Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation. All skills-levels welcome.

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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby happywaffle » May 3rd, 2013, 8:16 am

trabka wrote:If you're citing "narrative mastery" and "theatricality" as the hallmarks of Austin improv, you're ignoring at least half of the work that goes on in this town.

Any accurate description of a city-wide style (which I think we'd be hard pressed to come up with because of how diverse everyone's artistic goals are) is more than likely not going to reference any particular format, and be more based in the community atmosphere and what that leads to in our performances.


Just catching up here, but, the thing is I agree completely as well. I'm fully aware that I'm being selective when I describe those facets of improv—not "ignoring," just trying to answer the OP's question. I dunno though, maybe it's just a flawed question. Even "Chicago style" is vague and hand-wavey, given all the evolution that's happened in the artform.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby ratliff » May 3rd, 2013, 8:36 am

If you're talking inside baseball, I don't think there's a single umbrella term that covers everything that's going on. But a nonimproviser could be forgiven for thinking that Austin's default improv style is "Improvised [Pop Culture Reference]." And I'm not sure she'd be wrong.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » May 3rd, 2013, 10:02 am

"Austin improv isn't a marketplace. It's a bazaar." I don't know what that means, but it's what popped into my head while reading Jesse's last post. so, yes, i'm quoting my own brain...in case it winds up being nonsense, I want to have a level of separation. ;)

ratliff wrote:If you're talking inside baseball, I don't think there's a single umbrella term that covers everything that's going on. But a nonimproviser could be forgiven for thinking that Austin's default improv style is "Improvised [Pop Culture Reference]." And I'm not sure she'd be wrong.


hey, we do plenty of Improvised Obscure Culture References too! VERSATILE! 8)
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby Brad Hawkins » May 3rd, 2013, 1:24 pm

happywaffle wrote:Even "Chicago style" is vague and hand-wavey, given all the evolution that's happened in the artform.


Chicago style improv is improv with mustard, onions, emerald relish, tomatoes, sport peppers, and celery salt. Then a group game, then mustard doing something else, then onions seen at a point in the future, then a different condiment doing the same thing emerald relish was doing in the first beat, then everyone forgets about the tomatoes and the sport peppers, then celery salt turning into a group game...
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby PyroDan » May 3rd, 2013, 9:05 pm

ratliff wrote:If you're talking inside baseball, I don't think there's a single umbrella term that covers everything that's going on. But a nonimproviser could be forgiven for thinking that Austin's default improv style is "Improvised [Pop Culture Reference]." And I'm not sure she'd be wrong.


I have actually had friends ask me "Why is Austin, improvised____________ all the time?" SO I think there is a perception there. It's not the pandemic of Chicago's "I saw _________ and they did this awesome ___________" Now every troupe follows suit. But the narrative is prevalent and is done well in Austin, but it isn't everything.

I think a themed show is way easier to market and therefore gains more traction in the mind's eye.

I will say one of the great things about Austin is that the theatres and schools are all peers. There isn't ONE style that the majority of the community learns at one theatre and then bleeds all over town, a'la UCB GAME! GAME! GAME! It's a nice mix of style.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby Jastroch » May 4th, 2013, 12:20 pm

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I'm of the mind that this isn't a question that needs to be or can be answered by us, the Austin Improv Community.

I think the amazing thing about Austin is that we're all DOING THE WORK and not afraid to cross pollinate. When Ken Burns Jr. makes his "IMPROV: An American Art form" documentary in 2056, will there be an hour episode dedicated to Austin Improv? Who knows, it's not our job to worry about that. The more important thing to do is to keep on playing.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby BriHo » May 4th, 2013, 9:27 pm

If you read about the history of longform improv and the like, "Improvised ________" got started in Chicago; in one book I read, Tom Booker was credited with creating it over at Annoyance.

