2 players perform a slow dance together; each with their head on the other`s shoulder. Hence they are not looking at each other. While dancing they perform a 2-3 minute scene.
This seems like a fun way to exercise many different aspects of good improv. Namely: listening, having an activity (and not talking about it), intimacy and relationship, and creating an interesting stage picture. I might have to try this out sometime.
My good friend Asaf Ronen developed this form a few years ago. Asaf, by the way, is the author of a fantastic book I suggest picking up titled “Directing Improv.” But more on that some other time. In this form, the audience can be in control of editing, by shouting “click” when they wish to see a new scene. The word or phrase that was “clicked” on becomes like the suggestion for the next new scene. Now, there is a danger to the form that I experienced firsthand, and that is that the audience will be antagonistic and edit you too quickly, like every ten-to-thirty seconds. Since then, whenever I have performed it, I have placed the edits firmly in the hands of the performers.
The opening is fairly specific, and I have reproduced here Asaf’s description that he emailed me a few months back.
HOST: Welcome to Hyperlinks. We have an improv search engine made up our merry band of improvisers. All we need is a word to enter
HOST: Enter “suggestion”.
[The lights will go down. Host steps onto the thrust stage. Three monologists step out and do just the first two lines of a character monologue.]
HOST: So there we have your search results featuring three “websites” and the first thing we need from you the audience is to pick which one we will follow. Will it be A, B or C?
[Audience shouts out choice. Monologist gets into center spot.]
HOST: Excellent. Now the next thing we are going to need from you the audience. On the count of three please say CLICK.
[Have them do this a couple of times.]
After I click on this link, you the audience will be in full control of what scenes we click into next. Any time you hear a word, or a phrase that piques your interest, you can yell out ‘CLICK’ and will immediately jump to a new scene based on that word or phrase. So say it loudly, say it clearly and use it wisely.
[The monologist starts their monologue from the beginning while the other improvisers create “slides” around them to accompany the monologue. When the audience says click, the monologist steps into the tableau and a scene begins. Though these days, I don’t do the slides. I have the other improvisers just initiate a scene around the monologist.]
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.
FACE features an instrumental jazz quartet that, from a single audience suggestion, creates an original “score” on the spot while 6 actors weave a 45 minute, fully improvised show of music, motion, comedy, and dramatic theater.
FACE is one of the cooler free-form shows existing in NYC right now. It’s an interesting marriage of music and improv that doesn’t result in a Broadway-musical-esque kind of show.
The Sickest F***ing Stories I Ever Heard is Chicago’s popular, late-night, adult comedy show! Each performance features a rotating cast of comedians and unique storytellers, sharing TRUE tales of sexual misconduct, painful personal injury and bad hygiene, while the cast drinks beer and plays poker, onstage.
I was able to see two performances of this a few years ago in NYC. It’s one of the best unscripted show ideas out there. I would love to put on my own take on this show, but I’d have trouble coming up with a new name. “Sickest F***ing” is just the perfect name for this show. However you can, apparently, license the name of the show if you want to perform it in your town. The show’s creators would prefer that you not use the name or format without their express permission. I learned this during a very awkward email conversation with Fuzzy Gerdes, one of the originators of the show.
Like conventional improv, Neutrino performances begin with troupe members soliciting story ideas from their audience. Once armed with enough raw materials for a film, the cast members join forces with guerrilla camera crews and take to the streets. Using real locations, real props, and even recruiting real extras, the teams shoot an entire movie based on audience input. For the audience, the playback is almost live. It takes about five minutes for crew members to shoot the first scene, rush it back to the theatre, perform minimal edits, and dub in some appropriate music. (A few of the performers stay behind in the meantime, keeping the audience entertained with amusing onstage banter.) But with three or more separate crews at work, a seamless movie follows the initial delay. Neutrino is, in the end, a movie-going experience. But unlike standard cinema, the show’s success hinges on its players’ ability to interact with a live audience.
The Neutrino Project is essentially an improvised-and-filmed-on-the-spot movie, shown immediately to a live audience. This is a particular project I’ve always wanted to try.
This show has an interesting framing device: A woman is trying to teach three strange men about some simple, well-known aspect of human experience. The set up is has a hint of the Twilight Zone about it, as who are these men that are not aware of or cannot comprehend these things that everyone knows. However, in being taught, the men begin to enact situations and scenes that surround the central premise. A single theme is explored deeply by a group of people trying desperately to understand it. The device itself is fascinating enough, and the performers in it are highly skilled fantastic improvisors.
Gravid Water is basically a much more refined, polished version of the game Actor’s Nightmare. One actor does have the script. But it’s memorized and in their head. There’s a set and props. The only thing missing is the other half of the dialogue.
What’s fun is that the scenes swing wildly from working perfectly (because the improvisor has picked up on every nuance and is filling in the scene wonderfully) to being beautiful messes (because the improvisor made their own strong choice and is now working to marry it to whatever the original script is). Either way, it’s tons of fun, helped in no small part by casting a very talented group of improvisors and actors.
In “The Scene”, five veteran improvisers come together as one common mind – the Director. The Director’s mission is to explore the possibilities inherent in an initial improvised scene and to rework that scene until it reaches its natural conclusion. As such, “The Scene” sets out to marry the often juxtaposed concepts of creative process and finished product (and entertain the audience equally with both.)
I would be very curious to see how this works without sucking all the life and fun out of the original scene. Of course, looking at the cast list, I know I’m looking at a list of extremely talented folk. It seems like a challenging form to do.
This was a neat show I got to be in once years ago. Wish there was more of an internet memory of it for me to show you. It was a very simple format; 3-4 improvisors get microphones, an old B-movie gets played, and we crack wise to it. For most of the group, this is the first time ever viewing this movie.
(I cheated when I was in it and watched it once to make note of any patterns. But it still works if it’s the true first time you’re watching it.)
I have not updated this in a long while, mostly due to the fact that it is very hard to think up a completely new thing to say or do with improv every day. Oh, I can easily come up with things to say about improv every day, but it’s probably nothing you haven’t heard before.
Keeping in line with the idea of this blog, that we’ll have a different idea for a show each day, I’m going to spend the next few entries posting links and descriptions to interesting shows that have crossed my purview. These are shows whose structure is unique in some way. These shows push a boundary of what is possible with improv, or use what is already known in a fun way. Any one of these shows would be great to do or experiment with for any troupe out there.
Let the written word beware, for Biblioclast has arrived! Great works of literature, television, and cinema are all fair game, as we put them into a blender, extract the best bits, and construct a new work using the very same words.
What this means is that each scene gets started by a line of text extracted from the named work. However, now free of context, that lines gets to be spun out into whatever new world it gets to create.
Buddy Daddy is the improv duo of Arthur Simone and Robin Goodfellow.
Arthur Simone is an improvisational actor, abstract expressionist artist, and advocate of the culture of spontaneity. His artwork has been shown at galleries such as Chicago’s Echo Gallery and art festivals such as Around the Coyote and the East Austin Studio Tour. Most recently, one of his paintings was named as a finalist for the prestigious 2007 Hunting Art Prize.
A graduate of Oberlin College and a veteran of the Chicago stage with Suspicious Clowns and Moving Dock Theatre, he is currently an ensemble member and instructor with Austin’s ColdTowne and a charter member of New Orleans’ ComedySportz. Arthur has starred in Tempe Entertainment’s Jigsaw and Maverick’s The Evil One as well as A&E’s Faith of My Fathers and 20th Century FOX’s Big Momma’s House 2. In 2007, he won the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships and Austin’s regional Air Guitar Championship.