meta prov

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meta prov

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 6th, 2012, 2:42 pm

continuing the discussion Adam and i started in the OOB forum...what are folks' thoughts/feelings/observations on going meta in improv (referencing or commenting on the fact that you're in a show while doing a show, either winkingly or outright breaking the fourth wall)?

personally, i've started doing it a lot lately in more playful/chaotic shows which is fun for me, but i worry about becoming too reliant on it as a shtick. and it definitely irks me when it pops up in a narrative show (i once saw a Start Trekkin' where one of the crew literally said "that never happens in Star Trek!" while in character).

thoughts?
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Postby Spots » March 6th, 2012, 2:52 pm

I chimed in when Justin Strackany facebooked about whether going meta was OK. As always - here I'm overly opinionated.

The biggest no-no about going meta is that performers often break the palpable tension in their scenes by breaking character and winking at the audience. This is sometimes a result of not wanting to appear vulnerable. "Hey guys, I'm not really dumb-- I'm just playing dumb for an improv show!" If you can go meta while also building and maintaining dramatic tension -- go for it!


*But 90% of the time performers go meta... I am secretly cringing. Because they are breaking an overarching tension & pattern within their improv set. I become self aware & stop personally investing into the reality they were building.
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Postby Deano » March 6th, 2012, 2:56 pm

When it happens once in a while it's cute but I dislike watching it or trying to play with someone going meta all the time. It pulls all focus away from the made up world and replaces it with a self serving wink and nod. Non-theater and improv people seem to particularly hate it. Well, at least some have told me that.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 6th, 2012, 3:06 pm

yeah, i find i do it most when the reality of the show is fractured anyway...like Pick Your Own Path, where you're already addressing the audience and the "hero" is nominally representing the audience anyways ("you find yourself on storm swept hilltop..."). i think that's the biggest reason it bothers me in narrative and not so much in more inherently chaotic formats.
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Postby Spots » March 6th, 2012, 3:23 pm

Deano wrote:Non-theater and improv people seem to particularly hate it. Well, at least some have told me that.


No, you're right. The audience will laugh at the obvious break in tension. That's fight-or-flight instincts. Recently I've had 3 guests who laughed at meta jokes, but then came up to me an hour later to say, "So what the hell was that? They didn't commit to the scene." The consensus I gather is that going meta comes across as condescending.
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Postby trabka » March 6th, 2012, 3:27 pm

To me a lot of it intends on the overall intent of the show and the promises made to the audience about what they're going to see. If you can go meta without breaking any promises, great. Because of that, I agree that it more than likely shouldn't happen in a narrative show unless it happens to be a narrative based off of a source that utilized meta and 4th wall breaking (ie. Zach calling timeout during Saved by the Bell). Even if a narrative show has no genre/existing source material conceit lain over it, I think the expectation of an improvised play trumps an urge to go meta. Then again, I don't do narrative except for by accident this one time, so I'm sure someone who's more versed in that wheelhouse can find exceptions should they feel so inclined.

Within the context of a show that starts with no promise beyond "We are going to improvise a show based on your suggestion" you have more room to play. As long as the intent of going Meta or breaking the 4th wall or even addressing the audience directly from outside the context of a scene is to honor the show as a whole, I'm generally OK with it. The times I hate it are when it the joke is way too inside baseball for a non-improv mechanics savvy audience, or the kind of meta Jesse talked about.
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Postby Spots » March 6th, 2012, 3:35 pm

Yeah! It's worth mentioning that after the facebook thread I discussed, Justin & Christina went on to perform an awesome "meta show".

They began the show by walking in and buying a ticket as if they were late to the show, then they sat down in the audience and made small talk. The tension was overwhelming. And the audience was buzzing because the performers weren't addressing the elephant in the room, you know? They eventually found their way to the stage and blended the meta aspects into a more traditional improv show. They did all this without ever addressing the audience. It was an awesome voyeuristic experience.
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Postby Brad Hawkins » March 6th, 2012, 3:45 pm

Totally depends on the show. I would not want to see the fourth wall broken even once in the Violet Underbelly. But in Franz & Dave, the whole thing is meta. We'll be in a scene, and if we think it's not working, we break out and into our F&D personas, and Ceej will usually say "No, wait, that's stupid." and then we'll get the audience to help us out. Now... when we actually HAVE managed to build up some dramatic tension, we stop doing that. That's when it's time to let the scene speak for itself.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 6th, 2012, 3:48 pm

yeah, Live Nude Improv was highly meta in that way (we're not addressing the audience, they're actually part of the cast!). and i think any show that directly references and acknowledges the audience past the opening "good evening folks" patter has a bit more freedom to go meta like that.

on the condescension note...i think if they feel like they're in on the joke it can help diffuse some of that. like anytime Lampe or I would call out Chuy on getting his history wrong in a iZARZAMORA! show (typically still in character), it got a huge laugh from the audience, i think because they were in on the joke. like with LNI, the meta elements were inclusive instead of exclusive.

