Thursday, February 17, 2011

Creating an Original Ensemble Piece

The reason that I'm writing this is because for the past two weeks Mock Turtle Soup has been creating an original long-form to perform at the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival (NCCAF). It's called The Sillyad and is an improvised EPIC QUEST! It has been a really eye opening experience, and I though that I would put down some of my thoughts. The thoughts are specifically for creating a new form, but I believe they apply to a troupe trying a form that they have never done before. Basically everyone is a blank slate.

First off everyone has to be on board with the form. The great thing about a good improviser is that they will never say no to a form, so this is generally not a problem.

Once you have established the basic game plan / structure just do it. Don't talk about doing it too much, just do it. This first time, and probably the second or third, are probably not gonna go very smoothly. After a few times as a director you can see what some of the fundamental problems are, and most of the troupe sees them too.

Most times improvisers do poorly at new forms because they are focusing on the format / structure of the form and are neglecting the fundamentals. Also when something isn't going smoothly our witty comedian brain kicks in and tries to solve the problem with exposition. So you end up with everyone talking and some mediocre improv.

As a director assess what is lacking, and what the problems are. Then come up with a workshop specifically for the problems the troupe is having in this specific form.

For example when doing The Sillyad everyone had their own way to solve the quest, which is the heart of the form. This brought about allot of people talking in great length about what to do. Everyone was talking over each other and denying one an-others ideas. Everyone was bringing their own huge wall to the scene.

To fix the problem I made pairs of three come up with a way to stop a task by only adding one piece of information at a time. This made the questing a team effort, and lead to some really fun ways to solve problems. Then we worked on some relationship scenes. I paired people up and made them do things together as if they've known each-other for a while.

When we did the form again everyone was working together, and there were some strong relationships across the board and it became really fun to watch / play.

I guess the moral of all this is just to constantly assess where things are going wrong and come up with proactive solutions that are fun. If you do it together and keep it fun then you will have a great show. But don't make the mistake of thinking that you are doing it right and others are wrong, because in an ensemble there is no right, just wrong if you're not playing nicely with the others. Be a UNIT!

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