Unanswered, We Improvise

Posted by on Sep 4, 2011

sketch by Nathan Livni

We just did our first post-Edinburgh show, as part of The Out of Bounds Comedy Festival in our home town of Austin. The Festival is one of the largest comedy festivals in the United States, and features acts from all over the world. Kareem and Roy are producers of the fest, and Valerie and Kaci are both staff.

It’s our sixth year performing in the festival. In the past we’ve done Eris 2035, Screwball Comedy, Villainy, and more open ended narratives. This year we decided to do a brand new format, inspired by *something* from our Edinburgh trip.

What we wound up doing was coming up with a more theatrical structure that was inspired by some of the shows we’ve seen… but most especially by a wonderful show we saw called Unanswered, We Ride. That show featured a single character monologizing throughout, as other characters and scenes wove in and out of her talking. The result is a show that’s a mosaic of scene snippets, memories, and thoughts.

We decided to take that on as our structure. It would give us a chance to give the show a strong focus, and to practice seamless transitions.

I was super nervous, because it’s unlike anything we’ve done. We don’t normally employ monologues, and we don’t normally give one character THAT much focus. It’s kind of a crazy thing to bust out a new format at a festival, where the stakes are higher than normal. Of course, our good friends in Improv for Evil do it all the time. They also debuted a new format this OOB, called Time Hobo. It went really well.

For our show we asked the audience to share a strong memory from their past with us. We asked followup questions, and when we got  good sense of it, we started the show.

Valerie was the main character, a girl who had just recently moved to New York to study photography in grad school. The show unfolded as an exploration of the relationship between her and her father, who was kindly, but mentally ailing as time progressed.

Ultimately, the format worked really well, and accomplished what we wanted… which was to push us in a flowier, more theatrical direction, with a strong theme. The memory we got was of a kid retrieving a kite with his father in the woods, which is pretty much the perfect memory for something like this.

I love it when a show feels effortless, and this felt that way. We just flowed wherever the show took us, and because there was no pressure to make each scene complete, we didn’t have to worry about ending things on huge laughs or anything. In fact, we heard afterwards from various people that there was some crying going on at various points. Not bad for an improv show.

We all agreed that there’s a lot more to learn and extract from this format, so look for it in upcoming Spectacle shows.

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