Improvised ____ Is OK!

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Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby kbadr » May 5th, 2013, 11:47 am

This might not be a necessary post , but it seems worth discussing. I am going to make some assumptions, address what I think are (potentially dismissive) common misconceptions, and clarify some things about Improvised ____, or at least the way that my troupe and theatre approach it.

First, some background. My name is Kareem. I am a founding member of Parallelogramophonograph and one of the owners of The Hideout Theatre. PGraph has had a weekly show for 6 1/2 years. Before I was one of the owners of The Hideout, I started out as a student. At that time it was the only improv theater in town, and there were two improv shows a week. On occasion The Hideout would do Start Trekkin', which as you might expect, is Improvised Star Trek.

PGraph has done a number of Improvised ____ formats, in addition to a number of formats that could not be labeled as such. Our personal approach to any Improvised ____ format is one that requires respect of the source material, whether it's a playwright, a film genre, an author, whatever. When we develop an Improvised ___ format, we are not aiming to mock or parody the source material. Our goal is to use the tropes of the source material to produce an original piece of work that would be classified in whatever genre we are drawing inspiration from. The Hideout's approach to Start Trekkin' was an early influence on us, and as we developed our own methods and voice as a troupe and became more involved in The Hideout, I think it's fair to say that our approach in turn influenced The Hideout's shows.

Here's what I've learned performing in, directing, and producing many Improvised ____ shows:

Improvised ____ is not paint-by-numbers improv:
In broad strokes, it may seem like doing an improvised version of a known genre or intellectual property is a sort of Mad Libs of improv. It can be, I suppose, but that would be the least satisfying way to do it, in my opinion. When we approach Improvised ____, we strive to have a deep understanding of the character types, settings, story types, and tone of the source. Tone is a huge one that I think is often over-looked. Capturing the tone of a certain genre will push the performers in different directions and is essential to doing any genre justice. I would say that tone is a concept that could and should be carried into every improv format or scene.

Improvised ____ can provide focus:
Too often, I think we as improvisers want a completely open stage where anything is possible, and just as often groups will slip into patterns, implicitly limiting that open stage of infinite possibilites to a more finite set of scenarios and scene- or story-types. For our own formats, PGraph has used Improvised ____ to push our improv into directions or areas that we feel we need work on as a troupe. We were bad at love stories, so we decided to do Improvised Screwball Comedies. We were bad at portraying morally bad/evil characters on stage, so we developed Villainy (less of an Improvised ___ show, now that I think about it, but still a valid point.)

Improvised ____ provides opportunities for theatricality:
Sets, sound design, props, and costuming become possible when you know you're stepping on the stage to present a particular genre or tone. This doesn't mean you are going to be limited by those aspects, but they now become available to you to present a more theatrical show, if that happens to be your goal.

Improvised ____ builds your improv toolbelt:
When we finish a run of a format, the specific skills we worked on to develop the show end up in our improv toolbelt. It's an inevitable side effect of working on any improv skill, whether it's editing and group scenes, or love stories and farce.

Marketing:
This is an overlooked justification and important reason that PGraph started doing Improvised ____. When we got a weekly show in 2006, we talked about what we could do to build consistent audiences. What would make a town not particularly savvy about improv come out to see a show, and what would set our version of "We make it all up!" apart from every other troupe's? Also, we knew we wanted to market in whatever way we could, which means posters and flyers. We made the general rule for ourselves that "If it can't be photographed and put on a poster, the general public won't understand or give a crap about what we're doing."

Am I saying that Improvised ___ is the Best, the Only, and The One way of improvising? Of course not. First of all, if anyone tells you that any particular method is The Way, they are completely full of shit and limiting your improv experience. More to the point, I (and PGraph) personally get bored very quickly, so we move from concept to concept, to push ourselves to continually grow and learn. Even within a specific format, we've returned to it three or four times to actively think about and explore new ways for the format to inspire us. If the work isn't inspiring, regardless of the format or intent, it will be painful for the improvisers and audience alike.

Having said all that, I go through periods of "Ah Jesus, can we just not do a Improvised ____ for a while?" And so we don't. And I have no interest in convincing other improvisers to pursue this method of developing shows. I, my troupe, and my theatre develop these kinds of shows (not exclusively, I must repeat again) because we are personally inspired by them. If they were't inspiring, we wouldn't do them.
Last edited by kbadr on May 5th, 2013, 4:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby Jastroch » May 5th, 2013, 1:27 pm

I'm going to travel back in time to 2006 and write a similar post: "Doing a Harold is OK!"
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby Spots » May 5th, 2013, 1:28 pm

I saw Kaci post about this on facebook so I clicked to check it out. Definitely appreciate the thoughtful clarification & highlighting of the fact that you guys are inspired every time you choose new source material.