I'd say the one thing that I see as common is that what in other cities is considered canon Austin either rejects it or, possibly more accurately, is blissfully unaware, which allows for the versatility et al some of you are describing. For example, in New York and Chicago, generally speaking the trainingwheels Harold is considered the foundation of all non-premise based longform, with all other forms descending from it. For quite a while, I privately agreed with that viewpoint, believing that other than relatively minor variances (the opening, whether or not cut-tos/timedashes were allowed, etc) people were unknowingly going for the same thing: a good show takes an idea and then explores that idea through connections made by competent improvisers, whereas bad shows take ideas and half-explores them by making jokes and then editing.

There's still something to that, but after hearing P-graph on Improvised New York I quite realized that philosophy and approach are not absolutes, and to put things in such little boxes is akin to making jokes and then editing. That was phrased badly, but basically Ratliff and Jastroch are right.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby poltergasm » May 5th, 2013, 1:40 am

The Austin Style is "gorgeous." As in:

Out-of-towner: So, what's Austin's improv style?
Us: Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby Spots » May 5th, 2013, 1:52 pm

Not sure if this has been covered here yet.


"Chicago style" is a bit of a misnomer when you try to apply it to every city. "Chicago style" simply refers back to a snapshot in history and is not representative of the current culture in that city.

(please someone correct me if I'm mistaken, I'm going from the seat of my pants here)


As I understand, it's a nod to Viola Spolin / Paul Sills / Compass Players / Del Close / Second City which later culturally exploded to things like Saturday Night Live and SCTV etc etc.

So when you say "Chicago style" I hope you also look to the often under-appreciated improv idol, Neva Boyd, who introduced the concept of games to Viola Spolin during her time as a social worker in Chicago. As early as what? 1920 or something ridiculous like that? You'd have to read up on Hull House and its wonderful purpose & cause for the immigrants and citizens of that city. I've always wanted to do extensive research on Boyd and Hull House. And some day I will.

Neva Boyd is patient zero, in my eyes. Yes I'm familiar with Commedia dell'arte and other such things. But Boyd caused the single biggest impact which I recognize.

To summarize - the term "Chicago style" is a snapshot of Chicago way back when.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby PyroDan » May 5th, 2013, 8:39 pm

I believe, that "Chicago style" actually is closer to what the Harold did for improv, and not just the Harold. Meaning that, rather than a listing of shortform games, each group/show/etc is creating a performance piece. More akin to watching live theatre then seeing some people perform what was essentially acting exercises.

Del's reasoning (please correct me if I am way off base anyone) was based on the fact Second City did shortform at the end of revues to mine material for other shows, and that end of show stuff was sometimes more engaging for him than a rehearsed sketch. His question was "why isn't this the show?" And he began to develop the Harold as a means to take these fun 5 minute bits, use the components and create a longer, unscripted, unrehearsed theatre happening.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby Caeriel » May 6th, 2013, 8:39 am

I think Austin style is hard to define because it's representative of that attitude of cross-pollination. I don't ever hear any dogmatic "this is the right way to do improv" here, but rather an inclusive embrace of all the different styles and, generally, this idea that the more open you are to those various styles, the stronger and better you'll be as an improviser. Everyone pretty much plays with everyone and does everything. Perhaps "delightfully slutty" is our style.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby ratliff » May 6th, 2013, 9:01 am

The best thing about Austin improv is that any label you give it will be, to some degree, wrong. We’re in trouble when that's not true anymore.
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby Roy Janik » May 6th, 2013, 9:46 am

ratliff wrote:The best thing about Austin improv is that any label you give it will be, to some degree, wrong. We’re in trouble when that's not true anymore.


Hear, Hear!
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » May 6th, 2013, 11:57 am

"what is the Austin improv style?"
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Re: Is there an Austin style of improv yet?

Postby kbadr » May 6th, 2013, 1:05 pm

Roy Janik wrote:
ratliff wrote:The best thing about Austin improv is that any label you give it will be, to some degree, wrong. We’re in trouble when that's not true anymore.


Hear, Hear!

I'm such a contrarian (mellowed out in recent years...) that if someone said to me "PGraph. You're the troupe that does ___", I would immediately want to something distinctly not ___ to prove that any box we seem to fit in is a choice and not out of necessity.

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