Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

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Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby Spots » April 24th, 2014, 3:09 pm

Preface:

TNM and UCB are similar in that they give particular focus to pattern work.

One major difference, however, is that TNM tries to make their students conciously aware of "word association."

The idea isn't to avoid it altogether, but reach past it. Word association is simply hardwired into our brains.

Let's play the pattern game:

Gambit, Chronicle, Metropulse.

This is a pretty simple pattern. These are arts & culture publications from various cities. Thus, the association is higher than word level.


Now watch this.

Metropulse, Chronicle, Gambit, Wolverine.


What happened? We broke the pattern using associative properties of the words.

Gambit and Wolverine are definitely X-Men together. Nobody is disputing that. But clearly that's not the focus of the established pattern.

I'll go in reverse and demonstrate how avoiding association can yield an even deeper pattern:

Gambit, Wolverine, Cyclops, Beast, Colussus

First acknowledge no word association took place. Cool. But what's the pattern?


X-Men! But even further we can agree Male X-Men.


Really simple stuff. But word association is how our brains work. We conjure images easily based on what we hear. So this following pattern is more likely to happen in a group setting:

Wolverine, Cyclops, Beast, Gambit, Chronicle


Nooo! Association broke our cool pattern. Don't believe me that this happens? Try it in a group setting sometime.

Word association is a form of not listening enough. It's individual words over context.

The more we all become conciously aware of our brain's desire for association - the better writers we all become.

That's why I don't consider it a never thing. Just a "be aware of it" thing. We're wired to break patterns in group settings. All it takes is more Pilot hours and it's a simple one to tackle. The whole ensemble benefits.

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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby happywaffle » April 25th, 2014, 12:06 pm

Maybe it's just a different improv theory at work, but unless I specifically instruct otherwise, I love it when the word association heads off in a new direction and becomes a stream of consciousness type thing. Maybe later the "theme" will change again—Chronicle, Statesman, Globe, Times, Helvetica, Comic Sans—and then the game has shifted. The challenge there is joining in the group mind, recognizing the switch that's happened, and responding to it rather than bouncing back to newspaper or X-Man names.
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby Spots » April 25th, 2014, 1:46 pm

Kevin are we talking about playing a single exercise?

Like one round of the pattern game?

Because when you play the pattern game many times and begin to let it spill over into your scene work- the possibilities are a lot greater than switching between 2 things.

People begin to hone in with each other. Group mind tightens.

The accumalitive effect is an ensemble of peformers consciously seeing more patterns. Together.


So you and I disagree whether free association is limiting or not when it comes to patterns. I argue that free association beomes the pattern and no other patterns survive. Its a serious limiting factor when you find the world of patterns which the ensemble can reach.

This could be hard to explain due to "in theory versus in practice." Im going to try, and I would stress focusing attention on the group's accumalitive ability to switch between patterns, thanks to everyone trusting the lack of free association in the room. You sense it together (the presence of patterns in scenes) and strengthen group mind.

There are so many amazing choices to make within a pattern. The ego is not losing much by giving up free association. It actually frees up much of the stress that pairs with uncertainty.
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby bradisntclever » April 25th, 2014, 3:48 pm

I'm just confused as to what you're referring to in the initial post with word association. Word association in general? Or just word association as it pertains to an exercise or an opening like the pattern game? I don't see a lot of word association happening within scenework.

You are correct that UCB is also very big on patterns. Game is often defined as "a consistent pattern of unusual behavior" and improvisers are encouraged to think "if this unusual thing is true, what else is true?" The clearer the pattern is, the easier it is to play. Instead of "bad doctor" (terrible game), more specific concepts like "squeamish doctor" or "germaphobe doctor" are way easier to play in scenes.

I really like the warm-up exercise Pointies, where people stand in a circle and build patterns organically. When a group does it really well it moves past simple categories like "foods" and even "breakfast foods" to stuff like "foods you'd find at a really fancy restaurant for brunch." It's harder and requires more focus that way, but you get some interesting lists generated when people try really hard to hone in on a specific concept together.
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby Spots » April 25th, 2014, 3:59 pm

The misconception I see is that is Word Association somehow fits in with most other scenic patterns.

But consider these patterns that exist:

1. Theme as Pattern
2. Character as Pattern
3. Roadmapping a previous Scene as Pattern
4. Things Youd Eat For Fancy Breakfast as Pattern. (Category or Archetype)
5. Relationship as Pattern

Do it once & its not a pattern. But twice or thrice and anything is a scenic pattern. You have amazing potential for interweaving patterns too.

See how all these patterns suffer if ONE person jumps into the ensemble free associating based on word use?

Words are how our brains form many patterns like sentences, but we've come to a point where words are limiting to scene work. They are simply vessels and choosing a word pattern is a weaker choice than any of the patterns listed above.


Until we players can get inside each other's heads and share the history of experiences we've had as individuals- including books and TV shows- association essentially works against the ensemble rather than for it. I can't follow you down that rabbit hole.

