Zip, Zap, Zop Variations

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Recently well known improv blogger Jimmy Carrane wrote an entry on 3 Improv Warm Up Games To Try.  I’m really glad he included one of my favorite games, Zip, Zap, Zop (or Zip, Zap, Zup, as he called it in his article).  Zip, Zap, Zop is a very well known and widespread game within improv and acting communities.  Several years ago while listening to an NPR story about African prisoners performing Shakespeare, I heard the actors in the background warming up with Zip, Zap, Zop.

The basic game is simple: participants stand in a circle, then pass the offers zip, zap, and zop sequentially among each other by pointing and saying the words. Example: Mckayla points to Kameron and says zip, Kameron then points to Sierra and says zap, then Sierra points to Matt and says zop. The cycle then repeats. The game represents making offers during scenes.  When lazy students don’t point, I remind participants to point, make eye contact, and speak clearly just as they would want to make clear, committed offers to scene partners.

Carrane mentions a few variants of this game in his article. But there are several others. Here’s a list of variants I’ve enjoyed over the years:

Emotional Flow. The participants alter the emotionality of their offer based on the previous offer. The idea is to make gradual changes instead of abrupt changes. If the zip I receive seems kind of sad, I might make my zap sad as well. You can also play with character voices.

Number Of Zips. The number of zips determines the number of zaps and zops. Therefore, after the first zip, the next person can issue another zip or move on to zopExample: Adam sends zip to Audrey. Audrey sends zip to Chris, who then switches to zap when sending to Evan. Evan sends a zap to Carissa, who then switches to zop when sending to Kameron. Kameron finishes the cycle by sending to a zop to Leo. In this case there will are 2 zips, 2 zaps, and 2 zops.
Example #2: In the above situation Chris instead sends a third zip to Evan, who then swtches by sending a zap to Carissa. In this case there will be 3 zips, 3 zaps, and 3 zops.

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Multiple Offers/Clockwork. The first person issues simultaneous zips to two people. Those people then issue zaps independently, and play continues. If a person receives both offers at the same time, she then issues the next offer to two different people. This variation only works if everyone synchronizes the timing of offers, i.e., remains on a beat.

Holding Wrists. The participants make the circle smaller. Each participant puts her right hand around the left wrist of the person standing to her right. She then controls the pointing of that person, who still vocally says zip, zap, and zopExample: Christian, Kori, Seth, Gary, and Annabelle are in a circle in that order (Annabelle is also neighbors with Brooks).  Christian’s right hand holds Kori’s left wrist, Kori’s right hand holds Seth’s left wrist, Seth’s right hand holds Gary’s left wrist, and so on. Gary starts by saying zip as Seth moves Gary’s left hand to point at Christian. Christians say zap as Annabelle moves Christian’s left hand to point at Seth.  Seth says zop as Kori moves Seth’s hand to point at Annabelle. For an added challenge, switch right and left hand roles every time something goes amiss.

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Swig Swag Swop. The offers swig, swag, and swop replace zip, zap, zop. During swop, the send and receiver change places. Note: yes, I know swop is typically spelled swap. I choose to preserve the vowel sequence over spelling…

Zig Zag Zorg. This variation is so different it’s often called its own games. The offer zig, zag, and zorg replace zip, zap, and zop. During zorg, the send claps as he points. As a later challenge, the clap rotates sequentially from zorg to zag to zig, then resets.

Warming Up To Warm-Ups

I just joined a helpful new Facebook group dedicated solely to sharing improv warm-ups.  I’m always astonished when I hear some improvisers say that they never or don’t like to warm-up before a practice or show.  I value warm-ups as a way to prepare you body, mind, and spirit as well as well a way to connect with your fellow performers.  Plus, they’re often fun!

The term warm-ups is a bit of a misnomer because many so-called warm ups are in and of themselves effective exercises that teach or reinforce specific improv craft.  Even deceptively simple games like Zip-Zap-Zop have an analog to scene work, i.e., making strong, clear offers.  Plus, did I mention they’re often fun?

Many well known warm-up games are, or are derived from, children's games (from school, camp, scouting) and drinking games.

Many well known warm-up games are, or are derived from, children's games (from school, camp, scouting) and drinking games.

There are many types of improv warm-ups designed for various groups sizes, from just pair to giant circle of 20 or more performers.  I think in many cases it’s important to play these games with speed and commitment vs. worrying about getting the rules right.  It’s a reminder that failure is a wonderful and important component of improv (even so far as I’ve encountered some audiences that were otherwise stone faced until the performers began making mistakes with scene work and games).

For example, consider the warm-up Zoom-Schwartz-Profigliano, a game reknowned for having an extensive, rich set of commands often differing among different improv groups (for example, while visiting ComedySportz Portland last week, I discovered they did not know the command bork, which is routine in both ComedySportz Sacramento and ComedySportz San Jose).  When I observe performers getting too caught up in the rules, I suggest a morbid mind scenario to encourage them to play faster and fail.  I tell them to imagine machine gun armed enforcers are standing around the circle.  The enforcers won’t shoot you if you get a command wrong, i.e., fail.  They will shoot you if you go too slowly and don’t commit to your choices!  Another technique is to limit the command set to a core set (maybe 5 basic commands) to encourage speed and commitment.

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My general love for warm-ups being said, I should also point out that I think that there is such a thing as warming up too much.  I’ve particularly observed this when coaching zealous high school teams who want to warm up for 45 minutes before a show.  The problem with an overly long warm-up is that it might take away from the energy and freshness available for a show.  I personally find 20 minutes is the sweet spot for warming up a group of 6-8 people.  You can adjust depending on groups size, i.e., a little shorter for a smaller group, a little longer for a larger group.  Of course, it also depends on the mix of exercises and games.