j.t.s. brown

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j.t.s. brown

Postby ratliff » September 7th, 2007, 11:11 pm

. . . as described by Craig Cackowski on improvinterviews.com. Discuss.

J.T.S. Brown was not a form so much as a philosophy of play. It was designed for a large cast (10-14 people), to involve as many players as possible at a time, to have a higher level of theatricality and polish than a typical improv show, and to encourage any move to be made at any time, with the idea that anything that happened was the perfect thing to happen. We didn't have a set structure, but we had a few rules to abide by:

1. No sweep edits. Every edit was a transformation. Transformations could come from within or without. Even in a 2-person scene, an improvisor could abruptly change character, initiating a new scene with the same partner.

2. No walk-ons. As soon as someone joined the scene, it became a new scene. Anyone in the previous scene should instantly choose to either exit, become a new character, or become some inanimate or expressionistic element in the new scene. If someone knocked at the door to enter a scene, it became a new scene the second the door was opened.

3. No sidelines. Anyone not in the scene was watching from backstage. Anyone the audience could see was in the scene.

4. The playing area was not limited to the stage...the whole space was used.

5. Any scene could recur at any time, so the players were fine with a scene being edited after 10 seconds, knowing they could bring it back whenever they wanted.

6. There were "worlds within worlds". If, for instance, Scene I tranformed into Scene II into Scene III, it was fun to spiral back out and have III become II and then I again (similar to the shortform game "Spacejump" or "5 to 1" or "7 to 1" or whatever).

7. We had a number of "gimmicks"--devices that we had rehearsed that could be pulled out at any time. They included:

Hemingway: The players narrate their own scene as well as playing it.

EdTV: A scene can return to a pivotal moment at any time, presenting an alternative outcome. Usually done in threes. (This was named after Ed Goodman, not the Ron Howard film).

The Third Degree: The players could come out and ask 3 rapid-fire questions of a character at any time. These were the sort of questions that you might ask while sidecoaching a scene ("How long have you known this person?", etc.)

Shadows: A character was sometimes "shadowed" by a another improvisor playing their essence, or id, or subtext. The 2 characters' shadows would then have a scene of sorts in the background, presenting a more representational version of the original scene.

Shapeshifting: Any improvisor could play anyone's character at any time. Particularly effective in cross-gender scenes. This fostered the idea of group ownership...every character is owned by the group, not necessarily the improvisor who created it. The show began with a shapeshifted character monologue, which allowed the audience to meet the cast members one at a time.

8. There was an emphasis on physicality, sound, and environment. The players were encouraged to be architecture, inanimate objects, animals, weird shit, etc. All this probably sounds crazier than it actually played. We tried to eliminate weirdness for weirdness' sake. The idea was that the form was crazy, but the content was solid. It was an interesting package for good scenework. We worked hard to emphasize gift-giving and relationships in the scenework. In fact, we tried to, at some point in the middle of the show, have a "spotlight scene", a 6 or 7-minute 2-person scene that was not fucked with in any way. In the middle of a fast-moving, constantly evolving show, it was a nice to have a little scene oasis and to take a deep breath.
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Postby DollarBill » September 8th, 2007, 12:15 am

I Jon Benner read the forums he would say:
"Formats are for floppy disks."
They call me Dollar Bill 'cause I always make sense.
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Postby ratliff » September 8th, 2007, 12:17 am

But he doesn't, so his opinion doesn't count.

Besides, J.T.S. Brown "is not so much a form as a philosophy of play."
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Postby beardedlamb » September 8th, 2007, 3:09 am

i'm not sure why rules 1 and 2 are there or what they're designed to do but everything else is pretty much just a description of anything that can happen in a show. i realize this is a break from the harold form but to me this is just improvising and doing whatever the hell you want. improv.
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Postby Roy Janik » September 8th, 2007, 3:11 am

I'd be down for doing this sometime. I've been intrigued ever since I read this interview. Didn't you study it in your class, Ratliff?
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Postby ratliff » September 8th, 2007, 12:33 pm

beardedlamb wrote:i'm not sure why rules 1 and 2 are there or what they're designed to do but everything else is pretty much just a description of anything that can happen in a show. i realize this is a break from the harold form but to me this is just improvising and doing whatever the hell you want. improv.