Again, not to discourage association outright. But consider it the 6th bullet point on the list above. That's where Word Association should stay.

Right now it holds a misproportionate "marketshare" in scenes. I get some folks' pride in being able to "follow" associations including lists of quotes from movies. That's what they extract. But let's consider that a niche skillset.


Words are necessary patterns. For living and constructing sentences. But not for constructig scenic patterns. Ultimately I'm proposing the effectiveness of how we pivot through scenes together.

A focus on words is a red herring.
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby Spots » April 26th, 2014, 4:11 pm

An additional point.

Even if your fellow player could follow you down the rabbit hole of words, (via your associative experiences, movie quotes etc) that does not mean every audience member will also follow.

Or even one audience member.

Yes we could make the same case for a theme that weaves throughout our piece. Perhaps we lost the audience at their conscious level, and that's OK.

A theme should remain subconcious. Words don't share this property.

Words bring forth conscious awareness. They are a surfacey call to action toward the intellect.

(That's why we cling to them tightly.)

But what if we leave the rabbit holes for deeper meanings? Themes, characters, relationships. There's an infinite amount of focus we can devote to deeper concepts and, in the end, unintentionally highlight our words.
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby bradisntclever » April 26th, 2014, 4:27 pm

But where does word association actually happen inside of an improv scene? I promise I'm not trying to be difficult about it, I'm just confused. I can't think of a show I've seen where one improviser stopped listening to the context of what was being said and just randomly went down a new path because the word cyclops made him think of the X-Men, to use your example.

Improvisers aim to listen and react within the moment, all while playing at the top of their intelligence, right?
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby Spots » April 26th, 2014, 4:38 pm

What if a player comes onstage with his "mother "and is using an excuse for being late.

He mentions a Cyclops, and clearly the reference is a "box" that doesn't need to be opened.

Of course. Naturally. Of course. The player on the sidelines will be inspired to immediately jump out as a Cyclops.

When the deeper, more inspiring pattern was probably something like "mythological excuses."

ie: "Mom, Pegasus ate my homework."

or: "I got hit by a Trident."



It just takes slightly more listening to find that kind of choice.

( I realize I jumped from X-men to mythology using word association just now. )


Brad I think your line of training is the exact thing I'm talking about. You like to improvise from a writer's point of view like me. I doubt UCB launches off words beyond the first string of word association.

"Hot dog. That makes me think of picnic. Picnic. That makes me think of basket. Basket...."

You and I are on the same page, I was making a tiny distinction how TNM directly chose to further something from the UCB path.

A slight but important divergence. I want to see more of it!
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby Spots » April 26th, 2014, 5:01 pm

In fact I only feel comfortable discussing this subject because Chris published a whole chapter on it. This is my observation from his overall experiment.

(Of trying to move away from word association.)
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby androidqueen » April 29th, 2014, 10:48 am

I agree that patterns are awesome, but to play a bit of Devil's Advocate... They're restrictive and can be as alienating as word association, but in a different direction. For example, being unfamiliar with those publications, your example of a simple pattern was completely opaque to me. Or, perhaps I might recognize the pattern, but I don't know of any other publications that fit it. As an improvisor, my only option, were I playing this game, would be to free associate to some degree. I would know from the context that something like Cyclops would probably not be the "right" fit, because I only recognize one other item in the list that would fit that pattern, so I can be fairly certain that it is not the pattern to match.

Word association is wired into our brains, certainly, but so are patterns. Word association is a form of pattern matching. It's just matching a different pattern.

I prefer to think of it as looking at what pattern or theme or game is central to the scene and sticking to that. While the scene may diverge into a tangential realm, it's always satisfying to see it come back to the core pattern.
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby Spots » April 29th, 2014, 4:19 pm

Gambit, Chronicle, Metropulse

What's funny about that pattern is that I failed to mention a deeper layer to it. The pattern goes further than I orginally said,

"Culture publications in cities where Jesse has lived."

Now in this scene, do you have to know anything about Jesse? Or anything about Knoxville Tennessee? That's where MetroPulse is published and where I was born.

Nope. All you need to infer is that we are talking about art and culture rags. Or something hazy LIKE that. You get that far and you can bring your home town paper into it. Or you can pivot to something else like a scene in the editor's office.

Did I start you with a crystal clear pattern? No. But that's where the skill lies with doing more and more pattern work. Clarity and communication.


Let's talk about muddled patterns for a second.

First, have I ever seen one show where patterns are absent? The answer is no.

The Hero's Journey is a pattern. So strike any narrative improv you've ever seen.


Every film on your DVD rack at home follows a very restrictive pattern. Every novel as well.

Word association is a pattern that is already present in most shows. We simply aren't conscious that it is a pattern. We don't name it that.

To acknowlede patterns is.... kinda scary.

Don't you think the reason may be that the idea of patterns messes with our free will a little bit?

Think of being stuck in a pattern. Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day comes to mind.

