Questions From Facebook #3 And #4
How can we get more long form shows in Raleigh?
If we’re seriously in danger of losing long form improv in Raleigh, we need to make a concerted effort to bring people in to see us. Get new customers and make it such a big night each time that the owner has no choice but to keep it going. As the saying goes, “Money talks, bullshit walks.”
Also, keep teams together, perform when you can and seek out new venues that will let you host an improv night. It might cost money to do the last bit, but it can also be a great motivator to get people to see your show (and introduce a new audience to longform improv). If they like you, let them know where they can find you so you can build a fan base.
Of course, all of this is much easier said than done.
What is the artistic purpose or function of an opening in a longform show?
I currently coach a team who doesn’t do an opening. They don’t need it. They can create an entire show just off of the suggestion. It also gives them more time to focus on the show and actually perform and not worry about doing “a good opening.”
I’ve seen lots of openings. From the creative to the bizarre. They’re a way to pool together ideas to use in the show. It can also be a way to create some energy and push the show forward immediately. If done correctly, the audience follows along, the team makes reference to something from the opening, and the audience goes crazy with laughter and everyone feels smarter for having witnessed it. Cool, yes, but it doesn’t happen as much as we would like. So why not just cut that bit out?
Openings, for me, get in the way. I don’t want to really see a team dick around with an organic, weird opening that even I look at and think “What the fuck am I watching?” People who have never seen a longform show see that and are confused. They just want to laugh. Audiences are very fickle, and for some, you’re already in the negative with them before you can even improvise.
So I’d say, if you do an opening, do one that fits your team’s style of play. Make it interesting, but forgettable to the audience. Talk about the possibility of not doing an opening. Regardless of what you do, people paid money to watch you and laugh, not to find out where you got your inspiration for scene C1.
Questions? Comments? Let me know here!
EDIT: I’m pretty cynical when it comes to improv, and I tend to take things at a base level. My good friend and respected improvser Corey Brown had this to say in the comments section below, just in case you didn’t see it. It’s a different take on openings, and it’s worth reading.
"I think you are missing the point on openings a little bit. For me, openings are meant to help all the performers get onto the same page faster when we get to the scenes. We don’t have to feel our way through the basics because we know we are doing ‘Fire Doctor’ from the opening.
They are also a way for me to know what you think is funny, so when I initiate scene 3A, I can initiate in a way that says ‘Hey man, I found your idea funny in the opening, and I want to support that idea.’
Are openings NEEDED? No. If they were, monoscenes wouldn’t exist. TJ & Dave wouldn’t be doing what they are doing.
The opening isn’t for the audience, and I’m not worried about them for those 3 minutes when doing my opening. I’m worried about listening to my team’s ideas, and I’m trying to figure out a way to take those ideas and better them stronger and funnier.
I want to do an amazing scene about a funny idea that we created as a team.”
Questions From Facebook #1
First off, I want to apologize for letting 7 months go by in between original posts.While I’ve reblogged several other improv sources here on Tumblr, it’s no excuse to be so slack in delivering my own two cents on topics.
On to the discussion. I went to my Facebook page and asked quite simply: What is a question or topic of discussion that you have about improv?
I got a good number of replies. I’ll try to answer all of the questions. Here we go:
Where do you think the future of improv will lead too? As in what kind of new styles will come from the next generation?
Fun question. I have a few ideas of where improv might be headed.
1.) It seems every year, I see new show ideas from different improv theatres. Things like specific themed shows (Halloween, April Fool’s Day, etc.), old “new” standards like musical improv and checking a person’s Facebook page, and even asking the audience to pull out what’s in their pockets and purses to inspire the show.I expect this trend to continue at a not-too-frantic pace.
I can see more one-man improv shows, stylized shows and themed shows to keep upping the ante. Improv theatres in some of the bigger markets are always trying to deliver something fresh and different to their returning customers. These types of shows are healthy for the growth, popularity and accessibility of improv for the general public.
