training and experience.