Wednesday, April 9, 2014

David Shepherd's Designing a Show around Improvisation

David Shepherd wrote this essay in 1979.  At the time, I was in the cast of his latest Compass revival and this was the process we used to develop two shows - "The Big Apple Experience" and "Basic Acts."  I've utilized his template to develop shows successfully with a variety of groups - including comedians, at-risk teens and professional improvisers.

Designing a Show around Improvisation
by David Shepherd

Developing a show around improvisation is for the man off the street to witness, boring. In order to come up with a crisp three minute improvised scene, many hours of improvisation had to go by where numerous alternatives are tried out (characters, time lapses, emotional changes, taking the characters out of the situation portrayed on stage and putting them into another to watch the changes).

Scene sources: Newspapers, experiences that have happened to you that week. Before throwing a scene out every alternative must be explored.  When you have about ten scenes ready the next step is….

-          Pick a theme and try to get the scenes to fit it.
-          Choose scenes that tell a story or a group of short stories that could run one after another.
-          Cluster the fragments and provide strong intros; present them as a catalog.
-          Pick some thread to stick together hi-quality but unrelated scenes.
-          Meditate on the scenes you like until you find the thread that’s common to most.
-          Accentuate or amplify that thread.
Instead of throwing out the entire show (after a satisfactory run) and starting fresh, you could start adding different players to the scenes. Eliminate the scenes slowly, replacing them with different ones. Within a month you have a totally different show.

Have a scene outline written out – including beats – keeping the scene fresh and remembered.

Designing a show to include on the spot Improvisations

This should only be done once the company itself has a particular “style” (i.e., characters that are ready to be used, particular “schtick” you may have, and a set format). Montieth and Rand ask for film genres and a theme, and then explore it. Stage Fright uses events from the Improv Olympics.  Caution – unless the audience is filled with theatre people, most audiences like to test actors (sex, vulgarity, etc.).

David Shepherd, watching a show being developed.

Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games.  Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development. 

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