Sunday, May 5, 2013

[REPOST] When You Need to Know Who's Who In What

Originally posted at
Civilians (non-producers) tend to like to give me their thoughts on what they think improv is all about: 
  • It's stand-up comedy. 
  • That Drew Carrie show thing, right? Whose Line? I watch it all of the time on TV. 
  • Where you make EVERYTHING up! 
Contrary to popular belief, there's a lot of structure around improv shows.  We spend an inordinate amount of time learning how to create different pre-determined forms and structures in which we improvise the content.  As part of these forms we have to also think about the production of the show itself.

To have a successful show, we need to be able to execute the forms in a show within the timeframes we're allotted.  We also need to consider who else is playing on the same bill as they could have a form similar to the one we wish to present.  We also need to consider what kind of crowd we're playing to.  Are we playing for a "bar" crowd?  Does the audience want more "refined" humor?  Factor in all of these items, the percentage of improv that's being executed in the overall production is actually in the minority compared to all of the preparation just to set up the conditions to improvise on stage.

Most of the time, I know the answer to most of the important details going into a show:
  • Who's producing the show?
  • What time is the official call for the teams?
  • What's the location of the show?
  • Who's on the bill?
  • What's the after-show activities?
  •  What promotion will be done by the host and what needs to be done by the participants?
When I don't know this information, I find performing a little bit nerve-racking.  i'm typically the point man going into shows so my actors come to me asking me all of these questions.  If I don't have a ready answer, they tend to get in their heads which in turn puts me in my head because I'm now worried if I'm going to get a good performance out of my actors and worried as well if I'm going to be out of my head enough to perform well.  ARGH!

I tell the civies about these thoughts and they come back with "Well, it's improv right?  Just improvise!"  Perhaps that's a valid point.  It should be about improvising but producing is much more about planning for the expected and unexpected.  In these scenarios, the more planning and communication performed, the better.

What are some of the details you need to know going into a performance to make you feel comfortable to give your best?  Share you ideas int he comments below or hit me up on Twitter at @nvgdesign.

P.S.  In a future blog, I'm going to explore how improvising can be an important tool to keep in the back pocket of aspiring producers.