Monday, August 3, 2015

Unit 4: The Power of Completion

In Unit 3, we talked about "addition" improvs, which focus on expansion as opposed to constraint. A particularly useful model for "addition" improvs is one in which the user fills in gaps or missing components. Such completion improvs tend to be really effective for collaboration and personalization because:
  • They are fun and simple, and a good way to get participants excited about improvs in general.
  • They are "open" and yet have clear structures.
  • They are extremely low-risk in terms of getting a "wrong" answer.
  • They tend to work well in group and individual activities.
  • They adapt easily to any discipline.
A common completion improv can be found in the many cartoon caption contests run by magazines (The New Yorker still does this – scroll down to see the current caption contest). I have a number of variations I like to use in my courses and presentations. One of them involves showing a video clip but erasing the audio before the "punchline" is delivered. I then ask participants to fill in the missing punchline or dialogue to complete the video.

Here is an example of this type of completion activity. Listen to the first part of the video clip and then imagine what the two people might be saying once the audio disappears. When you’ve got something that works for you, post it in a comment.

Another of my favorite completion improvs involves presenting participants with a text that is missing some of its words. The participants are asked to fill in the blanks with the words or phrases they think are the most relevant.

This activity can be done with any kind of text or string (I’ve used advertisements, short stories, e-mail, technical descriptions, and HTML code). In the example below, I use a poem by Lisel Mueller, and ask participants to fill in the blanks with the words that make the most sense to them. Feel free to try your hand and post your suggested words as a comment.
Imaginary Paintings


A strip of horizon and a _________________,
seen from the back, forever _________________.


An old-fashioned painting, a genre piece.
People in bright and dark _________________.
A radiant bride in _________________
standing above a _________________,
watching the water rush
away, away, away.

Lisel Mueller. Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1996.

(You can see the full poem with the poet’s actual text here.)

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