The Weekly Format: Improv Incognito

NAME: Improv Incognito
I have come to believe that a show should be a complete experience from the moment someone enters the theater to the moment they leave. When I was in theatre school, the plays I loved the most were the kind that allowed us to improvise in character with the audience before the show began. Sometimes, the play would start when the performers would rise from seats scattered throughout the audience. It would feel as if the play appeared from within the audience itself. It is an amazingly inclusive experience.
THE BREAKDOWN: As the patrons filter in to see the show for the evening, informally walking around and finding their seats or getting drinks, the improvisers are hanging out within them as if they are simply other patrons. The improvisers walk around and talk to audience members, getting to know a few of them. When the show is ready to start, the improvisers rise from seats within the audience and take the stage. From the stories and information gathered through their conversations with the audience, they create the show.
NOTES: For ultimate awesome effect, the improvisers don’t share the stories with each other before they take the stage together. Each performer has his/her set of stories from which to build premises. The fun lies in threading the premises together. Also, select audience members will have the private joy of the show arising from their stories without anyone else knowing it was their stories, which I think will add an extra element of excited energy to the room.

The Weekly Format: Fade to Black

NAME: Scene Base (or the Fade to Black Format)
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.

The Weekly Format: House and Garden

NAME: House and Garden
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.

The Weekly Format: The Stand-Up Opening

NAME: The Stand-Up Opening

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?
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.
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.

The Weekly Format: The Elevator

NAME: The Elevator
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.