Good point. I can understand someone looking at this list and saying, "I do all of this already, and I didn't need permission to do it."

What this description leaves out is certain Haroldian assumptions; namely, that there will be a thematic unity to the whole piece and that every part of it will be integrated into the whole eventually. If I'm right, it's these premises that make this different from a montage in which players are fully and freely using the space and whatever devices are available to them.

As one of my teachers pointed out, if you're doing a montage and a bad scene comes up, there's no way in hell you're returning to that scene voluntarily, but in a Harold you have to do something with it . . . and when you do, the shitty scene can suddenly seem like a brilliant setup instead of a big turd sitting in the middle of an otherwise sweet show. I'm willing to bet that the same unexpressed premise was in play here.

Roy, we had four days to learn a bunch of new forms and then develop our own new form, which is my only substantive complaint about the intensive curriculum. (Why develop a new form for a team that will never ever play together again?) So we worked on J.T.S. Brown for, oh, I'd say about an hour.

As Jeremy points out, we've seen people do all these things before, just not as an intentional set of parameters. I'd like to talk to the originators of this (I think maybe Eric Hunnicutt was involved as well?) and find out what they were getting at . . . but it might very well have been that they just wanted to play with the boundaries and needed to give themselves permission.
Last edited by ratliff on September 9th, 2007, 1:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Dave » September 8th, 2007, 6:04 pm

I saw as many of the shows in the orginal run as possible.

It was a lot more impressive than this list wouldd have you believe.

Hunnicut wasn't in that group. But maybe we could persuade Ike or Cackowski or TJ or Jon Lutz to come down and teach a weekend of workshops to a dedicated crew interested in learning it in a weekend and then performing it for a run.

I would be down for this.
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Postby ratliff » September 9th, 2007, 1:36 am

Dave wrote:But maybe we could persuade Ike or Cackowski or TJ or Jon Lutz to come down and teach a weekend of workshops to a dedicated crew interested in learning it in a weekend and then performing it for a run.


HELL yes.
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Re:

Postby jose » April 16th, 2013, 2:57 pm

Dave wrote:I saw as many of the shows in the orginal run as possible.

It was a lot more impressive than this list wouldd have you believe.

Hunnicut wasn't in that group. But maybe we could persuade Ike or Cackowski or TJ or Jon Lutz to come down and teach a weekend of workshops to a dedicated crew interested in learning it in a weekend and then performing it for a run.

I would be down for this.


I like that this finally did happen.
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Re: j.t.s. brown

Postby tacotrombone » April 16th, 2013, 4:22 pm

Buckman is already involved in this thread, so I will obviously defer to him.
This post is more of a softball thrown his way to get him cracking...

For those worrying about the "rules" and "gimmicks" of doing a form that is not a form:
The "gimmicks" are there to run like plays in a basketball game. If I see Jason and Jastroch doing a scene that looks kind of like something we have rehearsed, I know to run that play.
However, the main point of all this is to literally break what we think of a form--the cool thing is that by running these plays in rehearsal, we are getting better at treating "mistakes" like new plays that we are literally making up on the fly, usually with badass results.
The next three weeks of rehearsals are about dispensing with some of the gimmicks and creating our own plays.

Fun fact:
Buckman arranged for Ed Goodman, who was on the original cast, to do a conference call with the cast here in Austin at the end of our first rehearsal.
He kept stressing that JTS Brown is another word for "nothingness." The word is an obscure reference to a whiskey in a movie--it doesn't mean anything and neither does any mention of a "form."
Interestingly, Ed Goodman left us with the anecdote that these "gimmicks" were almost never used in shows. They didn't come up because they were simply finding and building better ones on the fly.
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Re: j.t.s. brown

Postby tacotrombone » April 16th, 2013, 4:38 pm

I just got Trabkaed.
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Re: j.t.s. brown

Postby trabka » April 16th, 2013, 4:43 pm

Just trying to keep you out of trouble.
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