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New Victory Arts Break: The Element of Surprise

There’s nothing quite like being surprised by something that happens on stage. The comedic duo behind Air Play—the uproarious Acrobuffos—are currently delighting audiences on the New Victory stage and virtually through New Victory On Demand, eliciting joy and laughter by surprising audiences at every turn. In this week’s New Victory Arts Break, we’ll tap into our inner clowns and explore the element of surprise!

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New Victory Arts Break: The Element of Surprise

Some of the videos in this Arts Break were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future.

Funny Surprises
For clowns, surprises are an incomparable performance tool for making comedy magic. Let’s join professional clown and New Victory Teaching Artist Sarah Petersiel as she teaches us two different types of surprises we can use in our very own funny performances.

Let’s dive into each type of surprise that Sarah demonstrated and get some practice putting together bits of our own.

Surprises with Objects

Using objects—or props—you can surprise an audience by setting an expectation and then breaking it. Surprises with objects could involve:

  • A surprising object from a regular place, like a flamingo from a backpack!
  • A regular object from a surprising place, like a waffle from the sky!
  • A regular object that does something surprising with size and weight, like a telescoping fork or a tiny bag that’s surprisingly heavy!

Let’s practice the backpack bit that Sarah showed us!

Backpack bit with assorted objects on table

Step One: Grab a backpack and a few random objects of all different sizes. Sit behind a table or surface that you can cover with a tablecloth so that, when you set the backpack down, no one can see it.

Step Two: Pre-load all of your objects behind the table, hidden from your audience. Wherever you place your objects is where you’ll need to place your backpack.

Step Three: Perform!

  • Enter the stage while wearing your backpack
  • Step behind the table or surface you prepared.
  • Show the backpack to your audience and tell them you are looking for something that is probably in your backpack. Sarah chose a notebook.
  • Place your backpack on the floor near your pile of objects.
  • Unzip your backpack, and start to grab the different objects and show them to your audience. Do this several times with all of your objects until you run out.
  • Finally, at the very end, discover the object you said you were looking for!

This backpack bit is only one way to surprise an audience using objects. Can you think of other funny ways to reveal objects? In Air Play, the Acrobuffos use their suitcases to reveal some unexpected items:

Surprises with Costumes

You can also surprise an audience with the costume that you’re wearing. Costume reveals are a great way to do this. For example:

  • A costume that’s regular on the top and surprising on the bottom, or vice versa, like a t-shirt paired with a mermaid tail.
  • A costume that’s regular in the front and surprising in the back, or vice versa, like an unexpected beard when you turn around.
  • A surprising costume under a regular costume, like a tiny hat under a normal hat.

Let’s try the costume reveal gag that Sarah showed us!

Costume reveal of mermaid tail

Step One: Get dressed! Put on something you would normally wear on your top half and something you wouldn’t normally wear on your bottom half! Maybe a blazer on top and a tutu on the bottom, or a regular shirt up top and a silly costume piece down below, like Sarah’s mermaid tail.

Step Two: Set up your stage! You can use the same surface or table as before. Make sure that, when you stand behind it, the bottom part of your outfit cannot be seen.

Step Three: Perform! Call in your audience and use this script to introduce yourself.

Hello! My name is  . Nice to meet you! Thank you for joining me today. I would like to tell you a little about myself.

Now come out from behind the surface and reveal your costume! Stay serious and don’t break character as you continue introducing yourself.

My favorite color is  . My favorite season is  . I love  .

Step Four: Take a bow and exit the stage as your audience applauds and giggles uncontrollably.

This is only one way to surprise an audience using costumes. Can you think of other ways to reveal silly costumes?

Surprising Falls
♫ Just slip on a banana peel. The world’s at your feet! ♫

We all know it’s never nice to laugh at someone falling—except when it’s part of a bit! Clowns will sometimes slip or trip, making it look like they’ve stumbled. However, these movements are carefully choreographed and rehearsed. The performer is only pretending to fall! Before you try out these techniques yourself, clear some space around you. Remember, the object is to make it look like you’ve nearly fallen while staying safe and not hurting yourself (or anyone else!).

Slip!

Step One: Begin to walk forward. Hop on to the back foot while the other foot moves forward (almost like you’re kicking).
Step Two: Throw your arms up in the air and make a facial expression showing that you slipped!

Here’s a look at Keyleen from the New 42 Youth Corps slipping safely:

Keyleen slips safely

Trip!

Step One: Begin walking. Catch the toe of your back foot against the heel of your front foot.
Step Two: Stomp the back foot in front of you while leaning forward and make a facial
expression showing that you tripped!

Here’s New 42 Youth Corps member Robert safely tripping:

Robert trips safely

Can you combine the slip and the trip into a single comedy routine? Try slipping, recovering, then tripping, and see how your audience responds. Looking for more funny ways to fall safely? Check out this video from Matt Schares, which is full of theatrical falling techniques:

Routine Surprises
We’ve learned a few things about performers surprising the audience, but what about the audience surprising the performer? In this activity, we’ll play an improv game that gives the audience the chance to surprise us as we perform!

Step One: Select one person to be the performer. Everyone else makes up the audience. Have one audience member fill out the script template below:

This is (performer’s name). (performer’s name) just woke up to the sound of their alarm. On their way to the bathroom to brush their teeth and wash up, they accidentally stepped on a  . It felt  ! Then it was time for (performer’s name) to brush their teeth. Wait a minute. This isn’t toothpaste. It’s  ! It tastes  . That was weird…

Step Two: The performer is not allowed to read the script before acting it out—it’s a surprise! As the audience member reads what they’ve written, the performer has to perform what’s being read in real time. The performer should use their imagination and do their best to mime the action of the story, performing actions without speaking.

Check out this video from HiHo Kids to get a better idea of what a mime does!

Step Three: When performing, be as exaggerated and hilarious as you want! This is improv, so the performer should never question the prompts they’re being given. Once the performer is done, switch roles and fill out the script again with more hilarious prompts!

Morning routines are fun to customize, but can you think of other scenarios that you could turn into a script template and perform?

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council,and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

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