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Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Set yourself up for success by establishing the basics.

My daughter and I, and seemingly everyone else, have been playing a lot of Chess lately. The first few moves are so crucial if you want to establish some control over the game.

A little peek into beginner Chess strategy will reveal that controlling the center four squares of the board early in the game gives players a mathematical advantage in terms of their ability to move, block, attack and protect. I taught my daughter this (in greater detail) so that she could play with the same knowledge and strategy I was using against her. Not just to make it even or because I’m a nice dad, but because I want to get better!

I’ve been watching her use this opening strategy for the last week or so, and with each game she is getting more adept at quickly positioning her players for control of the center of the board, in addition to castling her King early for optimal protection. Our games have lasted longer and become more interesting and complex as my young opponent has learned to establish a good foundation for her plastic Medieval empire.

Establishing C.R.O.W., Characters, Relationships, Objectives, and Where the setting takes place, are fundamental to performing Improv.

I tell my Improv students to establish certain things early in a scene as well, especially if they want the scene to be successful. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to perform an Improv scene without establishing some basics in the beginning. It’s just like storytelling--we want to know fundamental things about the characters like who and where they are, and what do they want? When a new character enters the story, we want to know how they relate to the other characters.

Establishing C.R.O.W., Characters, Relationships, Objectives, and Where the setting takes place, are fundamental to performing Improv. Good improvisers will establish and position these elements quickly, like Chess pieces, to build a solid foundation not only for themselves, but for their scene partners and for the audience as well, so that everyone can begin to enjoy the story. Improvisers are storytellers after all.

Just as empires fall, Improv scenes will collapse if the players don’t establish C.R.O.W.

To start a scene, players often get a little help from the audience, a suggestion perhaps for one or two elements of C.R.O.W. (criminals robbing a bank!, college kids on spring break!, etc.) Sometimes the suggestion is just a single word, and seasoned players can quickly establish the rest themselves.

One reason for players to accept suggestions from the audience is to reassure them that the improvisers haven’t planned or rehearsed anything specific in advance. A more important reason, however, is to be inclusive of the audience, so that they, too, can be part of the scene. Say yes to the audience’s suggestions! The magic in the storytelling is felt by everyone in the room who chooses to participate. Again, it’s important that if you want to go far, you must go together.

C.R.O.W. is simply a mnemonic device, an acronym to remind players to establish crucial storytelling elements (Characters, Relationships, Objectives, and Where the setting takes place) early in their scenes in order to set themselves and their scene partners up for success.

If you’re not an improviser can C.R.O.W. still apply to you? Of course!

In the rehearsal process, actors develop their characters by considering numerous elements related to C.R.O.W. At the very least they must know who they are, how they relate and behave around others, what they want, where they’ve been (the moment before, anyone?), and where they are in the moment. Daydreaming about these types of things is homework for actors, and it’s a continual process of mindfulness and self-discovery.

So I ask you, how well do you know yourself? Try doing the homework of an actor.

I’ll even give you the where: you’re at work.

What is your character at work? How do you relate to others in the workplace? What motivates and drives you? What do you need and strive for?

One of these days, I know my daughter will say, “Checkmate,” and I’ll beam with pride as I’m reminded to go back to the basics and set myself up for success the next time we play.


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