We've moved! The School of Drama operations are relocating to Condon Hall until Summer 2024, while Hutchinson Hall undergoes seismic upgrades. See additional information.

You are here

DRAMA 490 C: Special Studies in Acting-Directing

Meeting Time: 
MWF 2:00pm - 3:50pm
HUT 205
Bradley Wrenn
Bradley Wrenn

Syllabus Description:

DRAMA 490 C - Advanced Improv - Character Creation

Spring Quarter 2022

Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 2:00 – 3:50pm - Hut 205

4 Credits


“World Creation Through Improv”


Instructor:   Bradley Wrenn, Part-time Lecturer, School of Drama

Emailbwrenn@uw.edu - This is by far the best way to contact me. Email and I will respond within 48 hours. Because I am part time faculty this email goes away at the end of the quarter, my personal email is bkwrenn80@gmail.com

Office Hours: please make appointments by emailing me directly as hours may change from week to week.


Course Description

This studio course is designed for students who have a foundation in performance. Through exercises and games students will discover what is uniquely funny and joyful about themselves on stage. By creating on their feet and exploring speech, movement & attitude participants will generate a suite of distinctive characters in a supportive environment that embraces the idea of trusting yourself and failing fantastically. 


Core Lessons

  • Share Yourself - Let the audience see you to give them the ability to connect with you and ultimately root for you.
  • Care – The audience loves seeing us have emotional stakes in things we imagine.
  • Trust that Feeling is Enough - Committed emotion is all the “what” and “why” a scene needs.
  • Trust that Following is Enough - We don’t need to be in our heads worried about making something happen once we learn how we can follow what’s already happening to a collaborative end.
  • Agree – Prioritize agreement over negotiation or explanation. Agreement helps us build together faster.
  • Accept - “Yes, And” is the basis of improv – I accept what you do and I make my contribution aware of yours.
  • React - If we make the object that we feel about active in the scene – imagined to be tangible/observable/repeatable on stage – then we have something to react to instead of just talk about.
  • Be Specific – Specific details help the audience imagine the moment and believe that characters are rooted in that moment.
  • Heighten – Do more of what you’re doing. Feel more about what you’re feeling about. Make choices based on choices already made instead of creating all new information.
  • Play with Pacing – Find a rhythm and a progression in the series of game moves to stoke the audience’s expectations and satisfaction.


 Questions I’m excited to explore

  • Can you be playful on demand?
  • What brings YOU joy?
  • Can you create a truthful character who is grounded in reality?
  • What parameters do we need to make a successful scene? What “rules” feel necessary?
  • How do you trust yourself and your scene partner and not worry about being “funny”?


Class Objectives

  • To master improv skills like: creating characters, establishing relationships, exploring scenes with objects and environment work
  • To understand that theater is a game and acting is play - games contain all the raw ingredients we need for generating brilliant theater
  • To learn to recognize and create complicity with a scene partner and an audience
  • To trust that “YOU are enough”
  • To focus on your truth in the moment which is so much more interesting than any contrived “clever” idea


Required Materials and Attire

  • Most important: An open mind!
  • No books required for purchase! All readings will be handed out in class or online.
  • Enthusiasm for performance. I won't be dragging anyone on stage. If you want to get better, you get in front of an audience.
  • I’m going to ask you to find costumes, wigs, hats and objects outside of class that we will use to create with. Please don’t bring anything precious into the studio space. 
  • Wear clothing and shoes that allow you to move.


Attendance/Lateness Policy

This course is practical in nature – in other words the techniques are only learned by doing them. In other words, if you aren’t there, you can’t learn. We rely on each other to show up both literally and metaphorically.

At the same time, there are plenty of ways that traditional attendance and tardiness policies are grounded in cultures of white supremacy and racism. For that reason, I’ll start every class with a grace period of 5 minutes. Please do your best to come on time, both for yourself and for the focus and energy of those you share the space with. If you are having a tough time making it to class, please contact me ASAP. If you miss more than a single class in a row, I’ll likely reach out to check in.

Also, if you miss a class, reach out and I can probably meet with you before class and let you know what you missed.

OFFICIAL POLICY - You have three excused absences. You don’t have to email me or present me with a doctor’s note. You’re adults and I trust you. Once you miss more than three classes it will begin to affect your ability to perform in the class and keep up with what we are learning and thus it will affect your grade.


Class Work - Please do not ask me about grades, points or missed classes while we are in the studio together - email or approach me after class.

