Sunday, January 3, 2010

Part II: Form following function...or, you know, not.

Explanations, continued from this post about why I think troupes waste a lot of energy "creating" "new" "forms":

The audience doesn't care.

People who do things every day get bored way before the people who watch the things we do.

Want an example? Watch how quickly some companies switch advertising campaigns. You won't, of course, remember the companies that do it because their campaigns never sink in. Marketing departments get bored and agencies change teams or creative directors (or get bored) and they change out campaigns just as they're building awareness and maybe starting to work. Brands with patience and commitment—Nike, All State, McDonald's—actually create something memorable.

iO is known for the Harold. They play with other forms, of course—Del encouraged it—but their training still starts with Harold and you can see different teams perform it every week.

Same thing with Theatresports. And ComedySportz. They're all sought out for their signature forms.

They're not really new.

The first Harold was performed in 1967. A troupe could spend years simply exploring the forms that already exist.

But that's not exciting enough, so we rework an opening (or just leave it off), change out some edits, apply a genre and call it a new form.

There's nothing wrong with doing that, of course. But we're customizing—not inventing.

They're not really "forms."

I've heard Jill talk about this, and I agree. "Form" implies structure—some sort of organization or arrangement of elements or system created to serve a purpose. Tacking an an opening on a montage of scenes creates no more of a "structure" than putting a door frame in front of a pile of bricks creates a "house."

Last night during intermission at KC Crossroads Comedy's premiere, Erik asked Aron how Improv-Abilities came up with the approach to their set. Aron said they consider two things: what they're interested in doing as improvisers and what they want to accomplish with the piece.

That second thing is just as important as the first—but we don't always act like that's true.

We don't fully use all those techniques we're shuffling around.

At iO, students know the Harold inside out. They learn it, get frustrated with it, play around with it and understand it before they start fucking with it.

Do we spend enough time exploring different ways to pull themes and patterns out of stories and monologues or openings? If we don't, we've wasted content and time doing them in the first place.

Do we understand the pitfalls of narrative structures...how to avoid playwriting, different ways to initiate time dashes, varying approaches to the game of the scene?

Do we play enough as a team, exploring the different ways you can take advantage of a 2- or 3- or 7- or 12-person troupe?

Do we work on basic scenework...relationships, walk-ons/throughs, game moves, characters, emotions?

Or do we burn time and energy in rehearsals serving the development of a "form" that doesn't serve the improvisers or the audience?

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So...um...why does all this matter? To me, there are a few reasons: Respect for the craft. Knowledge = power. And, you know, why reinvent the wheel? To invent something new, it helps to know what already exists.

I warned at the beginning that some of this might sound judge-y. As I wrap it up, I want to reiterate that, though some of it is, it's aimed as much at me as anyone. I play regularly in four groups and coach one—along with some new and short-term projects—so I have lots of opportunities to either be a total hypocrite or try to make things better. Or to just decide "it is what it is" and enjoy whatever it is we've decided to do with our shows.

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