Jun 272017

Recently, I’ve been scanning boxes of documents recently on my Fujitsu ScanSnap document scanner. The scanner feeds documents through very quickly, a sheet at a time. It can’t handle staples, though. If one gets through, it will drag the next page after it, causing a crumpled paper jam, and with a risk of scratching the scanner’s optics, so I need to carefully remove them before I do my scanning.

Of course, the quick-and-dirty approach would be to cut the corners off the paper with a pair of scissors, but I don’t want to do that.

I’ve had a hard time finding a staple remover that works for me.

Jaws staple remover

An awful staple remover

An awful staple remover

The most common type is the staple remover with two carnivorous jaws.

I have one, but I’ve never had much success with it. You’re supposed to insert the sharp edge of the jaws behind the flat top of the staple. When you close the jaws, the jaws act like a wedge, lifting the staple through the paper. There are a couple of problems with this design. First, it’s easy to rip the paper as you’re trying to insert the jaws under the staple top. The jaws are cheaply made, and the tips aren’t usually sharp enough to slide easily under a staple. Also, the curved wire on the back of the staple is forced to straighten by the paper above it. This is fine if you have a large stack of paper, but it doesn’t work at all if you have one or two sheets – the paper just rips.

An alternate technique is to use the jaws on the underside of the staple first, to unfold the prongs. It’s described here on Wikihow.

When I’m scanning, I find that most of the staples I come across aren’t in some thick stack of letter-sized paper. It’s usually two sheets. It might be paper, but more often it’s two tissue-thin stapled receipts – a shop receipt stapled to a credit card receipt. These staples are hard to remove using a jaws staple remover. It’s not that it can’t be done – just that you could do it faster using your fingernails.


Scissors style

Scissors style

Scissors style

I tried one of these. It’s almost entirely plastic, but has a triangular metal blade at the bottom, and a metal beak that clamps down over it. You slide the blade under the staple, press down on the lever to grab the staple, then pull up the staple.

These little staple removers used to be quite common in the stationery stores, but they now seem to have disappeared. The ever-changing shifts of staple-pulling fashion.

On thin sheets, I found the beak makes a hole in the paper. Cheap, nasty, and not very effective. The staple remover that lacks it all.

Heavy Duty staple remover

Heavy duty awful

Heavy duty awful

Next I figured that throwing money at the problem would help, so I got a heavy duty stapler. This is another common type. It’s big, heavy and quite expensive. A metal tongue slides under the staple. You then press down on the rounded metal handle to lever out the staple.

Again, this works best if you’re tackling a thick stack of papers, but it doesn’t work well with stapled receipts. It still relies on the papers to straighten the curved ends of the staple.

The stapler in the picture is a Swingline. I have a very similar one from Bostitch (G27W). The metal tongue was never easy to position under a staple. I’ve since sharpened the edge with a file, so it works a little better. I’ve read that the Swingline staple remover has an easier time sliding under the staples, but I’m not going to shell out and try it.

Since I sharpened the Bostitch, it’s been useful for removing staples from stapled booklets – 30 pages or more, but I still need a solution for lightweight papers.

Staples One Touch

Staples One Touch

The same but smaller

Staples now has a new staple remover that works in  the same way as the two above.

The Staples One Touch is a small, plastic staple remover. A metal tongue (thin enough to slip easily under staples in larger stacks) lifts the staple against a metal grabber and pulls it out.

It’s not good for receipts, but quite effective on larger stacks, and quite cheap.

One I liked

Oxo staple remover - missing in action

Oxo staple remover – missing in action

I have an Oxo brand staple remover I bought a few years back.

This is a nicely machined wedge of smooth stainless steel with a rubber handle. It feels solid and well made, works very well as a staple lifter. It can force staples out of thick documents, but, as usual, if you try this on thin documents you’re likely to tear the paper.