CLASS PARTICIPATION AND BI-WEEKLY REFLECTIONS (Each class is worth 2 pts and each reflections is worth 3 pts - 79 pts):

Show up. Try. Every other week at the end of Friday’s class I’ll leave 10 minutes for you to do a “flash” response to the session (or the week). This can be either a written response or audio log of your experiences and discoveries. This is a chance for you to offer feedback and reflections on your work thus far. I expect these assignments to be completed in the time allotted in class so please bring whatever you need to class (laptops etc.) to complete the assignments. Reflections will not be accepted after the due date. 


OUT OF CLASS PREPARATION (3 assignments at 2 pts each - 6pts)

On three occasions I will ask you to prepare a character, costume or scene outside of class. Show me that you put thought and care into the exercises and you’ll receive credit. I will also make expectations clear on Canvas.


FINAL PROJECT - HOTEL PARADISO - 4 performers and 9 characters in 20 minutes (rehearsal and the final performance plus a written reflection - 10 pts):

The course will culminate in a final performance. In the last three weeks we will shift modes. Using characters and games you found throughout our time together you and three of your classmates will create a 20 - 25 minutes mostly scripted performance. You will be given time to work on this piece during class but you will also be expected to rehearse for 6 - 8 hours weekly (just for the final 3 weeks) outside of class. 


Grading Scale:

4.0-3.9: A    3.8-3.5: A-  3.4-3.2: B+ 3.1-2.9: B    2.8-2.5: B-   2.4-2.2: C+

2.1-1.9: C    1.8-1.5: C-  1.4-1.2: D+ 1.1-0.9: D    0.8-0.7: D-     

Any student under 0.7 points will receive a failing (E) grade. You may always email me if you are unsure about your progress in class or want feedback about your work.


Conduct In Class:

The following notes are required for this class. If you agree to stay in this course you are expected to follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid distractions. Cell phone interruptions are distracting to the entire class. Checking email in another tab pulls you out of present tense focus. Do your best to minimize outside distractions while in class. (Emergency exceptions should be discussed prior to class).
  • Be respectful of other classmates. Making stuff is hard and often uneven in its progress. One week you may find something awesome and then for the next three weeks everything might feel wooden and terrible. It happens to everyone, even the most talented creators, so remember when giving feedback that failure is part of the process. To be creative requires support and mutual trust, so let’s offer each other dignity and kindness to each other as best as we are able in our work together.
  • No discrimination of others on the basis of gender, sexuality, race, class, ability, nationality, age, etc. This includes “teasing” or “joking,” even if your intention is to be friendly. It will not be tolerated. This should be an inclusive and supportive space and I aim to create that to the best of my ability as an educator.
  • Please reach out if you feel like I’m not creating a class in which you can be your whole self. As a person who walks through the world with a wealth of privileges, I know that I have blind spots. To invoke activist and educator Jay Smooth, I subscribe to the “dental hygiene” model of anti-discrimination: I don’t brush my teeth once and assume they are forever good to go and the same goes for the approach to creating an inclusive educational space. The practice of learning, listening and making changes accordingly is the measure of success. Therefore, if something I do harms you or makes you feel excluded, I very much hope you feel comfortable enough with me to let me know. I will do my best to listen with open ears and THANK YOU for being generous enough to offer that perspective. If you need to voice a concern anonymously or beyond this scope, see the link on voicing concerns under the “Respect for Diversity Statement” section below.
  • Work in class in private. There’s a classic saying: ”the details stay, the learning travels with you.” To ensure that people feel safe exploring they must know that specifics of personal experiences used in class will not be discussed beyond it without their consent.
  • Approach the work with bravery and curiosity. Exploring new creative territory requires you to dare to go places that are unknown and, hopefully, exciting. I make the promise not to push to places you are not ready to go to, especially if you voice those concerns. In return I ask that students are willing to try to the best of their ability, even if an exercise seems strange. If you are confused about why we’re doing something, ASK! Chances are your questions are those of others in the room and offer an opportunity to learn together. You are graded based on how you dig in over the course of the class and not an external measurement of how “good” your work is.

A note on masks, covid and virtual classes - I promise to remain flexible throughout this semester. I've taught this class virtually, it was incredibly successful and if we find ourselves in a place where we need/want to move things to the virtual realm we can make that happen.


How we give feedback - Community Agreement

1. Start with a check in at the top of the day. 

2. After an exercise we begin by asking the performers how they felt.

3. Avoid monopolizing the conversation. Allow room for others to speak.

4. Use “I” statements when you are able

              "When you (specific and observable), I felt (emotional response)."