I will own up to joking around with my peers in other cities and saying, "Where's the creativity? Ten years from now what will be left? Improvised Matlock? Improvised Murder She Wrote? Is it really as inspiring every time they do it?"

But clearly it's not that Improvised _____ is the culprit. It's when someone copies your style and invents a show lacking in inspiration. There is creativity to be found in every corner of the universe. If a person is actively looking for it. Source material can be vastly inspiring. Or it can lack inspiration. We have to contextualize and be objective about it.


If I DO make an Improvised Matlock show I can put my very heart into it and make it the best damn show in the universe. It has everything to do with not phoning it in and finding new sources of light.


Right on Kareem. I certainly appreciate this.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby Roy Janik » May 5th, 2013, 2:06 pm

Jastroch wrote:I'm going to travel back in time to 2006 and write a similar post: "Doing a Harold is OK!"


ColdTowne's excellent work in the interleaving time is all the defense of the Harold you'll ever need. I support time travel, though.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby Jon Bolden » May 5th, 2013, 2:07 pm

Whatever kind of show genuinely, truly, (close your eyes and reach deep down -- Oprah style), excites you and your peers, nobody can take that away from you. Whatever misunderstanding, hate, jealousy, or definition of improv they have, that's their problem.

I don't care if it's a standup doing completely improvised jokes or a production of Death of a Salesman where only the last scene of the show is improvised. It doesn't fucking matter if your group believes in it.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby KathyRose » May 5th, 2013, 2:49 pm

I think you've nailed it, Kareem. I've admired and enjoyed every Improvised ____ show that I've attended.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby happywaffle » May 6th, 2013, 11:07 am

I feel like there's been a little bit of a shift from improvising a certain property (Star Trek, Law & Order) to improvising a certain style (Woody Allen, steampunk). Properties are finite, whereas styles are infinite and can be iterated indefinitely.

That being said, what Kareem said is true. And there's also a lot of gray area (e.g. improvised barbecue mockumentary), so it's mostly rhetorical. My overall point is that, whether you're starting from source material or from nothing at all, you're still improvising just the same: finding characters and relationships, hitting tropes, and seeking out genuine moments.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » May 6th, 2013, 11:52 am

amen!
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby Jastroch » May 7th, 2013, 9:26 am

Roy Janik wrote:
Jastroch wrote:I'm going to travel back in time to 2006 and write a similar post: "Doing a Harold is OK!"


ColdTowne's excellent work in the interleaving time is all the defense of the Harold you'll ever need. I support time travel, though.


I could say the same thing about PGraph and the Hideout when it comes to "Improvised ______." Anyone being dismissive clearly hasn't seen a Hideout show.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby TexasImprovMassacre » May 8th, 2013, 1:26 am

Improvised ______ shows can be great. I like the things about them that Kareem pointed out. Particularly the kind of theatricality that is added by being able to enhance the show with costumes and set and props and sweet tech.

Its hard to be dismissive of "improvised _____" as a whole....Like any other kind of improv there are nights when it doesn't go as well as it will on other nights in the same run. If someone is dismissing an entire type of improv based on one show that's their own silly problem of being a closed minded curmudgeon.

Its more work to have to first do good improv and also take care of props and costumes and sets and good tech...


I'm sort of curious to know what this is in response to initially. One of my favorite things about the hideout is that y'all have always seemed to be doing what inspires you, and I feel like over time your unique flavor has intensified rather than heading towards neutral. There will likely always be naysayers, but there's a larger community that I think most certainly would encourage y'all to keep following your instincts and doing what you do because you do it well.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby TexasImprovMassacre » May 8th, 2013, 5:50 pm

I read that Austin style thread and now I have an idea of where this came from.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby Spots » May 8th, 2013, 6:47 pm

I don't think Dan's comment was off-base.



It was definitely an objective viewpoint based on others' observations and comments, in addition to his own.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby TexasImprovMassacre » May 9th, 2013, 1:16 pm

This is in no way to throw Dan under the bus, and I don't think he did this intentionally or that it even has any negative connotations...just to try to clarify ahead of time...

In that Austin Styles thread there was a point where Dan went from "improvised ______" to describing those same shows as narrative improv.

I don't think that "improvised _______" necessarily means narrative improv...Though, I have another question that may or may not be appropriate for this thread.

I was wondering if someone who performs or teaches "narrative improv" could define "narrative" and/or "narrative improv"?