The tip is just sharp enough to slide under staples without being dangerous. I filed a notch in the centre of mine, making it easier to fit the tip under the backs of staples and lever them up. It worked pretty well, and gets rave reviews from staple-removal fanatics on Amazon, but unfortunately the company stopped making it.

What the Pros Do

I wondered how professionals remove staples. But who removes staples professionally? Well, archivists, that’s who. They don’t use the standard staple removers, because they’re likely to damage documents. Instead, they use a micro spatula to bend back the curved backs of the staples, then lever the staple out from the front. A micro spatula is a small spatula used by scientists to move small amounts of chemical. The tip has a rounded edge that can be inserted under staples or sheets of paper.

I’ve ordered a Lineco micro spatula. I’ll see how it works.

Archivists also like using an oyster knife.  It’s a wooden-handled knife, with a thick blade. I tried one of these, the Russell 4″ Oyster Knife Boston Pattern #22. The finish is nice and it’s strong enough to lever staples from a page, although the blade is dull enough that it can be difficult to slide it under a staple. Again, better for removing staples from thick documents than thin ones.

Home brew solutions

The archivist solutions got me thinking about using other tools to remove staples. I have a small Victorinox Swiss Army (the “Executive”) knife with a “citrus peeler/screwdriver” attachment (good in an executive Clockwork Orange fight). It looks like a miniature saw with a hooked centre.

The screwdriver end is sharp and smooth enough to slide under staples, and makes it easy to pry up the curved staple ends. I have to be careful when pushing on it, though, as the blade can fold back and, while it’s not super-sharp, it could cut a finger. (I did this once with a blade on the same knife.)

I’ve tried using the nail file attachment on the same pocket knife to see if that would work. It looks like it should, but it’s not as good. The tip is very slightly wider, and it doesn’t slide under the staple nearly as well as the Clockwork Orange executive citrus driver. The knife blade works well, but it’s easy to stab the paper.

Another possibility would be to take a good quality pocket knife blade and dull the blade. Again, this would be sharp and smooth enough to remove staples, but wouldn’t cut fingers.

Butter knives could work well on staples. Some are flexible and strong, but have a safe edge. It might be worth picking up a used one from a shop. I have also considered using the blades in a set of automotive feeler gauges, used to set the gap in spark plugs. They are not expensive, have a wide range of thicknesses, and should be able slide under any staple. I haven’t tried this yet.

Cutting staples?

Knipex 78 71 125 cutters

It occurred to me that it might be possible to cut the staples from one side, then lift out the top section. A flush cutter is a pair of pliers designed to cut wire or plastic flush against its blades. It’s often used to cut pieces from plastic model kits, or to cut pieces of wire after soldering.

I tried cutting some staples with a pair of Nexxtech cutters, and it did snip off the staple quite easily, but the pieces of wire go flying, which poses some dangers. But the method itself worked fine. Once the back (or front) of the staple is cut, the other end can be pulled out fairly easily. It worked best on thin stacks of paper, like receipts or single documents, and less well on thick stacks, where I still needed something to pry out the rest of the staple.

I checked reviews and found that most flush cutters are designed to cut through soft metals, such as copper. Some can be damaged by steel. I don’t know how much of this cutting the Nexxtech cutters would stand up to. (They were fairly cheap.) A brand called Xuron was mentioned in a few places – they have a wide range of cutters with a slightly offset cut, so wire falls to the side, rather than flying into the air. They also make some cutters with a metal catcher, which holds the cut wire until the plier is released. I wasn’t sure about the blade hardness, though. One review mentioned that some Knipex cutters (a German brand) were designed to cut steel wire, and also included a wire catch. I ordered the Knipex 78 71 125.

I’ve tried this while scanning receipts and it works pretty well. It only takes a few seconds to cut off the backs of the staples, and then I can lift the top of the staple off and scan the receipt.

So far, it seems a good method, but More Experiments Must Be Conducted!

