Forming Rules

After Wednesday’s session at the Annoyance, I paid a visit to Bill Arnett [Free Range HaroldsForms]. I had contacted Bill about a week earlier to let him know that I’d be in Chicago, he offered to let me sit in on one of his Level 2 classes at the Chicago Improv Studio, and I happily accepted.

It turned out Bill had posted a new blog entry about teaching in a post-rule improv world about an hour before his class, and it dovetailed well with what we’d been discussing at the Annoyance intensive.

I arrived a few minutes early early, so Bill and I caught up for a bit. He had taught some of the EndGamers who had visited Chicago for this year’s iO intensive and asked what the SF scene had been like in their absence. The conversation then meandered to his teaching style at the Chicago Improv Studio: to introduce improv skills by guiding students through increasingly complex forms.

There were four of us in class, and Bill ran us through a bunch of exercises. We did a number of scene-based warm-ups, and then near the end of class, we got to run through the form the students had been performing. It consisted of a group scene that served as an information source, a run of scenes deconstructed from the source, followed by returns to the group scene for additional information, another run, and so on.

The Annoyance intensive has focused purely on scene work, which I think is by design, so going through the act of playing a form made me more conscious of how it influences playing style. Specifically, if one accepts that improv is a process that has no rules, a form by contrast is a structure that could lead to rules. Detours, the La Ronde, Party Quirks, the canonical Harold, Three-Headed Expert, etc. all impose constraints on how the process of improv should flow.

Of course, these contemplations about form and rules all occurred to me after class. When I was actually sitting in on Bill’s class, I just played, and it was a lot of fun.

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2 Responses to Forming Rules

  1. Bill says:

    The notion of free improv vs. form improv and their relationship to rules is very smart. Wish I thought of it.

  2. Pingback: Styles | Improv from Below

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