I felt like I see a lot of improv that has a narrative (narrative = story?), but without the improvisers seeming to be intentionally doing "narrative improv". My notion is that "narrative improv" perhaps refers more to the approach than it does to the show it produces. Though, I realize the narrative improv approach produces narrative improv shows, but I think in this instance the training is what sets narrative improv apart from improv that also happens to have a "story". So, hopefully my question makes sense...

To explain why I'm asking, I sometimes hear from students at CT who say "you don't do narrative here". Which, on some levels, is true. If we're talking about whether or not we teach something called "narrative improv"...we do thoughhave an approach that teaches how to tell a story. We approach it in a different way, and focus on different aspects of storytelling. Still, there are similarities like how we probably both would if something had been established in a show, ask that it continued to be honored or at least broken for a reason. So, with that similarity in mind we also have a lot of shows that we produce which have a story. Sometimes the story is linear and focused, and sometimes without having ever instructed students on it the shows could fill out a nice story spine map (my own mix of terms)...When we teach certain forms like the monoscene in Level 5 those shows almost always tell a single linear story. That's not to say that "single linear story" is what is meant by narrative, but those shows seem to me as much a "narrative" as many of the intentionally "narrative improv shows" i've seen. So, that's what is behind my question as to what defines narrative improv, and if its more about the final product or the approach.

Also this is in an attempt to better understand what is meant by narrative improv so that we can communicate about it with a mutual understanding. I think that there is sometimes perhaps a misunderstanding that because ColdTowne doesn't teach something called "narrative" that our philosophy is somehow anti-narrative. I think we are very much pro-narrative but in a different way. To go out on a limb, I imagine that perhaps the type of "story structure" being taught by story spine in particular may be used in a way similar to how ColdTowne uses the harold. Not to teach students beats to memorize and forever execute, but to use the structure to help teach them all the other lessons of good improv, and then to have that structure be there if needed to fall back on, but to make each show uniquely what it wants to be...that's speculation though...
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby Roy Janik » May 9th, 2013, 2:18 pm

TexasImprovMassacre wrote: I imagine that perhaps the type of "story structure" being taught by story spine in particular may be used in a way similar to how ColdTowne uses the harold. Not to teach students beats to memorize and forever execute, but to use the structure to help teach them all the other lessons of good improv, and then to have that structure be there if needed to fall back on, but to make each show uniquely what it wants to be.


YES, and I made that exact analogy yesterday in a conversation. But also when I teach story spine, I teach it as descriptive of what stories are, rather than a prescriptive structure for stories, if that makes sense.

As to what narrative improv or longform narrative is, that's an excellent question. I don't like the term, but I do use it, because I don't have anything better. My first name for the Improvised Play Festival was the Narrative Improv Festival, but even I was bored by that name.

When I say narrative, I'm usually referring to a show that tells one story from start to finish... and not to any one technique or school of thought. I've seen plenty of harolds and a TJ & Dave show or two that I considered narrative. But I know that other people use the term differently. Patti Stiles and Dan O'Connor have both come to Austin and taught master classes in Narrative Improv that turned out be scene study classes. They were using the term narrative to refer to the story in the independent scenes, not the overall show.

Sorry if this is unhelpful. For what it's worth, here's how I view the Hideout's improv. Our roots are in Johnstone's teaching in improv, but we take influence from everywhere as we continue to grow and evolve our particular style of improv. We have a great love of storytelling and theatricality, and thus we teach techniques in creating fully improvised stories (or narrative)... but not exclusively.

Getting back to a narrative approach to scenework vs. narrative shows, I think that's an excellent thing to consider, Cody. And I think there's some truth there. The Hideout tends to put more focus on character change than some other schools. To take one example, there's the idea of platform/tilt held up to the idea of finding the game and heightening. In one things progress until there's a tipping point and we see the ramifications, and in the other a pattern is repeated and reinforced. I tried real hard not to say platform/tilt VS game in this paragraph, because they're complementary of each other, are sometimes the same thing, and we teach both.

blah blah, rambly rambly.
Last edited by Roy Janik on May 9th, 2013, 4:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Improvised ____ Is OK!

Postby Jon Bolden » May 9th, 2013, 2:41 pm

TexasImprovMassacre wrote:To explain why I'm asking, I sometimes hear from students at CT who say "you don't do narrative here".


Yeah, I think these broad generalizations about curriculums of theaters come from what they don't focus on. The Hideout doesn't focus a lot on sticking to your character's game or "thing" as much as other schools and it often gets misconceived as "They encourage change", which isn't really the case at all. Or at least it's focused on under the phrase, "be committed".

I think not explicitly focusing on storytelling probably gives the same strange side effect for CT. Also – sidebar - The Hideout doesn't actually teach story until level 6.

I think these misconceptions are inevitable.
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