Published by ShawnKinley on



What’s the difference between these two pictures of my French improvising friends,  Arnaud, Raphael, Chenny, Jérémy, and Cyril? Which group would you rather hang out with? And WHY is there such a big difference here?

There’s a physical truth in the people on the right side.  While the people on the left hold fabricated photograph smiles, the joyful expressions on the right burst out without control. 

Look at the bodies in that first picture. Hands drawn in, arms and legs crossed, they are as closed off as vampires on a sunny day. (I’m still working on the metaphors). There’s an invisible shield separating them by how they hold their position and the distance from each other. 

In the second picture they reach out to each other and lean forward as the social barriers break down. Their bodies are open and their eyes are affected by the fun they are having. (The best way to read true joy is in the  the eyes when the mouth is smiling or laughing. If the eyes are unaffected, they are probably only smiling intellectually.)

The camera is less important to them than their interaction with each other. These are the people we want on to interact with in life and on stage.

And what is the magical suggestion that brings life to these people? The simple suggestion is…

Pinch each other.

Czech improvisers in a pinch photo.

After being in one too many group pictures where people pose like old-fashioned Victorians trying to project safe, controlled, proper personalities I started looking for better ways to capture the true nature of the people we like to be with.

Those posed static pictures at the end of the time together, don’t represent the connection or the joy you may have had with each other in the hours and days of improvisation classes together. 

Keith Johnstone had an idea to shake people out of their guarded poses by telling them to JUMP just before the camera clicked the picture. He said that their images would look lighter. They were interesting images but it was odd to see everyone in the air in all of the pictures.

In trying to get people to drop the social masks, the pinching experiment was the most successful one that I explored. The pinch works because it distracts us from the fear of looking stupid or feeling “different” in a crowd. 

With the suggestion to pinch your neighbor you get a quick, giddy EXPECTATION with a flash of social and physical fear. Permission is given to do something taboo. The group is primed for dangerous and childish play. (Yes, some people feel too much social and physical fear. Don’t let anyone pinch them if they don’t want to participate.)

The second element that makes this work is the primal survival mode that switches on when there are no other options. You are under attack even if only a playful assault from your friends. 

Part of you might want to keep control but as your friend grabs a piece of flesh and starts squeezing, you have little ability to project control as your defensive brain kicks in and says REACT NOW OR BE DESTROYED — OUCH AAARRR>> OOOOWWW!!! 

After taking a couple of normal group photos, ask your friends if they are up for a photo experiment.  Tell them that all they need to do is to GENTLY pinch one or two people around them as you take the picture. Remind them not to bruise their friends, but to pinch them just enough so they react.

If someone doesn’t want to be pinched DON’T FORCE THEM TO DO IT!!!

Ready, set, GO! 

Make sure to take a picture BEFORE you say go (sometimes that expectation face is great). Take a few shots as people are pinching, when you say stop make sure you take a few more pictures because… that relaxed/relieved, is sometimes a better shot.

This pinch tip is great for fun photography but if you think about it, aren’t we trying to do the same thing as improvisers on stage?

Aren’t we trying to find that engaging presence? Trying to affect our partners? Trying to have true fun and remove that false mask that the average human wears everyday to protect themselves from standing out in the crowd of day-to-day zombie life?

Helpful tips to create a less protected state for you and your partners:

Actively engage in playful stress states.

Sometimes speak faster than feels comfortable. (Be careful not to do overdo this one on stage. You are trying to risk safety and control. You aren’t actually trying to embrace speedy dialogue.)

Open your mouth to talk before you know what you are going to say. 

Play with people that challenge you. 

Ask your partners in the show to see if they can all “score ONE pinch on you” in the show. Tell them they fail if the audience sees them pinch you.

These are just tricks of course, but the results are glimpses into engaging behaviour that you tend to hide so that you won’t stand out in the world. Drop the mask and be affected by your partner


There is a show that originated in 2015 on YOUTUBE called HOT ONES. Have you seen it?  What happens is a great example of the social mask being ripped off of the most guarded people in the world – celebrities. 

In this show. celebrities sit for 25-minute interviews as they eat increasingly spicy Hot Wings. Not all people last through the entire ordeal. Very few, if any of them can maintain their practiced personae of cool movie stars, athletes, and musicians. We see glimpses of humanity. It’s great.

I mention Hot Ones because their ‘trick’ does the same thing as the pinching photo trick. I’m sure you can find other methods to help your friends remove that mask that society taught them to wear. Sometimes it’s as simple as an unexpected embrace or emotional offer that shakes them out of that heavy mask of self-control.


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