The truth is that patterns are only a basic unit. They're a tool. And word association has come to symbolize our free will away from patterns.

Hear a word, see an image, say another word.

Well damn. That right there is the most restrictive pattern that I've ever heard of. And it's everywhere.

It's as much a pattern as any that I've mentioned, isn't it?

So the goal is to empower ourselves with patterns. To strive for a conscious awareness of patterns, whether Harold or narrative or any other combination that we will come to invent.


I know I'm harping on this hard, in my bullshit Socratic asshole way, but I deeply believe word assoiation has fallen under most people's radar AS a pattern. A low quality one.

I'm asking a lot from improvisers to skip over that first image that pops into their head. The argument boils down to whether that image is a slave or a master.
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby kbadr » April 29th, 2014, 7:47 pm

Spots wrote:The Hero's Journey is a pattern. So strike any narrative improv you've ever seen.

These two statements, together, make an incorrect statement. The Hero's Journey is a subset of narrative; it is not synonymous.

It it starting to look like you are replacing the concept of "language" with "word association" and calling it a pattern. I'm not sure I understand the necessity or benefit of this semantic reclassification.

To acknowlede patterns is.... kinda scary.


And one could clearly say that to acknowledge a lack of patterns is equally scary.

Patterns is how you learned improv, so you will see patterns in all improv. I don't think this is particularly surprising, but it is also not an absolute. It is just the particular lens through which you view the work.

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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby Spots » April 29th, 2014, 10:50 pm

I am going to slow down here because theres a lot of gravity now. I certainly wasn't attacking narrative as I am a writer as well. Much respect.

Let me clarify some of the patterns that I see in the Hero's Journey;

Archetypes follow certain patterns, no?

Christopher Vogler breaks down his book The Writer's Journey into chapters.

These chapters represent different reflections of the ego. One might call them "roles".

But lets not kid ourselves. These roles are best understood when viewed as patterns.


Mentor - Student, Vogler argues, can become a very refreshing relationship if a writer experiments with the pattern.


Aha. It was Mentor - Student at first. But now it is Student - Trickster. This describes an early relationship in Princess Monokoke.


What about the protagonists relationship to The Shadow archetype? This one relies on patterns. Here's why. If a writer has studied the patterns that audiences expect, he can redefine The Shadow as the hero's father and stun audiences. This describes a plot twist from Star Wars.


The sequence of events? That's perhaps the point you were disputing. Maybe the sequence of events isn't a pattern perse. But examine this: The Call to Action and its relationship to Crossing the First Threshhold definitely leads to the study of patterns.

Anything which deals with expectations benefits from the study of pattterns.

The most refreshing narrative is one the audience never saw coming.

This is why comedy evolves. Because audiences expectations change.



I mean to include everyone in this discussion and I definitely agree patterns is the lens I see everything through. You're right.
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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby kbadr » April 29th, 2014, 11:39 pm

Spots wrote:That's perhaps the point you were disputing.


No, I was disputing the statement that Heroes Journey is X, therefor any narrative show someone has seen is X.

You could say that all Heroes Journey stories are narratives, but not all narratives are Heroes Journeys.

But lets not kid ourselves. These roles are best understood when viewed as patterns.

The word character could be defined as a set (pattern) of predictable behaviors, yes. I am not being flippant when I say...so? I don't see what this proves.

I think there is a base difference in our understanding of the word pattern that is making it hard for me to follow your logic.

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Re: Does Anybody Wanna Talk about Word Association?

Postby Spots » April 30th, 2014, 12:04 am

Hey, and I appreciate anyone who has tried so far.


There's this murkiness where we just won't be able to cross. Any two of us. Because these are abstract constructs. And you are so correct there are no absolutes here.

I know my understandings are not very neat or black and white.

And I'll concede that what I call word association is never going anywhere. Its here to stay.


But for me this kind of reaching... like painting neurons and mixing them around is... fun.


I'm in a very murky gray area when trying to get on the same page with Chris Trew or my coach Derek. All my mentors would read this and say "what the fuck?"

They are more "digital" when I am more "analog". If that makes sense. I like to listen to them and challenge my brain to become more digital. I like to get sidecoached and hear digital explanations for analog choices I made.

Its silly but challenging at the same time. There's unique growth.


I think that's why I love to paint associatons with words like this.

Because fleshing it out gives it a name. Its kind of a selfish exercise in that regard and probably puts a puzzling look on everyone elses's face. Pretty unfair on my part.

But I love that we've come to just this moment where we talk about characters maybe falling under a "realm of patterns". Thats a melting pot where our two disciplines can meet in the middle and we can discuss at any time in the future, yeah?

I'm part of a troupe right now where 4 people share only 2 characters onstage. Its definitely a challenge. But that's another discussion for later.


Thanks for engaging, Kareem. I passed by you on the street in Austin and I failed to say hello. It was one of those things I wish I could do over. Anyway.


Consider my brain painted here for all to see. I don't know what else.


That's it. The end.
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