5. If something "crosses the line" lets talk about it!

6. Failure is the goal and this is environment when mistakes are welcome!


Tentative Schedule:

  • Week 1 - 2: Improv is risk and theater is a game

The first week we’ll focus most of our energy on creating a safe and playful environment. In the second week we’ll explore exercises to help us gain a common vocabulary and begin to take big risks and make grand discoveries.

  • Weeks 3 – 5: Building Characters

As we build up steam we will use games and prompts to discover what is fun and joyful for you as a performer. We will uncover a myriad of characters and generate as much as possible. This is a gym and the more you get up in front of an audience the stronger you become.  

  • Weeks 6 - 7: Expanding the world through Relationships 

We will begin to mash together the characters we’ve discovered during weeks 3 - 5 and begin to take the first few steps into world building and narrative arch. We will uncover the joy of complicity with your scene partner and   

  • Weeks 8 - 10: Using Improv to generate scripts and sketch

In the final weeks of the course we will explore improv as a tool for creation. We explore creating scenes and scripts on our feet through a collaborative writing process.

Note: This schedule is subject to change and is only an approximation. These changes are based on the class's interest and the speed with which we master the material.


Respect for Diversity Statement:

The diversity students bring to this class (including gender identity, sexuality, dis/ability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, nationality, religion, and culture) should be honored as a resource, strength and benefit. I will do my best to create an online environment in which each class member is able to hear and respect others. If something is said or done in the virtual classroom, in a discussion, or in the group project process, by myself as instructor or by other students, that is troubling or causes discomfort or offense, the impact of that experience is something important, deserving of attention and I would like to know about its occurrence. The School of Drama has developed the following resource that can help you navigate how to proceed if you would like to voice a concern beyond one of us as your instructor:



Academic Accommodations:

Your experience in this class is important to me. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please activate your accommodations via myDRS so we can discuss how they will be implemented in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), contact DRS directly to set up an Access Plan. DRS facilitates the interactive process that establishes reasonable accommodations. Contact DRS at disability.uw.edu.


Pandemic Accommodations:

These are particularly difficult times, and I aim to accommodate students as best as I can. The university has resources or health and wellness, please take advantage of them if you want or need to. https://wellbeing.uw.edu/


The UW Food Pantry:

A student should never have to make the choice between buying food or textbooks. The UW Food Pantry helps mitigate the social and academic effects of campus food insecurity. We aim to lessen the financial burden of purchasing food by providing students with access to food and hygiene products at no-cost. Students can expect to receive 4 to 5 days’ worth of supplemental food support when they visit the Pantry. For information including operating hours, location, and additional food support resources visit https://www.washington.edu/anyhungryhusky/the-uw-food-pantry/


Academic Honesty:

Students at the University of Washington are expected to maintain the highest standards of academic conduct. Cheating, plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct are considered serious offenses and could result in a variety of disciplinary actions, including suspension or permanent dismissal from the University.

For more information on Academic Honesty (Cheating and Plagiarism) see:



For information on Student Standards of Conduct see:




Religious Accommodations:

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).


Disability Resource Services:

The process of artistic creation should be equally available to every student regardless of disability! If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.


Guidance for Students Taking Courses at UW from Outside the U.S.:

Faculty members at U.S. universities – including the University of Washington – have the right to academic freedom which includes presenting and exploring topics and content that other governments may consider to be illegal and, therefore, choose to censor. Examples may include topics and content involving religion, gender and sexuality, human rights, democracy and representative government, and historic events.

 If, as a UW student, you are living outside of the United States while taking courses remotely, you are subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit your access to course material and take punitive action towards you. Unfortunately, the University of Washington has no authority over the laws in your jurisdictions or how local authorities enforce those laws.

If you are taking UW courses outside of the United States, you have reason to exercise caution when enrolling in courses that cover topics and issues censored in your jurisdiction. If you have concerns regarding a course or courses that you have registered for, please contact your academic advisor who will assist you in exploring options.



Safe Campus:  https://www.washington.edu/safecampus/

Call SafeCampus at 206-685-7233 anytime – no matter where you work or study – to anonymously discuss safety and well-being concerns for yourself or others. SafeCampus’s team of caring professionals will provide individualized support, while discussing short- and long-term solutions and connecting you with additional resources when requested.

GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
March 29, 2022 - 10:26pm