WHat makes good improv ?

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation.

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WHat makes good improv ?

Postby cargill » August 10th, 2005, 9:21 am

Discussion time ! What do you think makes improv good ?
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my 2 cents

Postby erikamay » August 10th, 2005, 10:15 am

1. commitment! i love watching a scene or game that was a little blah, kick in due to some serious recommitment on the part of the players.

2. group mind and a willingness to build on one anothers ideas. weirdtown is always awesome when every single person is willing to give themselves to building weirdtown. the audience can tell when the players have bailed and - conversely - when they are committed.

i understand lots of folks saw the reckoning while in dallas, and were blown away by their group vibe. an awesome example of group mind in action...

what are some other thoughts?
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Yes Yes Yes AND................

Postby cargill » August 10th, 2005, 10:46 am

Totally agree with you Ms. May. I think that groups who are totally in love with each other personally do the best work. When you are committed to the unknown and can be confident knowing your team will always back you up, the outcome of the work is amazing.

I saw Reckoning in Dallas and the Group Mind was AMAZING !
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Postby Guest » August 10th, 2005, 12:18 pm

Positivity, energy, an eagerness to play.

Energy=positivity=confidence=risk-taking=play

And let's not forget...ahem...editing.

CJA
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Colorful details and Sticking To your POV

Postby Cynthia » August 10th, 2005, 1:17 pm

Two weekends ago I watched Bob McNichols and Erika (?) perform at The Hideout, and I was struck by how their dialog was so vivd! Every poster on the wall was succinctly described. Everything had form, texture and color - wow! Instead of, "Hey, look at my poster on the wall," it was, "Hey, check out my poster of Ralph Macchio from Karate Kid 1... see him on the beach executing the crane move?" It really made their already-solid scenes come to life. And, people really connected with the details!

Also, I have really enjoyed the drill Jen Cargill ran where we came out on stage with a point of view and a concrete opinion of the other character - and stuck with it. It certainly helps drive the scene.

These are basics, for sure - but the true test is in the execution of them.

They're like eating right.... we all know how, but we only do it sometimes. It's a discipline/practice sort of thing.
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Agreed

Postby cargill » August 10th, 2005, 1:49 pm

It is hard to apply the skills instead of going for the easy gags. I always love re-visiting those skills to keep sharp.
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Postby arclight » August 10th, 2005, 10:28 pm

I'd have to agree - I need to see confidence, commitment and chemistry. I think I'd put chemistry above technical skill. Also, I love watching groups tackle issues they care about and topics they know in-depth and being very specific without worrying about losing the audience. As long as there's a genuine sense of enjoyment and joie de vivre among the players that's shared with the audience, I'm happy whether I'm watching or playing.
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Postby TheVenue » August 11th, 2005, 8:57 pm

History = The more a group works together, the more they know how to help push scenes that not only make keep the crowd laughing, but set up their partner to deliver a situation you know will help bring the house down.

Chemistry = Definitely the MOST important as far as I'm concerned, it's sad when you see groups get so muddled up with the business that they forget what made them want to perform with their troupe in the first place.

Cool Filter Off = You guys know what I'm saying, the people that just won't grab if they don't like the position it puts them in, in my opinion (not worth much) a good improv troupe has let go of any preconceived notions of who they are and what they are supposed to be.

ummm, a drinking audience sure seems to help sometimes...lol
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Well spoken TheVenue.....

Postby cargill » August 12th, 2005, 9:46 am

All I have to say to that is, "Amen!!"
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YEASCHE - cool filter off!!

Postby erikamay » August 12th, 2005, 1:09 pm

i have seen some seriously talented improvisers balk at a suggestion because a)they needed to control the scene or b) they were too cool to follow someone elses idea.

liz allen always stressed that the idea is tantamount to the individual ego.

the irony of a player 'cooling out' of a scene - to appear cool to an audience - is that it does just the opposite. the shows i have seen that the audience oohed and ahhed over were the ones where the great players served the ideas of all the players...some of which were just a few weeks into classes.

going with the idea builds trust, group mind and juicy improv experiences for everybody.

(thanks to venue for comments - excited to see west tejas improv roll into town.)
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Postby sara farr » August 18th, 2005, 6:41 pm

This is my improv cheat sheet...

-be positive (at least at the beginning)
-be average (relax!)
-be obvious (be your own person, within the circle of expectation)
-be supportive (winning isn't everything)
-be heroic (suffer in pursuit of goal/ interact with "monsters")
-be committed (increases risk)
-be specific (not just a room, but a room with a massive sci-fi collection)
-be altered (best stories have characters who change ea. other)

-reincorporate (remember details & use them later)
-pockets (I added "pockets" bc I was told to look in my pockets and produce something if I get stumped; it really works!)
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Postby arclight » August 19th, 2005, 3:56 pm

sara_anm8r wrote:This is my improv cheat sheet...

My memory is really poor so my list looks like:
  • be
Of course, this is much more difficult in practice but at least it's easy to remember. :)
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Postby acrouch » August 22nd, 2005, 5:06 pm

Lots of things make good improv. What makes great improv is a relentless commitment to playing on the edge of disaster and failure. I've seen way too much incredibly competent, virtuous, seamless, beautifully crafted and acted, committed improv that is ultimately so very very safe.

I think it's the difference between learning to script in the moment and learning to constantly throw yourself into the unknown and dangerous (in both content and form). The former is admirable, the latter is inspiring.
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Postby Wesley » August 23rd, 2005, 2:30 pm

Anything, done right, makes for good improv, and I agree with the statements above about being in the moment, taking risks, keeping positive, keeping energetic, etc.

But what really does it for me and what I personally want to work on is the sotry-telling and having real, truly emotional themes that thread the piece. I like it best when the gags derive from the underlying theme, rather than a superficial theme deriving from the gags.

I tend to use M*A*S*H as an example of this. There is all kinds of humor in that movie and show, but the humor is always an off-shoot of the dreary, depressing, shitty situation that they are in. And they can always slap you right back into the "real" world behind the comedy with one just one sentence. The funniest gag is completely grounded when you hear "We have incoming wounded" come over that loud-speaker. And at the end, the piece stays with you because it was a story. Real-people in all too real situations. Yeah, you got some great laughs, but it also hit you somewhere much deeper, as well, and it resonates there. The theme is death and war and grand things and so an infinite number of gags can evolve from that, and heightening isn't repeat necessarily. You can heighten by exploring a different road off that theme.
Compare that to a Dukes of Hazzard where the theme is the gag of these two good ole moonshiners out-running to goofy, incompetent law over and over again. The theme is derived from the gag and the only way to heighten the gag is to do bigger and bigger, with more jumps, wrecks, and pursuing cops. There is no "real" world behind the car, not really. Sure it can be fun to watch, but it is light, popcorn fare. it doesn't resonate or strike a chord I wasn't expecting.

If I could improv M*A*S*H as opposed to the Dukes of Hazzard, and leave the audience feeling the piece on a deeper, more emotional level, I would feel as though I have arrived.
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...

Postby macarthur31 » September 1st, 2005, 10:04 pm

for me its grounded in commitment. and that's been well covered in this thread.

i've had the pleasure of seeing the reckoning twice this summer (up at IO, memorial day weekend and at Dallas Comedy fest), and i've been struck at how abundant they are.

they pay so much attention to each other, and they don't waste any ideas or possibilities. their characters are very rich and full. their energy is overwhelming. even their silences are generous.

they reminded me of IO teams like preponderate and valhalla -- smart, brave and generous.

...i'm also on a kick where i love to see ensembles that can do the fantastical and the grounded in the same performance. i'm still exploring how i can do both in the same show....
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