Friday, March 26, 2010

“The Smooth and the Straited” in Improvisational Comedy

Longform improv is, in it’s nature, the creation of a smooth space or thought. The performers walk onto the stage with no a priori concept of what will occur. Ideally, improv is free flowing, the humor arrives organically through grounded human interaction, as opposed to forced jokes and gags.

As it is practiced, however, it is inevitable that improv becomes striated. The moment a performer walks into a theater and is told “you’ve got 20 minutes” the line (the act itself) is suddenly trapped between two points (the externally dictated beginning and ending of the set).

Furthermore, most teams do go into a set a specific form that they will be using. I don’t see this as a bad thing, necessarily, or something that takes away from the essence of improvisation. These forms are barebones structures. They do not dictate the action, so much as give a sense of order and mutual understanding to the players and audience alike.

Many of my favorites moments both performing and watching improv is when the barriers created by the forms are mangled, disrupted and broken down over the course of a show. These moments can come from a player recognizing connections within the set or, often more satisfying, unintentionally finding them.

These moments are the smoothing of a striated space. And this is typically the type of art that I enjoy the most.

I have always been a fan of structure, even though I don’t necessarily like to follow it. No matter what the craft is, I think that it is important to have an understanding the most commonly practiced form. As a filmmaker I think it is important to understand Hollywood screenwriting and conventions. This does not mean that I want to make the next Bourne Identity, but I do think that it is extremely important to understand the system I am working in, and in understanding it finding creative ways to break out of it. This is where I personally see the fun in art, seeing a challenge, whether it is the tools I am using or a set of parameters, and finding a creative means to expand.


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