NAME: Flipping the Script
IDEAL TEAM SIZE: 2+
HISTORY: Improv is an art form with a strong relationship with sketch comedy. At Second City in Chicago sketches are written out of improvised scenes in rehearsals. One of Second City’s most traditionally popular shows was a weekly sketch/improv show that started with sketches and moved to straight improvisation. The following week, the sketch show would be based off of the improv set that happened the week previously. Thus, a fair amount of sketch comedy feeds off of improv for ideas and premises.
THE BREAKDOWN: In a theater with projection capabilities, a video sketch is chosen and played for the audience. When the video is over, the lights come up on stage and the improvisers do a show using information gained from the sketch.
NOTES: Multiple videos can be used if the team is finding that they don’t mine enough information from one. If the team is concerned with proving that they are improvising, a series of videos can be nominated and the audience can select one through some sort of devised system. This form is also an opportunity for groups to cross-promote one another, throwing a night where teams perform shows based on each other’s sketches.
NAME: Scene Base (or the Fade to Black Format)
IDEAL TEAM SIZE: 3-5
HISTORY: This form was brought to my attention by my friend Omar when we were on our way to perform at the Interstate Fringe Festival in New Orleans. We executed it there to great success and it became the format used by my first side troupe, Fade to Black.
THE BREAKDOWN: Open the set with an all-in slow building scene to gather information from. Edit the scene and break into a montage. Return to the base scene again when it feels organic and raise the stakes to gather more information. Break again into a montage. Repeat. Ideally, the base scene should be revisited at least two times through the set to provide a clean beginning, middle, and end.
EXAMPLE: Two students and a priest go to the woods to hunt unicorns. As a social experiment, the priest begins manipulating the two boys into competition. The scene is edited and a montage is played until they organically return to the priest and the children. The priest has now turned the boys against each other and they go their separate ways to get to the unicorn before the other does. The scene is edited and a montage is played again until they organically return to the forest. The priest has found the unicorn and is trying to harness its rainbow powers to gain wealth and fame, and the two boys have to reconcile to combat him in an epic battle, learning about trust and the true nature of friendship and love. Fade to Black.
NAME: House and Garden
IDEAL TEAM SIZE: 8+
HISTORY: House and Garden are a pair of plays written by Alan Ayckbourn, first performed in 1999. House takes place in the drawing room of an English country home and Garden takes place in the home’s garden as a party is being prepared. The plays are designed as a diptych and are performed simultaneously in theaters with two stages. The characters in both plays routinely exit House and enter Garden and vice versa. Each play can stand alone and be seen in any order, but seeing both allows you the ability to see the full picture.
THE BREAKDOWN: In a theater with two stages (or perhaps simply the street in front of the theater if such a thing cannot be found), two halves of the team begin a mono-scene. When the moment appears organically in either scene, characters will exit and enter the other mono-scene, tying the both together.
EXAMPLE: Good luck with this one, guys. I think I may have just invented the hardest form ever. Whomever pulls this one off gets the Yes And Award for the century.
NAME: The Stand-Up Opening
IDEAL TEAM SIZE: 3
HISTORY: Any improviser who has tried their hand at/come from the world of stand-up comedy knows how hard it is to perform at a bad open mic. The crowd is a mix of drunkards who aren’t paying attention and/or heckling the comic (who is up there just trying to make them have a good time) and judgmental “colleagues” who feel the need to critique every small movement in your set. Or is that just me?
THE BREAKDOWN: Three stand-up comics, through a mishap in scheduling, have been booked for the same time slot on the same night at the same venue. Rather than be polite to each other and try to make the best of the error, they undermine each other to win the spot from an unreceptive audience. Each one takes the mic in turn to try their set, but the other two begin loudly showing their disapproval and critique the performance. When each comic has had their turn, break to the sides and begin an improv set based on the information gathered.
NOTES: It’s acceptable to use pre-written material in the stand-up opening, but I recommend completely improvising the stand-up routines to make sure the show is 100% different each time. Also, the comics are supposed to be bombing at an unforgivably terrible open mic venue, so if the routines are lame it adds to the atmosphere.
NAME: The Elevator
IDEAL TEAM SIZE: 6-8
HISTORY: This was a form that was accidentally invented in rehearsal for TNM Houston’s first Main Event in August 2011. The team that invented it, 1-Up Yours, didn’t end up utilizing it as they couldn’t perfect the form in time to compete, but I still believe that a team with fantastic group mind could pull this off in a cinch.
THE BREAKDOWN: A regular scene starts, ideally with two or three people. Others come on to provide silent environment support as background characters. When the game is heightened to an editing point, the characters in the scene are replaced by the environment support characters and a new scene with a new game is begun.
EXAMPLE: A brother and a sister have a scene over their mother’s grave. Two gravediggers enter the scene to provide background environment support. When the brother and sister scene reaches the edit point, they exit and a new scene is carried out by the gravediggers. As the gravediggers have their scene, two others take the stage for environment support. When the gravediggers’ scene comes to an edit point, the two new characters take center stage for a new scene and game. Repeat.