 Posted by at 5:59 pm
Aug 242016
An earthworm Picture by s shepherd (schizoform on flickr)

An earthworm Picture by s shepherd (schizoform on flickr)

When the topic of invasive species comes up, you might think of killer bees or zebra mussels or giant hogweed. But one of the most widespread invasive species is the earthworm. Ontario has no native earthworms. It’s only been a few thousand years since the province was buried under three kilometres of ice. When the ice retreated, and forests grew, the area had no earthworms.

We’re taught that earthworms are “good for the soil” – they aerate it and fertilize it. Well, earthworms benefit some plants, and aren’t so good for others.

Two hundred years ago, most of the forest land in Ontario was covered in a layer of leaf litter – a thick layer of slowly decomposing leaves. This litter protected the soil and provides good conditions for seedlings to grow. The Trillium grows well in these conditions. It’s good for creatures like salamanders, too, which can live in the damp areas beneath the leaves.

Worms have arrived in Ontario quite recently, probably around the mid-1800s. Nobody paid much attention to how they arrived, but it’s a good bet that they were brought by settlers, or in ship ballast that was dumped on land. We now have about 19 species – most of them from Europe, and a couple from the United States.

Worms eat leaf litter. They crawl out of their holes, grab a leaf, pull it down and eat it. It doesn’t take long before the leaf litter is gone, and the ground takes on a different look. They also change the acidity of soil, so native plants that once flourished may struggle. This, in turn, affects the species that have evolved to coexist with the plants, such as nesting birds.

The photo on the left is forest floor with no earthworms. The one on the right is an area where earthworms have been introduced. (Front Ecol Environ 2004; 2(8): 427–435)

The photo on the left is forest floor with no earthworms. The one on the right is an area where earthworms have been introduced. (Front Ecol Environ 2004; 2(8): 427–435)

They’ve invaded some areas courtesy of anglers, who bring worms to an area as bait, then dump them on the ground when they’ve finished fishing. The worms spread quite slowly – about a kilometre per century – but even at that rate, it doesn’t take long for them to fill the available space. A study in Alberta showed that earthworms, which are currently found in about 3% of Alberta’s forests, will occupy 39% in just forty years.

 Posted by at 3:48 pm
Aug 222016

I always assumed that modern humans, living in industrial societies, did most of the animal extermination in the world. After all, there are billions of us, covering a good portion of the planet. Everyone knows that Europeans wiped out the dodo in the 16th century, and the passenger pigeon (which had been perhaps the world’s most common bird) in the 19th. We see photos of poachers shooting elephants and rhinoceroses. Clearly we are a destructive species. It’s not like long ago, when we lived as simple hunter-gatherers,  in harmony with the planet.

I was surprised to learn that hunter-gatherers didn’t live in harmony with nature at all. Our ancestors ate their way across the planet, causing one of the biggest extinctions the world has ever seen. The extinction of the dinosaurs? It’s nothing compared to this.

The trouble is, it’s very difficult for a hunter-gatherer to live sustainably. Of course, you can go into the forest and shoot a deer, but, whether you’re using a rifle or a spear, if you keep this behaviour up for long, the deer in the area will soon be gone. To live sustainably, the hunter gatherer needs a very large area of land, so the animals can reproduce and make up their lost numbers. In good conditions (lots of water and plant life), it’s estimated that one hunter-gatherer can survive well on about 150 hectares. That’s about 370 acres and a lot of walking.

In an industrial society, one person eating an extravagant Western diet, with cereals, vegetables and plenty of mean is supported by 0.5 hectares per person. The land supporting one hunter gatherer will support about 740 fat Americans.

Most people in the world are supported by much smaller amounts of land. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the minimum land to support a person, with careful farming and a vegetarian diet is about 0.07 hectares (0.17 acres). So the land that will support one hunter-gatherer can support over two thousand subsistence farmers.

