What It Is
When I share with people that I’m taking Improv classes, they sometimes will ask, “Oh, like Whose Line Is It Anyway?” And I usually answer “sure” because that’s an easy cultural reference, and I doubt that what they were looking for - when asking the question - was a long lecture contrasting the finer points of Short-Form Improv (Whose Line) vs. Long-Form Improv (what I do).
So I say, "Sure, it's kinda like that." And it is.
Short-Form and Long-Form share the same essence - both involve “making stuff up” (technical term). Both use similar building blocks – listening skills, spontaneity, object work (or miming), supporting your scene partner, etc – to create unscripted scenes.
Short-Form, as the name suggests, consists of short scenes or games. These scenes are unrelated to each other; there is generally no overlap of characters or circumstances between them. Each game is based on a different audience suggestion, and (if done well) they are fast, funny, and high-energy.
Long-Form, as perhaps you have already guessed, involves longer scenes. Starting with one audience suggestion at the beginning of the show, improvisers build a series of inter-connected scenes. Just as there are different games in Short-Form, there are also different structures for Long-Form, but the overall goal is to craft longer scenes that rely heavily on characters and relationships (rather than rapid one-liners). The humor in Long-Form (if done well) grows out of these relationships.
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And speaking of relationships - when my Level 2 Improv class ended earlier this month, we all decided that we liked each other enough to form a practice group. Our eight weeks in class together had flown by, and we didn’t want the “wacky fun” (as our teacher was fond of saying) to end. So we hired a coach, rented a studio space, and last week we began meeting together to practice our Long-Form Improv skills.
Our coach – in order to get to know us and direct us in goal-setting – had us stand in a circle and individually say what we hoped to take away from our sessions.
“I want to ‘get out of my head,’ not over think things, be looser on stage”
“I want to choose stronger identities for my characters”
“I want to learn how to better heighten scenes”
“I want to practice recognizing and playing with patterns”
“I want to improve my scene initiations”
“Ok,” our coach said, after summarizing our stated goals, “So basically…Improv?”
Yup. We want to learn Improv.
(Editor’s Note: All of the above is an over-simplification, written by a beginner who knows not a whole lot about which she speaks, but who is nonetheless eager to share the love of it. And…scene.)