Jesse's story reminds me of a show 710 Split did in Los Angeles. Jeremy and our friend Karie were jamming with us that night, but the theatre had only sold one ticket. the guy had gone to get food before the show and the theatre insisted on going on with the show. so before he got back, we all sat ourselves throughout the audience. the host jumped up to introduce us and we all applauded as the stage lights came up...we let about 30 seconds go by before we all jumped up onstage and started the show. the guy's face looked like we'd just introduced him to Santa Claus. we geared the rest of the show specifically for him, constantly coming back to him for more suggestions and ideas for scenes ("what do YOU want to see happen next?"). that was a nice and playful vibe, and one i hope i never have to repeat in the future. ;)
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Postby Spots » March 6th, 2012, 3:56 pm

Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell wrote:on the condescension note.. like anytime Lampe or I would call out Chuy on getting his history wrong in a iZARZAMORA! show ... because they were in on the joke.


That's a great note. Yes I totally agree. I'll add that too much inclusive meta in one show eventually becomes exclusive. "All right guy, we're impressed. Back to the show."

I love your 710 story! That's such a wonderful way to include the audience when it's so small. Imagine if you had done the entire show from the seats surrounding him. Could that have worked? Man, this makes me excited to experiment in the future. Not that I should be wishing for small audiences ... but that's a fun thing to focus on.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 6th, 2012, 4:05 pm

an entire show from within the audience...that COULD be fun. good possible Fringe format? i know at one point in college there was a notion of doing a show where the audience was onstage watching the actors in the audience (who were acting LIKE an audience). but it was deemed that the audience would get pretty uncomfortable just standing around under hot lights (only the foolish and insane sign up for that life. ;) ). this could be an interesting alternative...
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Postby bradisntclever » March 6th, 2012, 4:09 pm

Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell wrote:an entire show from within the audience...that COULD be fun. good possible Fringe format? i know at one point in college there was a notion of doing a show where the audience was onstage watching the actors in the audience (who were acting LIKE an audience). but it was deemed that the audience would get pretty uncomfortable just standing around under hot lights (only the foolish and insane sign up for that life. ;) ). this could be an interesting alternative...


If I'm not mistaken, The Leading Brands had a show where they switched places with the audience. Heiberg? Sara? Anyone recall this?
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Postby Roy Janik » March 6th, 2012, 4:18 pm

As someone who does a lot of open-ended narrative, I can honestly say that it's no different than any other show in terms of how much meta-ness should be pursued.

In fact, riding that balance between character and improviser can be an absolute delight in a narrative show. It can help to spice up dull or trite moments in the overall story arc, and it can be fun to fuck with your fellow troupe members.

Obviously, it can be overdone. And God, have I overdone it sometimes. The same is true with anything, though. But I love working on that skill, of being able to pop out of the action for a playful moment, and then snap back into character.

When I first started, my goal with narrative was to make it indistinguishable from a scripted play. But gradually my attitude shifted... if I'm going to justify doing an improv show, as opposed to going home and scripting something, then I want to do what I can to maintain a sense of playfulness, mischief, and joyful discovery.

One of the things that clarified it for me was this post I reference ALL THE TIME by Bill Arnett on the two shows concept:

http://billarnett.com/wordpress/?p=40
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Postby Spots » March 6th, 2012, 4:28 pm

That's funny Roy. That balance and playfulness you describe is something that totally comes across. As Adam was discussing - I think your playfulness and self enjoyment in those moments does "not break the promise" to the audience. It's the format of show they sign on to see. The show itself and your commenting on it. I'd love to hear more about pursuing that as a skill.

Admittedly I should play with that playfulness more. I punish myself for anything remotely close to cracking.

Roy Janik wrote:When I first started, my goal with narrative was to make it indistinguishable from a scripted play.


This is where I'm at now. Except I tape individual scenes with the intent of transcribing them into product. To then turn into a more refined short or scene in a larger film. I have a wonderful 60 page transcript of a Chris & Tami show I did as an experiment that reads more fluidly than anything I've ever written.
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Postby trabka » March 6th, 2012, 4:35 pm

Roy Janik wrote:One of the things that clarified it for me was this post I reference ALL THE TIME by Bill Arnett on the two shows concept:

http://billarnett.com/wordpress/?p=40

This is an concept I've been trying to express since last summer I haven't been able to verbalize myself. Wonderful stuff.
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