The problem is that, in real life, hunter-gatherers didn’t live sustainably. They didn’t try. They moved around the planet. As they moved into new areas they would eat every animal they could kill, then move on when the animal population was exhausted. That’s why people wandered the globe. They weren’t sightseeing – they were following the food, sometimes backtracking to sweep back over areas that had recovered from the previous pass.

It’s thought that early humans used persistence hunting to kill animals. It involves chasing animals at our slow, steady pace, and forcing them to gallop until they collapse from exhaustion. Even large animals could be hunted this way, and we seem to have evolved to become slow, long distance runners.

In some parts of the world, like Africa, the animals had a chance to adapt to this dangerous upright ape, and they evolved strategies to deal with humans. In other parts of the world, where animals had never seen humans before, the hunting was as easy as it was thorough, and the devastation increased as humans became better hunters.

Humans arrived in North America around 13,000 years ago. Once they’d passed the ice sheets, they found a huge area, teeming with wildlife.

In the space of a thousand years, people had worked their way from Alaska to the southern tip of South America, eating and producing more humans as they went, and wiping out virtually every large species on the continent.

That included every wild horse. (All North American horses are descended from European imports.) Every tapir. Various elephants (mammoths and mastodons). Most of the big cats, like lions and cheetahs.

Giant ground sloths.

This is a glyptodon. It’s a giant armadillo the size of a car. All eaten. People used the shells for houses.

Humans hunting Glyptodon

There were nine-foot salmon known as “sabertooth salmon” (really!). Delicious. All gone.

We wiped out most of the camels. That’s right. Camels are originally from North America. The ones in Egypt, and the shaggy ones from Asia are descended from North American camels that migrated west.

One of the few survivors was the pronghorn, or North American “antelope”. It’s one of the fastest animals on earth, nearly as fast as a cheetah, and able to run much, much further. Hard for a human hunter to catch, and not a good target for persistence hunting.

This disappearance of most of the world’s large animals is known as the Quaternary extinction event. Some scientists think it was caused by climate change, but if it was, it was an usually selective climate change, wiping out large animals but leaving the most of the small animals and birds. And when humans arrived in Australia and New Zealand, the animals there disappeared in just the same way. Humans didn’t arrive in Madagascar until 2000 years ago, long after the ice ages were over, but all the large animals there had disappeared within a few centuries.

The idea of living off the land, in harmony with nature, is mostly a myth. In fact, a modern human has less impact on the environment than any human in history, and much less than humans in pre-history. With the right technology we could reduce that impact still further, allowing billions of humans to coexist with wildlife in a way that was impossible for our ancestors.

 Posted by at 6:04 pm
Apr 282015

If you work in TV or film, you’ll often hear the term “story arc”. It’s often used as a slightly pretentious way of saying “story”.

I have to say, it never made much sense to me why a story should be described as an “arc”. An arc, after all, is a section of a circle – a smooth curve – which doesn’t seem like a good description of the way a story unfolds. I was curious where the term had come from.

I did a search on Google’s Ngrams, and thought I’d found examples of the term being used going back hundreds of years… but most of them seem to be cases where the words “story are” have been badly scanned. (“All characters in this story arc fictitious.”)

The first legitimate uses don’t crop up until around 1973, from Time magazine, in a review of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. (Time, Vol 102, p. 53.)

He accomplishes this with no sacrifice to the pacing of his action sequences or the suspenseful development of his story’s arc.

However, the term doesn’t really take off until the late 1980s. This 1988 TV Guide listing for the series Wiseguy uses “story arc” to mean a minor story which unfolds over a number of TV episodes.

This five-episode story arc casts Jerry Lewis and Ron Silver as a father and son who become entangled with mobsters …

During the nineties, the term became increasingly popular.

According to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, “story arc” describes a shorter story contained within a longer one, and was popularized by enthusiasts of Joseph Campbell and his “hero’s journey” (although Campbell himself doesn’t seem to use the term “arc”).

