Day 259. The Pattern, The Game of Improv

Monday, November 7, 2011

Today, I came back from my aunt and uncle’s house in Orange County. I just love staying there. I live in a room in a house that other people own, so it is so refreshing to me to stay with family where I just lay around and hang out. I would have liked to have stayed longer, but I had to get to improv class.

I’m loving the class. For whatever reason, things have started to click for me lately. I’ve stopped over thinking. For so long I had forgotten how fun improv is and how I feel competent, and even good at it. I’ve mostly just watched shows of other people and felt a little struggly in class.

I take classes at Upright Citizen’s Brigade, which is the hot, hip, super funny, successful theater in Los Angeles. UCB does long form improv, as the majority of theaters here do. I’ve done mostly short form improv and some long form. Short form improv is more about games that have different parameters. One that we played at the Skinny Improv is called Buzz, where two people are doing a scene while one person is off stage. Whenever that person says, “buzz,” the actors have to change what they said and say something different. It’s still a scene, but there is a fun element to it. Long form takes one suggestion at the start of the show and builds a show with different scenes around that one suggestion. There ain’t nothing wrong with short form, but long form is considered more sophisticated, where you have to rely on skills and acting and teamwork, and less on wit and goofiness. That is completely simplified, but distinguishes the difference.

I’ve done more short form, but I’ve always loved watching and performing long form. The most standard long form show is the Harold invented years ago. That is what we’re learning in my 301 class. It takes a lot of work, but I’m starting to get it. One of the hardest things for me has been giving myself over to the UCB style of improv.

I’ve always loved improv, and particularly, the connection between improv principles and life principles. All improv is based on teamwork, an agreement principle called “Yes And,” reacting and not over thinking, and relationships. UCB certainly follows those, but they place a big emphasis on the “game” or “pattern” of the scene. The idea is that in any improv scene a game or a pattern emerges, so the key is to identify the pattern and explore it. An example would be in class today during a scene a guy said, “Get in here guys, our sales are plummeting, and as employees of Saks on…Saks Fifth Avenue, we need to figure out how to increase sales.” He accidentally stuttered saying Saks Fifth Avenue. So the game of the scene can then become that we are employees of a store called Saks on Saks Fifth Avenue, where we have a store above Saks Fifth Avenue. Then, if we have that store, what else is true? We can keep coming back to that concept and playing with it.

Another example would be from class today of a character that takes fun playful games to a violent degree. We could heighten that by coming up with more games and more ways for the character to make them violent.

Other schools of improv base the scene in the relationships between the characters. At UCB relationships are important too, but game is more important. Like I said, I’m fascinated with improv and how what works, and how what is funny reveals truths about our everyday lives.

I don’t have a lot of thoughts on this, but I’m mulling over about how patterns and repeatable games are important in our lives. I think it’s true. Think about the songs we listen to. They’re usually around 3 minutes long and will repeat a chorus 3 or 4 or more times in that span. We go see movies that follow a similar plot to other movies we’ve seen. We know that they are going to be that way, and we keep going back, because we like patterns. I think we seek out patterns, and hope for patterns in life. If there are patterns, then things make sense, and there is some kind of order. Patterns also allow us to connect and be on the same page with others. When we’re in the audience and recognize patterns in a funny improv show we get some sort of delight.

These are unfinished thoughts, but I think that there is a reason patterns work in terms of making an improv show funny. I think that means that we crave patterns in real life. I think there must be a reason that we do. I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to keep thinking about it.

On a side note, while we were waiting for class to start I mentioned to people around me that something smelled like beef jerky. They agreed. I thought, “Who the heck smells like beef jerky?” Then, when I got a ride to an improv show with my friend, Danny, I smelled it again. I asked him if he smelled it and he agreed. Then, I realized that it was either my hand, or my phone emanating the odor. I was the one that smelled like beef jerky! Smelling like beef jerky for no discernable reason is the worst.



1 Comment

Filed under Improv

One response to “Day 259. The Pattern, The Game of Improv

  1. FYI … no one likes the stinky kid Jeff. Words to live by.

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