Best Improv Form. Ever.

iO Summer Intensive

Week 5

Instructor- Barry Hite



We did more burner scenes this morning, Barry’s favorite, and then moved into openings done in a certain style (Art House, Action Movie, etc.). After that we did a long, shared character monologue. Playing with different opening techniques.

The next form we covered was my favorite form I’ve ever done. It’s insane. JTS Brown. I’m going to try to turn my notes into something reasonably easy to understand but this form is complicated enough that Barry added to it in layers so it’s a little tangled up in my notes. Barry said there are about 9 fun things that this form adds to the scenes, if everyone is playing at the top of their game.

The entire set scene changes come through transformational edits only, no sweeps. Anyone can be any character at any time, all characters are common property. It’s vital to make character choices VERY clear in this form, and use names, because people need to be playing each others characters as it goes on. Also, when the scene transforms, if you stay on stage immediately and drastically alter your character. Keeps things clear.

It starts with a shared character monologue. Someone starts a scene from there, this is the one sweep edit that can occur if you need it. Scenes can be one person, everyone, whatever. Any scene can be brought back at any point if you want to continue it. However, in the middle of the set there should be a 4-6 minute two person scene that is not added to, touched, or brought back. This is the grounding scene that everything can go crazy around. When I say “any scene” below this scene is exempt.

Now, on to the really fun “add ons”-

  • At any point in any scene someone off stage can step out and and freeze the scene, then ask any character 3 personal questions. These can range from “How old are you?” to “What is your deepest fear?”. Try to keep them, and the answers, brief but there’s no rule here. Also, anyone in a scene can step out of character as an actor and do the same thing, just stepping back into character afterward.

  • Scenes are STRONGLY encouraged to happen anywhere. Use the entire space, move around the room, play with the audience and get off the stage a good bit.

  • Playing as objects, sentient or not, should be happening. This is a physical form.

  • Entering or leaving a scene transforms it and a new scene starts. If you want to get on or off stage you can do so during those few seconds when a transformation is happening, any other time you’ve changed the scene (so no tags!).

  • Any character can pop out of a scene at any point and narrate themselves (character or history), or whatever is going on.

  • Whenever you find two scenes that can be easily toggled (World Within Worlds) it’s a great game. For example, if something going on reminds you of somethings else (like in freeze tag) you can step out and make it immediately clear that you want them to stay and do this other thing, then step out and hopefully if they’ve caught the idea they will go back to the first scene. You can then step in and out of the scene, toggling it back and forth between two scenes. This one is tricky until the team reads each other well.

  • Playing “ids”. You can step out behind any character and indicate (we used holding our hand over the characters head) that you are that person’s “thoughts”. You can then participate in the scene by playing the things they don’t dare say out loud.

  • “Ed TV”. This is another tricky one to start with. You revisit a scene you already did and make a quantitative difference in it at some point. This can be seen as an alternate reality. If you went left the first time go right this time, if you took the red pill then take the blue, if you fell in love with the hot chick in round one then this time fall in love with her ugly sister. The idea is to explore what could have happened.

  • Stealing characters. Anyone in a scene can “take over” another character, which forces that person to become the character/thing you had been playing.

This form is built entirely on having fun and messing with each other. Hardcore. So everyone has to be on board with that. The trick is to learn to balance things so that the scenes stay up and energetic and everything is getting used, while also letting them have some time to breath. Ground the scenes, hard, and then pile crazy sauce on top.

Barry said in this form especially it is vital to not explain things. Have 10 second scenes, purely physical (silent) scenes, scenes that are more like a Harold game than a scene, dream scenes, repeating scenes, etc. Really and truly train yourselves to allow anything to happen, things that you don’t see in other forms.

This scene played to what my team liked, and what I’ve learned I like over the past 5 weeks. It’s silly and fun, and yet can still have grounding moments. The other half of my team did a set where periodically a pig would run across the stage. Whatever scene was happening would vanish and everyone in the scene would start screaming “Go pig! GO PIG!” and cheering and stomping for it, and then as soon as she scurried off the stage they would snap back into whatever scene they’d been in before. For some reason that was about the most hilarious thing I’ve seen this week.

That took all morning, after lunch we worked on Cat’s Cradle. This is a form where the entire cast stays on the stage for the entire show, everyone is in every scene. To keep that from being to chaotic most people play objects or background characters, most of the time. It’s fine to have a few true group scenes but not every single scene. It has an opening like a Harold, but that smoothly flows into the first scene.

Barry said you have about 3-4 seconds of credit with the audience at the top of scenes to change places on stage, decide who you are, and get started. Edits can be sweeps, as long as you don’t leave the stage. But they can also be focus, or someone simply making a clear move to another part of the stage. Barry also said to do about 4 scenes and then start callbacks. Longer than that it we won’t get to tangle things together as much.

We then did “Oh Mighty Isis”. The entire team forms a line and holds their hands out on front of them, palms up. Then they chant, together, “Oh Mighty Isis”. Barry (or an audience) would then yell out a thing/place/noun. The entire group has to immediately, and with no conversation, create that thing on the stage as a group.

Like, we did an Airplane, Millennium Park, and a Haunted House. Each person should know what part of the thing they are. In the above I was a wing (piece), a fountain, and a “stabby person” (because what haunted house does not, somewhere inside, have a person stabbing up and down with a knife?). It is also possible to be a sound or smell, anything at all that is part of the object or belongs at the place. Just avoid being a “person” (I stretched that with stabby person, but I didn’t care).

We ended with a little Close Quarters training. He didn’t say that but Close Quarters is one of the few long forms I’ve done before so I recognized what he was doing. We would paint a place and then do a short run of tiny scenes set there, unconnected to each other. And each one had it’s own Soundscape.

Snatches from today-

  • The audience wants to know what you like before you tell them what you hate.

  • If a character belongs in a space we are less tempted to talk about the space.

  • Say subtext out loud. Quit trying to be subtle, say things plainly and then heighten them. Playing subtle is often fear of what will happen when the thing is actually said and has to be faced.

  • The back wall is death. Stay away from death.

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