2.) Personally, I would like to see there be a shift away from the quick, sometimes raunchy for the sake of being shocking, lowest common denominator pandering type of shows. On here, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of playing real and really “acting” as opposed to “improvising.”
I’d like to see slower play. More ballsy, dramatic work. Shows that people are interested in. Captivated in. A show were people empathize with characters instead of laughing at them. I want this to be a popular method of doing a show. More importantly, I want there to be an audience for it. Maybe there is an audience, but we won’t know unless we try. Not to say theatres aren’t already doing this, but you don’t typically see this type of show at an improv festival.
3.) The boring, cynical cop-out answer is that I don’t see improv changing a whole lot from its current standing in the next 10-15 years. It would take a new “mad genius” like a Del Close for the community to accept any fundamentally new method of doing improv. The (probable) sad truth is that we’ve hit a bit of a wall creatively. We’re just finding news ways to wrap up an old gift, albeit a fun and useful gift.
At the heart of it all, we’re putting on a show without knowing how it’s going to go. Plays, musicals and movies find new and fun ways to present basic storylines. In improv, we’re doing the same, except with no script and a far smaller budget.
Thanks for your question. If you have something you’d like to ask or say, submit it to my ask box.
Now THIS is the kind of anonymous question I like. Thanks for asking! And congrats on graduating 101!
Here are some suggestions…
- The first is keep improv fun. As you get into Level 201 and beyond it can get more heady and difficult, but remember that it’s supposed to be fun and creative above all else.
- Don’t let it take over your life. This is tough, too, because a lot of your friends will take class after class after class and you might feel you’ve been left behind unless you put down just as much money and time. You won’t. Improv will always be there.
For practice groups…
- Here are two IRC links on the subject, some of which might have repeated advice: “Where do you start?” and “Tips on starting your own group?”
- Starting a practice group is mostly organizing the time/space. I’d talk to your two or three closest friends who are dedicated to practicing and figure out a time that works for you.
- Book that time (two hours or three) at a rehearsal studio: There’s Simple Studios, Pearl Studios, Champions Studios, 440 Studios, Studio 353, just to name a few (google ‘em).
- Then ask around until you have a number of interested people. I’d suggest quality over quantity. Ask people you want to play with; don’t just settle for bodies to beef up the numbers and lower the price.
- Of the people you ask (say, 10), maybe six will be able to do that time, and one or two of them won’t show up. There’s your potential practice group!
- My personal preference is to cap a practice group at eight people, so everyone is always up.
- Hire a coach. (See below.)
- After a practice or two, if everyone wants to meet regularly, set up a kitty for the money. Basically, figure out the total cost for four rehearsals (space + coach) and everyone owes their share. Now if someone flakes out, the people who show up to rehearse don’t have to pay more (a pet peeve of mine).
- If people don’t want to meet regularly, or if it peters out eventually, don’t sweat. Practice groups come and go.
- Book more spaces for the month. Book more coaches. It’ll make things easier on you if you can dole these responsibilities out to other members of the group. One person shouldn’t have to do everything. That leads to burn-out and resentment.
Now, when it comes to coaches…
- I would definitely NOT recommend going coachless, and not just for the reasons you mentioned. Having a coach forces you to be more serious about the practice and the scenes. (If you just wanna meet and do warm-ups, though, that’s a different story.)
- Try several different coaches until you find one that fits your group’s style and aesthetic. Seriously. Give yourself at least a month to test out different people.
- Don’t just go for the veterans/heavy hitters! Especially since your group will be made up of newer improvisers, a newer coach would have more availability, would probably be cheaper, and I think they’re often more dedicated. Test ‘em out.
- Make sure the coach fits your time, don’t stress about adjusting your time to the coach. They’re the most replaceable person in your group.
- Here are links to coaching threads on the IRC and on UCBcomedy, and I’m always happy to recommend people through email.
Hope this helps! Anyone else have advice?
