I love the term Wizard Battles. It refers to arguing in an improv scene, and evokes the crazy stuff that’s made up in order to justify one player’s position. I came across it recently in a blog post discussing the many problems with arguments in a scene. It also discussed an effective way of getting out of that situation (lose the argument!)
The post has a few insider terms that aren’t defined, but overall the post is pretty good. And I’m going to start using the term Wizard Battles
There are few people I know who can authoritatively write about the difference between improv and comedy. John Kinde has just the right skill set, and a great article to prove it.
John has an interesting background, and it includes teaching improv. Right now he’s living in Las Vegas, but for several years he lived and taught in Santa Maria. One of his venues for learning was here at the Santa Barbara Improv Workshop. For several years he drove down every Wednesday night. He also put on amazing improv shows in Santa Maria and always invited the Santa Barbara players to participate. If you ever get the chance to take one of his workshops, I recommend it.
He’s also a public speaker, gives workshops on using humor in public presentations, and writes the blog Humor Power where he shares his knowledge and experiences. I read his writings regularly. Today John posted an article discussing the differences between comedy and improv, and it’s great read. I think he nailed the differences and also talked about what makes improv funny.
Read it now!
Ben Whitehouse over at the Improvoker has written an interesting article about comedy in improv. He discusses the difference between going for a quick gag in a scene vs. building up a truthful scene that is funny in a complex, emotional way. The sort of difference you’d find between fast food and a complex, gourmet meal (my poor metaphor).
The quote that most resonates for me comes from Anthony King, Upright Citizen Brigade’s Creative Director in New York:
In my opinion, good improv should not be about winking to the audience or just focusing on laughs – not ever. However, itâ€™s also not necessarily about being â€œreal.â€ Itâ€™s about being â€œtruthful.â€
I find the distinction between real and truthful to be a helpful one. I try not to get hung up on whether the setting or the offer is “realistic”, but instead I focus on my character’s (or my own) emotional reaction to the setting or the offer. Given the situation (however bizarre), and my character (however extreme), how would I feel and then how do I react from those feelings.
And the audience’s reaction isn’t always the best measure of whether what we are doing is good improv. I don’t necessarily mean to ignore the audience (although I’ve had instructors who were contemptuous of the audience), and I’m certainly susceptible to an audience’s feedback (it’s tough playing to a quiet audience), but I think the quote in the article from Del Close is a sobering truth:
Just because theyâ€™re laughing doesnâ€™t mean weâ€™re succeeding
A couple of weeks ago, Bill Arnett at iO Chicago wrote up another interesting post, this time about “the right way to do a scene”. His point: there really isn’t a right way to do a scene. There are plenty of things you can do wrong, but there isn’t some absolute best way for a scene to go.
The process of building the scene is more important than the specific rules. And that process includes supporting the connections your fellow players make, no matter how wrong you may think they are.
I want to direct you to series of posts by Ben Whitehouse in his blog Improvoker (which is a great name). He’s going through a UCB (Upright Citizen Brigade) class in New York: Improv 201. At this point, there are only two entries, but the class is focusing on long form work and “finding the game”.
His first entry was from the 4th class in the session when he had an interesting insight into the concept of “finding” the game. Rather than it meaning he had to search out a game from the scene – artificially building a game from elements in the scene – he realized that it also meant discovering a game by chance or happenstance.
Along with that realization he thought about the concept of finding “a” game rather than “the” game. This seemed to eliminate some resistance he was having to these “cerebral” concepts in long form work. His post is well written and insightful.
His second entry focused on the second beat of a Harold scene. This second beat is the second round of scenes that follow the first set of establishing scenes. It should carry forward the games found in the the first beat, not necessarily the plots. He gives a good example of this and the post is worth a read for some more insights he has into the Harold long form.