Well, that makes sense.

In case you don’t know, Joseph Campbell was a mythologist who claimed that all the world’s major stories are a “monomyth” – they’re really the same story, where only the details differ.

George Lucas and Joseph Campbell became buddies after the first three Star Wars films, and talked a lot about the influence of the Hero Myth over Lucas’s work, which explains why “story arcs” became so popular after that.

You can see how well it works, because, after fully embracing Campbell’s system, George Lucas went on to produce three more Star Wars films, widely considered to be the finest of his career. (Ooh! Snarky!)

If you look up images of “story arc” you’ll see an assortment of mathematical curves which are supposed to represent the rising and falling tension in the story. I’d love to see the scripts that come out of them.

The Routledge encyclopedia suggests that the idea of a story forming an arc (or curved section of a circle) is a simplification of an idea from German novelist Gustav Freytag, who wrote about stories rising to a peak of action.

One big difference is that Freytag’s story structure wasn’t an arc – it was a pyramid. He saw stories as occurring in a five-stage structure, with a flat introduction (exposition), which suddenly changes to a period of rising action, a climax (which Freytag puts in the middle, at the top of the pyramid), a period of falling action, and then it’s over, and we end on a flat conclusion (denouement). Not a smooth curve, but a series of abrupt changes, which is a better description of how a story changes.

Like most systems of Story Structure, it’s all very dogmatic, and Freytag presumably used it in the writing of his own works. His most successful was Debit and Credit, a novel about the superiority of the German master race over Jews, Poles and Slavs.

Update 2016-08-07. I misjudged poor old Freytag. His system makes more sense than I thought. And, although he is an major figure in the history of German antisemitism, he wasn’t antisemitic himself. More on that soon.

 Posted by at 8:47 am
May 282013

Emotional Options is an improv game where two performers act out a scene on stage, while a third acts as a “caller”, occasionally freezing the action, and asking the audience for new emotions for one or other of the players. It’s a funny game to watch, and the sudden shifts in emotion almost always produce an interesting scene.

Some players describe the game in advance. Keep the explanation short and sweet. Something like this:

Mike: For our next scene, my teammates are going to perform a scene for you, but every now and then I’m going to stop the action and ask you to suggest new emotions for them.

Or, if you prefer, you can just begin the scene, and let the audience figure out the rules as you go.

We might start with any simple suggestion – a relationship between two people, “what just happened?”, a location, etc.

Mike: Can I get a location please?

Audience member: A mall.

Mike: A mall. Thanks.

Whenever you get any kind of suggestion, it’s always a good idea to repeat the audience suggestion clearly, so the rest of the audience, and your teammates, can hear it. In this game, you will also want to repeat the suggestions of emotions.

James and Doris begin a scene in a mall, using fairly neutral emotions. That doesn’t mean impassive and robotic – just an everyday level of emotion. Mike will wait off to one side of the stage, looking for the right moment to stop the scene.

James: Well, we’ve got to get Eddie something for his birthday.

Doris: How about a tie?

James: That’s too predictable. I want to find him a birthday present that really makes a statement.

Doris: You didn’t buy me a present when it was my birthday.

James: You’re not my boss.

We’ve set up the basics of the scene, and we don’t want to wait too long before starting the game, so the caller stops the action.

Mike: FREEZE! Can we get an emotion for James?

Audience: Lust!

Mike: Lust it is. Thank you.”

The scene continues, and James immediately looks lustful, biting his lip and running his hands over his own body.

James: But Eddie is more than a boss. He just exudes this… this power… do you know what I mean? A virile, manly power… and I just want to give him gifts… to show him what a fantastic, attractive boss he is.

If you get an emotion like lust or hate, the obvious choice is to direct it towards someone else on stage, but there are other options. The object of your emotion could be yourself, or some other person or thing. If you commit to the emotion, it will be interesting to watch.

Doris looks at him, concerned.

