Formatogenesis

Nick Armstrong’s blog post about the J.T.S. Brown surprised me. I’m on a team that’s been developing our own form, and while I knew nothing about the elements of the J.T.S. Brown before reading the post, parts of its philosophy have arisen organically as our playing style has evolved.

Back in January, Megan and I met up because we wanted to try out something different from the Harold, and we discovered that both of us were interested in incorporating writing into improv. We took a book off my shelf, read an excerpt for inspiration, and then started scenes. After iterating on that a few times, we started discussing whom else we might want to invite and then sent out an email to Shirley, Matthew, Hector, and Sridhar.

During those initial practices, we ended up with something that resembled an Armando, except that the monologist was replaced by an excerpt from a book or New Yorker article. We started calling ourselves The Letters and discovered that there were fun dynamics among people in the group that led to playful scenes, with a lot of physicality and interesting voices.

Around the same time, a few of us were taking a workshop with Katie Rich and invited Michelle, a fellow improviser in those workshops, to our practices. By the end of our first practice with Michelle, our swipe edits were giving way to word-induced transformations by the group. I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about why and how these transitions work in our form, so it was interesting to read that the J.T S. Brown relies on transformations instead of swipe edits.

There were a number of questions that we had then about our form, from how long an excerpt should be, who should read it, etc., and the time seemed right to get a coach.

Chrysteena agreed to coach three sessions with our group, and we spent most of these sessions work shopping our opening. It took us to near the end of that third session to find an opening that we were happy with, but we found one.

Just as we found that opening, our team was dealt a blow. Three of our members announced that they weren’t able to commit anymore. I had just joined a house Harold team at the time and thought about my own commitment, but the one thing that I kept coming back to was how fun it was to co-develop and play in this new format. Whatever it was we were doing, I was committed to continuing with it.

We invited Avi to our next practice, and our transformations, which sometimes morphed into group games, started to pick up elements from openings, including monologues and character paints. Like the J.T.S. Brown, there was a lot of focus on physicality, environment, and sound.

We had been practicing about three months by then and decided it was time to test the state of our form in front of an audience. We debuted at The Other Peoples’ Children jam, signed up for a team spot at the Endgames Up ‘Till Midnight Jam, and then got invited to open for the jam.

We were also looking for a new coach, and Kaeli stepped into the role. We found ourselves experimenting with shapeshifting (also used in JTS), dual talking (as one might see in short form), and character-painting during our transformations. Some of these found their way into our performance at the jam:

We’ve been continuing to develop our form since then, welcoming Mike and Dominique to the group, and continuing to test boundaries of our format in practices and shows. While our form is not the JTS, the fact that there are so many similarities makes me wonder if there is a philosophy that’s more conducive to the playful, theatrical sets that we’ve enjoyed. I’m really happy with the culture we’ve fostered and am excited to see where it goes.

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2 Responses to Formatogenesis

  1. Pingback: Anthrocubeologist Takes Improv Inventory | ANTHROCUBEOLOGY:

  2. Pingback: Reboot – Community (Part 1 of 2) | ANTHROCUBEOLOGY:

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