Great stuff! To add an additional two cents…
First off, congrats on graduating from 101!
Secondly, when you have your practice group ready, take time to figure out what the group would like to work on and get some sort of game plan ready. When you get your coach, tell them what you’d like to work on. It can only help both parties all be on the same page. The coaches can then tailor practices to fit the group’s needs.
Q:How would you describe longform improv to someone who's only seen shortform?
It seems that every time I explain longform to someone, I use a different analogy or description, so I’ll try and nail down a simple one here:
"A team of performers gets just one word or phrase from the audience and performs a variety of improvised scenes loosely based off of that one suggestion."
Regardless of what form you’re watching on a particular night, you can expect that the team will at least get a suggestion and do scenes based off of that.
Of course, you could go into greater detail with the person you’re explaining longform to, touching on openings and games and what-not, but this is a pretty good jumping off point. If they want to know more, they’ll probably ask anyway. They usually do.
Q:A "Book of Questions" type question: You are an improviser. Which do you think of yourself more as: An actor or a comedian? You have to chose one (and only one).
Absolutely 100% I consider myself an actor first.
The way I see it, comedians, on the whole, have a catalogue of material prepared.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been so off-put by short form for so long. When you keep getting those same suggestions, you eventually start repeating jokes. If not that, then you tend to do “that character” that you know will hit over and over again.
To me, that not only takes the fun out of being spontaneously creative, but the improviser at that point is starting to lean heavily close to being a comedian.
I will say for the record that there’s nothing wrong with considering yourself a comedian. But to me, I want improvisers to let the humor come out of the reality of the moment and not try and go for the funny.
To awkwardly transition, I have a family who knows I do “comedy,” but sometimes they’re fuzzy on the fact that it’s entirely improvised comedy. When they tell me a funny story/joke, they without fail will say something along the lines of “You can put that in your comedy show!”
I also like to see myself as an actor who improvises because it puts me in that mindset that, when necessary, the scene doesn’t have to be funny. It can be a serious or touching moment between two characters. I’ve touched on that subject a bit which you can find here.
What an interesting question! Thanks, Chris! I shall now do my best to answer.
First off, I won’t pretend to know much about the Golden Ratio. For a brief primer, head over here, loyal fans.
So for me, the short answer is yes. In terms of structure to a show or a form, I believe there is definitely a way to perfectly balance a form’s structure so that it is both challenging for the performer and interesting for the audience to watch.
How to come up with such a structure is the challenging part. The thing I see in this is to not think of the ratio in numbers, but rather in beats and style. Do you do four long scenes, and in between each, do a game? How long is “long?” Would that even flow properly?
Now, to play Devil’s Advocate, I’ll also take the other side of the coin and say that the ratio can’t and shouldn’t be applied to improv. If you focus so much on the structure and “getting it right,” you might miss offers that would take that show in a fantastic direction.
I personally am a fan of a simple structure (but not just doing scenes), but I also really enjoy a challenge and stepping out of my comfort zone.
Out of curiosity, have you or anyone you know tried balancing a form out? Anyone have a suggestion for creating a structure that fits with the Golden Ratio?
So it’s been a while since I wrote an original post.
I have a slight writer’s block and would like to tailor this blog to your interests, questions and comments.
So, what would you like to discuss today? What sort of things in the improv world have you noticed?
Hit me up with a reply or in my assssk box.
Quick Improv Thoughts #5
If things aren’t going well, don’t quit! Power through it. Don’t try and be the hero and “save” the show, but don’t give up either.
If for nothing else, the audience will appreciate and admire your commitment.
That counts for something.
Kevin Dorff, Tina Fey, Ian Roberts, Rachel Dratch, Miriam Tolan, Adam McKay, Matt Besser, Horatio Sanz, Matt Walsh - ImprovOlympic stage in Chicago
Quick Improv Thoughts #4
It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.
Whatever you do, you should be able to just “play.” Heighten it, lower it, expand on it, and squeeze all the juice you can out of it.