It took me a while to work this out in writing because it’s a really simple and obvious idea and therefore easily overlooked. I think missing this is what caused me a lot of confusion when I started out learning improv.
This is a quote from the 1977 December issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction;“Intelligence and creativity are not what readers want. What readers want is the result…”
This is the sentence that confirmed in my mind the idea of the performance or the product in improv. When you get up and switch on your mental engine of creativity what is the output that you are creating? In terms of shows it is very easy to see the different kinds of performance.
For example I saw a scene from Music Box a while ago which was set in a Jacuzzi and some of the cast created the whole thing through physicality. That was really fun to see, another image that sticks in my mind is Showstopper where the cast created a beating heart on stage.
This is completely different from the style that the Milk Monitors use for Austentatious. They create a Jane Austen novel for their show, even to the point where their suggestion slip looks like a Penguin classics cover. They don’t use that kind of physicality at all, I’m guessing for practical reasons because you can see how they dress for their shows on their site. Also it makes stylistic sense to me, they are playing in a Wilde/Austen space where things happen in abbey gardens, drawing rooms and library annexes. Watching them feels like watching an actual play that you go to the theatre for.
Very simple difference and makes complete sense, I think you can also think about performance on the smaller scale when it comes down to single scenes and other creations. Even a monologue can have its own form. At iO we were coached to give monologues that were about personal stories to us and also finish it up with a summation of how we felt about it or what we learned on that occasion. That gave really memorable monologues that were easy to take into Harold scenes.
That is not the only way to give a monologue, but that little extra effort of listening to your own monologue and then reacting to it at the end makes a world of difference for other players who are going to use it. Especially in a Harold which is about expanding a single word and exploring all the themes that come out, practicing monologues like that is hitting the ground running. If you are doing a Harold, other shows need different things.
Seeing monologues like that was the last part of the puzzle for me when I was thinking about how to approach improv. Knowing what I want to create and supporting that kind of play is the goal for me in improv right now. Looking it is this way makes it easier for me to learn how to make different kinds of scenes, because it teaches me that I need to put myself in a different mode for different kinds of improv. Same basic engine of adding to what I am given but it’s plugged into a different machine. Doing who, what, where uses a different part from reacting emotionally and they both need their own practice time. Practice them apart and it becomes easier to slip between different modes and be more flexible as an improviser. I will happily learn a certain style of monologue because it helps create a certain show, but I certainly won’t cling to that as ‘how I do monologues’ or ‘the right way to do monologues’.
I try to look at things in terms of Process, Partnership and Performance. There is how I do stuff, how I do stuff with other people and what is this stuff?
This had made it easier for me to use all the conflicting ideas that float around and the different styles. There are good things to find everywhere and there are also dead forms/games/scenes that don’t support anything and are being done by rote. My goal is to find the play in it all so I can enjoy creating a variety of different performances. Cutting it up without seeing that as a cast-iron definition allows me to easily digest all these different experiences I am bombarded with as I improvise. Much like cutting up a lovely potato allows me to stick it in my gob.
Now go and eat a potato.
No, a real one.