Mike: FREEZE! An emotion for Doris, please?

Audience member: Giddy.

Mike: Giddy! Thank you.

Doris starts to giggle and point.

Doris: Oh, this is so cute. I’ve never seen you like this. Hahahah. You really like him, don’t you. I mean, really… hahahah.

James: Not at all. I just appreciate him as a boss, that’s all. I appreciate his cool head… his thick, muscular neck… the way his shirt flows over his bulging muscles…

Doris: Oh my. You have the hots for him. Hahahah.

Mike: FREEZE! Can I get a new emotion for James, please?

Audience member: Fear!

Mike: Fear. Thank you.

Mike keeps his requests for emotions simple and succinct. Beginning players often want to vary the wording, but this can cause problems. For example, if you change the words to “How will James react to that?”, the audience may suggest an action (“He pulls out a gun and shoots her!”). Repetition works well here. Stick to some variant of “Can I have a new emotion for James?”

James: Oh no! I’ve said too much! You can’t tell anyone! If anyone finds out, I’d be so ashamed. And if Eddie found out, I don’t know how he would react. I think he would hate me.

Doris: Hahahah. Maybe I’ll tell and maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll give them clues in a dance, like this…

She performs a strange dance.

Improvisers often fall back on words. If you see an opportunity for a more physical reaction, take it!

James: Please! I’m begging you!

Mike: FREEZE! A different emotion for Doris, please.

Audience member: Suspicious!

Mike: Suspicious. Thanks.

Doris: Wait a minute. What’s going on here. All of a sudden you’re interested in Eddie your boss. You’re trying to get rid of me, aren’t you!

James: (Gasps) Yes! It’s true! I didn’t think you’d guess! Please don’t go doing anything crazy!

James hasn’t forgotten that he’s still supposed to be playing fear, but he’s found a new way to use it – now being afraid of how Doris will react. If you’re stuck with a single emotion for a long time, try playing it at different levels of intensity. And whenever another character speaks or acts, listen carefully and react to it using your current emotion.

Doris: You and Eddie probably cooked this up together. You’re probably videotaping this right now, just so you can laugh at me.

This scene might continue for a while, but let’s say we want to end it. The performers may find an ending on their own. If they don’t, and the caller feels like he wants to bring it to a close, he can wrap it up by asking for a “final emotion”. This reminds the players that they should try to end the scene.

Mike: Can I have a final emotion for James, please.

Note the wording – “a final emotion for James”. This might mean the final emotion in the whole scene, or just the final one for him. It gives some flexibility.

Audience member: Anticipation.

Mike: Thank you. Anticipation.

James: Okay, it’s true. Eddie and I did make up a plan. As you’re about to see… any minute now…

James looks around, anticipating.

Doris: Agh! What’s this tripwire on the ground? It’s attached to a bomb!

James: Not a bomb, but a… (he looks at her expectantly, anticipating her reply)

Doris: Two bombs! A poison dart!


It looks like the scene still isn’t wrapping up – “anticipation” is actually a tough one to work with, especially at the end of a scene – so Mike gives them a second chance.

Mike: FREEZE! Can I have a final emotion for Doris, please.

Audience member: Paranoia!

Mike: She’s already suspicious, so that’s kind of similar.

An audience will often suggest emotions we’ve already seen, or minor variations of them. Feel free to politely reject those suggestions, and ask the same person for a new choice.

Mike: Another emotion?

Audience member: Confusion!

Mike: Confusion, thanks.

The scene continues. Doris looks confused, as she follows the tripwire.

Doris: Oh, James, I don’t understand what’s gone wrong between us. We used to go out and have fun, and now it’s so complicated… do you like me, are you trying to dump me? Are you gay? And why is this tripwire attached to a large pink stuffed rabbit?

She’s asking questions but also advancing the scene by introducing a rabbit.

James walks over to the imaginary rabbit.

