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What is a Platform?

Your scene has started and you’re in the moment reacting to your partner and following the fun. Then some part of your brain starts to wonder…

What is actually going on?

Depending on the style of improv you’re practicing, this is the moment when you might be worrying about the story. Especially when we’re performing for an audience, our storytelling instincts start to kick in, and we feel some kind of obligation to connect the dots for the audience.

Or maybe even connect the dots for ourselves!

Because we’re writing the story together with other players in the moment, we need to start on the same page. That page is called the platform.

The platform gathers all of the basic facts about the story into one foundation that you can build the rest of the plot on top of.

At ImprovWorks we start learning improv with short-form games, where the goal is to get to the comedy of the story as quickly as possible. In general, that means you need to be clear about the platform at the beginning, so less time is spent discovering those basic facts and more time is spent heightening or developing to get to the comedic gold.


So what elements should be part of your platform?


There’s a couple of different memory aids for remembering the important elements of a platform. In Level 1 Andrew uses the -tions: Emotion, Location, Relation, Situation. I like Who, What, When, Where, Why (but I do come from journalism).  


CROW (character, relationship, objective, where/when) has become popular in anglophone improv in the last decade. And that’s the shorthand we use starting in Level 2. If you dive into my ridiculously long series on character creation, you’ll see I think of objective as part of character, BUT it is also possible to think of objective as a scenic objective (so more of the What, as opposed to the Who) and I think that’s what this use of the term is getting at.


You'll notice that some things overlap between these platform definitions and some don't. But the things that DO overlap are character+relationship and location, so those are usually what I prioritize at the beginning.


You’ll also notice that many short-form scenes begin with one or more of those three elements suggested by the audience because again, we’re trying to get them established as quickly as possible.


Caveat: Focusing TOO much on clarifying the facts of the platform or story can take you, your partner and the audience out of the moment. And in training that’s fine, because we’re trying to get used to platform building as a tool. But in a show situation, it’s just one tool for storytelling and shouldn’t take priority over play, joy and connecting in the moment.


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