Published by ShawnKinley on

children in halloween costumes in studio


INTRO: Whispering Angels and Demons

Years ago at the great Wuerzburg Improvisation festival in Germany, I was asked to do a warmup exercise for about 200 improvisers.

Warm up exercises should serve a purpose. Since most people had never met before, an exercise to help people introduce themselves in a fun way might be useful.

When we are told to introduce ourselves we usually give cold, textbook introductions – Names, years of improvising, identification numbers. No play. No fun. Little real connection.

I suggested that before actual introductions, people should walk around and whisper into each other’s ears, giving each other gifts of superpowers, cool imaginary objects, extraordinary attitudes and behaviours. THEN, when they sat in the circle and introduced themselves they could include these extra gifts that others gave to them (as if they were a part of their true reality)

Another workshop teacher,  said that in normal introductions with groups, he recognized how some people would disconnect and “check out” after they had talked about themselves. In this exercise, he found that everyone would listen more because they were interested if one of their suggestions would be mentioned and how the superpower fit into their real life.

Eventually, the warm up exercise evolved into a character exercise.


ORIGIN: Shawn in Wuerzburg, Germany

BENEFITS: The Introduction version of the game creates a quick connection and playful interaction. It introduces a concept called SUPER DEFINITION. Variation 2 creates hidden agendas for people to play with in scenes and gives permission to play villains when people are reluctant to step into the dark side.

# PEOPLE: Groups  

PROCEDURE:  Feel free to keep the procedure as loose or narrow as you find suits your situation. Here is the WHISPERING ANGEL VARIATION.  I use it when I have a new group that I suspect are nervous or guarded about revealing information about themselves to each other.   

  1. – Have everyone stand up and raise one hand in the air. 
  2. – Tell them that the first objective is to try to get everyone’s hands down.  They lower their hand when someone whispers* a suggestion for a superpower that the person could possibly have.   For example – Fitz has his hand up and is mingling in the group. Kitty sees him and goes over and whispers into his ear that his superpower is Reading the minds of people around him.
    (*Whispering gives us a feeling of sharing secrets and having complicity with another person.)
  3. When you have your superpower your hand comes down. (If you have a little more time, you can suggest that their hand comes down when two or three people whispers superpowers to them. That gives people some choice in the next section and it allows for more playful contact between more combinations of people.)
  4. Where possible – give someone a power that comes out of behaviour or qualities that are already apparent. Kitty noticed that Fitz had distinctive glasses. She amplified the glasses to give Fitz SUPER SIGHT which allows him to see more than normal- through people and into their minds.
  5. Sit down together as a group and introduce yourselves briefly. Include your superpower. If possible, include where you think that superpower might exist in your life. “My name is Fitz, and my superpower is I can see the future… which might have some truth because I finish everyone’s sentences!”

Later on, you can mention that the technique of amplifying an existing quality of a person, or behaviour is called Super Definition* (see the end of this article for more). You see Super Definition in most superhero movies where a person has a power that is usually just a magnified version of something in their life. (The American TV Series HEROES or the British series, MISFITS are good examples)



This version works best with a group that knows each other a little bit.  This is not a game for introduction. This one is for character work.

Go through the same procedure as the Whispering Angels exercise. To get people to lower their hands, you have to give them an evil ability or objective that goes against their natural tendencies. 

  • The polite person is told that  she swears under her breath uncontrollably when people aren’t looking
  • The quiet person is told that he loves to interrupt people with “better” ideas than they have.

Instead of introducing themselves with their negative trait, do scenes where you focus on one person at a time as the bad person.

  • a job interview with the person being interviewed using their dark suggestion of knocking things over
  • a first date with the person who always rolls their eyes
  • a student and teacher with the student purposefully misunderstanding what others say
  1. Only one person will concentrate on their dark quality in a scene
  2. Their objective is to start a normal scene without showing their quality but 
  3. have it gradually appear within 30 seconds and then 
  4. escalate the dark quality until it’s out of control by the end of the scene.
  5. Others in the scene should obviously react to the behaviours in an honest way. 

Don’t tell people they are playing an evil character or villain. Watch that  people don’t dismiss or minimize their suggested tendency.  Some people don’t want to have qualities that make them seem mean or rude. Accepting the suggestion that was given to you is fun and leads to scenes you wouldn’t normally see.


Super Definition is a useful narrative skill where a personal quality, concept, or idea, can be amplified beyond its normal state.

This usually means the narrative moves into fantastical or absurd realities. 

  • An ant (whose natural ability is to dig) is pictured in overalls with a shovel and hard hat. (easily accepted in a story because it's already built into our perception of what an Ant is).
  • The Librarian who is rarely seen by others because of her shyness develops the power of invisibility. (A superpower that seems obvious given the latent quality of who she is) 
  • The insecure office worker who changes to suit everyone's demands develops the ability to become a mirror of anyone he interacts with. (Taking the behaviour of changing oneself to the extreme)


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