James: If you will just look at the rabbit, all your questions will be answered… in just a moment…

James is still gamely playing anticipation, but it’s not bringing the scene to a close. Watching on the sidelines, Mike would like end the scene, but he’s already asked for a “final” emotion for each of them. Now what? Here’s a cheat that usually works.

Mike: FREEZE! And, just for fun, can we get one last emotion for BOTH of them – how about a positive emotion.

One last positive emotion for both of them. The “just for fun” part acknowledges that he’s breaking the rules. Be sure to ask for a “positive emotion” – it will usually bring the scene to a satisfactory close – often with a hug or laughter.

Audience member: Amused.

Mike: Amused. Thanks.

James and Doris examine the rabbit.

James: This is hilarious!

Doris: I’m doing it, I’m pulling the tripwire. (Laughs)

She does.

James: See! It’s a light-up message! It says “Happy Birthday!” Isn’t that hilarious!

Doris: Hahahah! That’s crazy! My birthday was months ago!

James: Sur-prise!

Lights down.

A few dos and don’ts…

Don’t “ease in”

For this game to work well, players should adopt the new emotion immediately and energetically. Some performers will try to find a reason to adopt the new emotion, or “ease in” to it. This creates a cerebral, boring scene. Here’s an example of how not to do it.

Doris: I love you.

James: I love you, too.

Mike: FREEZE! A new emotion for Doris, please.

Audience: Anger.

Mike: Anger!

Doris: I love you very much. And we talked about getting engaged. So I just wondered, did you happen to get me a ring? Because it’s really important to me that I have a five-carat diamond ring.

Obviously, Doris has a plan. She hopes to make her character disappointed with the ring (or lack of one), which will give her a good reason to become angry. It’s a heavy-handed, ponderous approach.

Lead with the emotion

Here’s the right approach. Doris should lead with the emotion – immediately switch her emotion to anger, before she even knows what she’s going to be angry about. If you throw yourself into an emotion strongly, you’ll find it’s easy to justify it.

Let’s rewind to the suggestion of anger…

Mike: Anger!

Doris flips from love to anger.

Doris: How DARE you… say you love me!

Mike: But you told me you loved ME!

Doris: Yes, and then you just copied me, you bastard. If you’d really cared, you’d have said something original and creative. (Snarling) I’m supposed to INSPIRE you!

Show the emotion, don’t talk about it

Some “talky” performers will use many words to describe how they feel, but don’t show it. Given a suggestion like “lust,” they might say something like this:

Charles: You see, Doris, I find you really, well, attractive. You have certain… effects… on me that make me want to… ahem… how shall I put this?…

All this description of emotion is usually an excuse for not showing it. It would be better to use fewer words and stronger emotions.

Charles contorts his body, barely able to control his urges.

Charles: Hi-i-i-i there.

The second approach is more likely to please an audience.


Emotional Options is an improv game that also produces great scenes. The onstage performers get practice in making choices based on an emotional choice rather than a new idea. This is a valuable principle. The caller develops a different type of skill, getting a feel for the flow of a scene, and when something new is needed. If you play this with a group, give everyone practice both as performers and caller.

The version described here involves one caller and two onstage performers, but many other variants are possible – the scene can have a larger group of performers (which means more work for the caller), or performers can be their own callers, freezing the scene themselves and asking for their own new emotions. Some players will get starting emotions at the beginning of the scene.

You’ll find that audiences have a hard time thinking of a list of emotions – Happy, Sad, Confused, Lustful, Fear, Loving… and then they may peter out, making it difficult to perform a longer scene. A solution to this problem is to prepare a long and more varied list of emotions a board and let the audience choose from that.

Once you get the hang of this game, you’ll find you can use the same techniques in many other situations. A scene is floundering? Don’t try to think of something clever. Instead, choose a new emotion, commit to it strongly, and see where it leads you. It will always be more interesting than the cerebral choice.


 Posted by at 4:40 pm