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.