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What's in the Moment: Different strains of improv

Oh no here’s the result of me trying to answer a question on a fbook group when I should have been doing other things.


The original question in my favorite place of procrastination, Improv Discussion and Resources, was what strains of improv are being practiced today, and because everyone else was going the route of “short-form, Harold, musical” I decided to go from a totally different angle and put that philosophy degree to use.


Because sure, we can look at the rules of the games/formats people play in improv focusing on the organization of events on stage over time. But isn’t improvisation really about what we do in the moment and NOT over time? So here’s what I said.


“Improv as practice" is a question of process for me so I'm trying to separate out differences in product from differences in approach/process. That also keeps us from getting too bogged down in differences between cultures/language area/medium.

Approach to group and individual creation in the moment focuses on:


1) comedic choices

a) physical (Commedia, mask-based work, clown, some short-form)

b) verbal (a lot of short-form)

c) pattern-based (game-based long-form)


2) story/dramaturgy choices

a) entertaining (a lot of long-form, some guerrilla theater)

b) dramatic (narrative long-form that's aiming for serious narratives)

c) grounded/authentic (that "truthy" long-form)

d) established tropes/genre

e) socio-political commentary/change (forum theater, some guerrilla theater, some playback)

f) audience immersion/interaction (forum, immersive theater, playback)


3) expression choices (not sure of the best word here, just trying to include the more non-verbal, non-narrative practices)

a) internal impulse

b) external mirroring/repetition/weight sharing

c) a balance of the two (Viewpoints, Contact, Action Theater - tbf most approaches combine both)

d) in relation to a score or tradition or audience input (contemporary dance, a lot of jazz, playback)


as I wrote this out i kept thinking ok RARELY does one school really only teach one process, but most tend to prioritize one or a couple I think..."

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