Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation.

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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby TexasImprovMassacre » May 9th, 2013, 12:51 pm

Oh man, there's so much to respond to in this thread. Its a wonderful discussion.

I second the last question of what the definition of style we're using is...I'm going to guess that "style" is being used in a very general way to mean anything specific about a place that might set it apart from another improv scene/city/school.

I like Roy's idea that its probably easier to determine some sort of stylistic differences between the different theater's training philosophies than it is to distinguish between entire cities because the cities are made up of different training centers who certainly do have different curriculum and philosophies that they operate on...though, at least in Chicago, there was also a ton of cross pollination of students, and performers. There was also crossover of teachers who would teach at multiple training centers, and then each added their own sort of touch to the school's particular curriculum... I don't personally agree with the idea that Austin has significantly more cross pollination or cross theater support than other cities do. I believe that goes on everywhere. Maybe Brad could answer this for NY and Theresa for LA. I think its tough to say though which student then belongs to which school as they could have trained at all of them. How do you really determine to which school individual performers "belong"? Does it matter?

I know what is meant when we're talking about Chicago Style, and LA Style, and NY Style...but I think that should be Chicago Styles, and LA Styles, and NY Styles because those cities have multiple schools/philosophies...and even then, those cities have in their make up of performers with training from their home towns that effects their end performance...So, I don't know that this "styles" conversations really applies so much to the students and performers as it does to the individual theaters and their improv philosophies. I guess their philosophies are being imprinted on the performer, but it then gets mixed around with all the other training they have.

I'm curious how much other cities compare themselves to other cities. That is something that I feel like perhaps happens more often here...though, that's my own observation and I could be wrong. I'm sure it happens everywhere. So, it may be more the way in which, at least to me, it seems that as a "younger improv city" people here (myself included) sometimes seek the validation that we're at least "just as good" as other cities. I think that's something we do that's a little different or feel differently about than people in Chicago, and likely LA and NY. Again, I'm sure people there make comparisons as well, and that there are other cities similar to Austin that also do that...I just wanted to mention that I see it happening here more in a way that to me seems to be seeking validation, and I think that's interesting.

I think when you narrow the comparison's down to Austin vs one other city at a time there are certain things that become more apparent. I don't agree that Austin is too small to compare to other cities, though personally its hard to say without experience...and the differences aren't absolute...For example, I don't know from personal experience but it seems to me that a city like LA does have more people using improv as a stepping stone to "making it" in something than Austin does. Though there are students here who seem to take classes or do improv for that kind of reason, and I'm sure there are people in LA who just do improv because they love it and have no intention of "making it". I think that because we have less of that here (because we have less of that industry here?) it allows there to be more room for the people who do it more of the Love Of The Game (TM) and I think that benefits our scene in some ways.

Comparing Austin to Chicago from my personal experience I did find (like Ratliff mentioned) that in Austin format seems to be more a focus. There were plenty of shows that focused on form in Chicago, and theaters who "encouraged" their students to do certain forms, there was also shows that you might classify as "improvised ______", or "narrative longform" or "narrative longform musicals"...the whole spectrum. Anyhow, I don't personally remember ever hearing "why is Austin improvised ______", I did though here from a couple of people something like "you austinites and your formats". I'm not sure if that particular comment was a reaction to Chicago having gone through a period themselves where formats were very essential to their improv shows and marketing plans. I think in Austin part of what makes forms popular (aside from being part of what inspires people, and that its kind of the passed down "way things are done") is the necessity for groups that want to get people to their shows in a landscape where you have to convince people who may not have much awareness of what improv is to drive to your theater and pay to see a show...I think the awareness of what improv is that seemed to be more widespread in Chicago and so (in addition to all of the heavily form driven shows) there were a good deal of shows where the form seemed to be "do a good improvised show". or if the group did have a form or style it wasn't really part of their advertising. We also have shows like that here, but fewer of them. I wonder how the percentages might stack up, and if it just seemed like there were more of those shows because there were more shows overall? I'm curious if we do actually have more of a focus on forms here and if so what it is attributed to.

I think this is a very interesting conversation. For myself, I think the best way to know is to experience the difference cities improv scenes...and its tough to speculate on what other cities are like without having experienced them first hand. I wonder if anyone from any other cities might be trolling this thread, and be willing to offer their perspective?

Even though I naysayed the idea of the cross pollination and cross theater support of our scene being uniquely Austin, I do think that we do so in a way that is unique. I like our laid back TX style, and I think our physical distance from one another in a large college town with a large population helps there be enough room for everybody. Also, to Dan's point, there do seem to be more people here who do improv not soley as a means to an end, but because they love it. Other cities have that, but we seem to have a lot of it...and that's cool.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby mpbrockman » August 31st, 2013, 2:56 am

Yah, so this is an old thread - but...

Observing the imps that I'm working with from Chicago and L.A., the things that set Austin apart are scenework and longform.

We're more in the Del Close "improv is art unto itself" rather than the Bernie Sahlins' "improv is the means to a sketch" mold.

I could expand on this, but give me a little more observation time.

I will say this, though: where I come from "Da Doo Ron Ron" is a warmup, not an improv show opener.

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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby PyroDan » August 31st, 2013, 3:56 am

I wouldn't judge Chicago/L.A. Second City performers by their Second City shows, those are like you stated Bernie Sahlins "means to a sketch"

I've seen my cast members do SC shows and iO shows, and they play differently in either.
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