Before Brian James O’Connell visited EndGames a few weeks ago, it never occurred to me to try to classify every scene I’d ever seen or been in into a fixed set of categories. I realized people talked about different types of scenes, e.g. peas in a pod, straight / absurd, etc., but I naturally assumed that the variation across scenes would be too great to fall into simple buckets.

Brian appeared to offer just what I assumed was not possible: a simple taxonomy that consists of four basic types of scenes, courtesy of the Miles Stroth Workshop. I hadn’t spent too much time thinking about scene taxonomy before that point, but with Brian’s classification system, I now had an entirely new vocabulary from which to think about scene work.

A taxonomy of scenes requires the following features if it’s to be useful in an improv context:

  • Identifiability – One should be able to figure out the classification early in the scene because if one cannot classify a scene until it is over, the classification is irrelevant for the practical purposes of improvising.
  • Distinctive play – Two scenes fall in different categories if and only if their best practices of play (e.g. the pattern of yes-and, if-then, responding emotionally, etc.) are distinct since without a distinction, creating separate categories is irrelevant for the practical purposes of improvising.

A taxonomy could streamline the process of group mind. For instance, one can start taking a look at whether improvisers are predisposed towards certain kinds of scenes over others. Given the distinctiveness of play, the taxonomy by extension can then inform an improviser of how best to play with another improviser given their predispositions.

For this to work well, one should be a utility improviser adept at playing all categories within the taxonomy. Thus, if an improviser is quick to come up with jokes but has a difficult time reacting honestly and with emotion, there will be certain categories of scenes that improviser has a harder time playing.

As mentioned above, this is contingent on a taxonomy having the two properties above. Brian offered best practices for scenes in the Miles Stroth taxonomy, so if it is to be practically useful to me, I need to become efficient at quickly identifying scenes according to it. That’s currently a work in progress.


This entry was posted in Endgames, Improv, Miles Stroth Workshop. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Taxonomy

  1. Nick Nelson says:

    Dude, I really enjoy reading your posts. I’m on a long flight so I followed a click trail through Mile Stroth notes and overview and got to this post from Heather Anne Campbell:

    In one way it reads as an attack even though it start off “We both arrive at the same place”. That said, I’ve heard similar from Jet Eveleth as heather states: “Look around with the same intensity as when you’re dreaming. If you can see the world, and hear the thoughts of your character, then behaving as that person in that environment will just be what happens.”

    Even in notes from Mile’s workshop he says “when you get on stage, just play.”

    I’m not really trying to make a point here. The question that I think about a lot though is in regard to how much “thinking” in a scene really helps. I feel a few workshops and such push me to think in a scene where I feel what they are pushing me to think are things that they don’t really think about it in a scene and never have–> It is instinctual things that they built through doing a lot of improv and it now they are trying to make it into a curriculum.

    • K says:

      Thanks, Nick! Completely agree that when it comes time to perform, it’s best to just play and trust in muscle memory, but intentionality has its place when watching others perform or during practices. It’s kind of like the difference between studying/practicing jazz versus performing it.

    • K says:

      As far as whether the advice is reverse-engineered and was never consciously thought of by the person devising a curriculum, that sounds highly plausible. That raises an open question: how useful are these techniques? To really determine if some techniques or ways of thinking about scenes are more conducive to success, one can conduct the following double-blind experiment:
      1. Have a bunch of cards face-down (or in a hat) with different types of improv advice, including control cards that are blank, indicating the improviser can play how they normally would.
      2. Each person walking into the scene picks up a card, records their names and a code written on the card, and starts to play based on the advice in their respective cards.
      3. The experimenter assigns a subjective score to each scene.
      3. Repeat this process many times until enough data is collected.
      4. Analyze the data controlling for the improvisers playing to see if there is any statistical significance in particular types of advice given and the experimenter’s subjective preference for scenes.

      I tried a version of this experiment during an EndGames drop-in, but there were neither enough people nor enough time to collect a lot of data, and the audience at a drop-in class isn’t representative of improvisers as a whole.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s