Improv Formats: Past, Present, and Future
We love to explore and invent new improv formats… formats being the structure and style of show we do on any given night. Here are just a few of the ones we’ve created and may perform again in the future.
Box & String
“Box & String” is our joint collaboration with Physical Plant Theater‘s Artistic Director and playwright Steve Moore.
A fragile string creates a bold dividing line in a world where nothing is quite what it seems. Shifting from playful and mischievous to bittersweet to enchanted, “Box & String” moves beyond gimmick into something otherworldly while bringing the audience along for the adventure.
Inspired by the works of Haruki Murakami, Gabriel García Márquez, and visual artist Fred Sandback, “Box & String” is a new experimentation exploring the boundaries we both create and discover in the worlds around us. The original show run included music by Graham Reynolds and technical improvisation by Chris Albano.
“Gorgeous, stunning, and surprisingly touching.”
“The [performance] was completely mesmerizing.”
“I’ve seen a lot of PGraph shows, and this one was far and away my favorite to date.”
‘Quick Study’ is the format that keeps PGraph on our toes! For this performance, at the beginning of the show, an audience member is asked to pull a book at random out of a bag. The members of PGraph have put an assortment of fiction, non-fiction, plays, how-to guides, and more into that bag without showing the others what they have put in.
Once the source material is pulled out, PGraph has approx. 30-35 minutes to study that piece of literature while our opening group performs. In the second half of the show we present an entirely new and original improvised piece in the style of the quickly studied work. With all the various styles, this show is *extremely* different from week to week!
“I loved the Conan the Barbarian show! It might be my favorite PGraph show yet!”
“The improvised Murakami show was beautiful, delightful, and surprising. We were blown away!”
“This might be the best PGraph format yet. Every week’s show becomes my new favorite!”
‘Look Hear!’ presents multiple interweaving comedic tales as our four-person ensemble takes the audience back-and-forth from suspenseful radio dramas (complete with live foley and charming commercials!) to a fully improvised silent “film” that will stay true to the spirit of the original flickers.
Featuring a live musical score by Ammon Taylor and technical improvisation by Carl Ziegler.
“Stellar show!” Steve Moore, Artistic Director at Physical Plant Theater
“Killed it…Super delightful…Loved it… So fun and playful.” – Local Improvisers
After many years of intensely studying storytelling, play writing, character types, eras, and various genres of page and screen together, Parallelogramophonograph uses a Dramatists Play Service catalog to inspire their premier of a never-before-seen, fully-improvised one act play.
PGraph’s love for theatre and a hive-mind-like ensemble combine to produce some of the most unique improvised plays you’ll ever see.
“4 Stars! Parallelogramophonograph brought to the UK their weekly admired improvised drama show. In under an hour we saw the characters appear, define themselves and grow stronger in a completely unprecedented play titled ‘Woman before a Glass’ – title and plot outline picked by the audience, no cheating! The strong culmination tied it all (including the elephant) together.” – RemoteGoat.co.uk
Reverend Goodman’s Cure-All Elixir Traveling Revue
Taking inspiration from several sources including vaudeville, medicine and side shows, tent-revivals, laughing gas demonstrations, and more – you’ll be transported back to 1909 and at the whim of Reverend Joseph Goodman and his cohorts Dr. Percival Sharpe, The Widow Charlotte Payne, and Bess Davies, the “Redeemed” Lady.
The charming quartet will ply you with a miracle cure-all elixir (the likes of which holds enumerable exotic ingredients to be revealed to you in greatest secrecy), great and entertaining tales of woe, morality, and redemption, and other flights of fancy, contests, and dazzlements galore.
“Another Friday meant another visit with the Rev. Goodman and his companions as they sell their cure all elixir and entertain us with stories of their various exploits. Words fail me at this point, because I don’t believe the English language has adequate words of praise and happiness which will do this show justice. Kareem, Kaci, Roy, and Valerie create magic every show, and each one is better than the last. Thank you P-Graph for allowing me to forget the ills of the mundane world by drawing me into the amazing world you create every week. ”
– Mike Kinald
Inspired by our trip to Edinburgh in August of 2011, Unanswered is based on the scripted play Unanswered, We Ride by Jaclyn Villano. Unanswered uses tropes similar to the Unanswered, We Ride script and scripted staging by Theatre Daedalus, such as a main character who acts as a direct monologist to the audience, seamless and overlapping transitions from scene to scene, and multiple characters portrayed by only a few actors. But the very heart of the format, for us, is the connection between the main character and the audience. The entire saga of this improvised play unfolds from a very real memory given to us by an audience member.
Theatrically staged without the use of any sets or costumes, Unanswered is very intimate, gives us a strong base for comedy and drama, and has been one of our very favorite shows to perform.
“When the Pgraphers tested it out at the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival just after their return to Austin, they succeeded in creating a poignant tale of the relationship between a father and daughter as she seeks independence and he ages.”
– The Austin Chronicle
“If you haven’t seen Parallelogramophonograph, you should. If you have seen Parallelogramophonograph, well, you should see them again and again.” – Benjamin Helgeson
Inspired by films such as 2001, Moon, and Solaris, Eris 2035 explores the effects the desolation and stillness of deep space have on the human psyche. Quiet madness and slow-burning tension underscore this improvised production, reminiscent of classic science fiction of the 60’s and 70’s.
“I normally love how PGraph can blend being scary and funny at the same time, but this show took the scary/funny cake.”
– David Zimmerman
“I can’t recall feeling such honest and serious tension when watching an improv show before…and I loved it. it’s nice to get that sensation from an improv show…rare as well.”
– Kacey Samiee
Dick & Jane
Dick & Jane is set in the world of Jane Austen, costumes and all. It is a delicate place, full of giggling sisters, marriage-happy mothers, coming out dances, and fancy gentlemen. PGraph will take you on a tour of this dainty world and show you what happens when greed gets the best of Mr Darcy, Miss Benet slips her father a micky, and Sir John Middleton ends up face-down in the creek. Noir stories set in the world of Jane Austen! It will be ever-so-devious.
“It was a great story…I’ve just seen you take the smallest details and weave them thoroughly into the storyline and tie every detail together in the end…. you would even turn mistakes into hilarious parts of the storyline. “
GRIMM: Improvised Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales
In GRIMM we bring new tales in the style of the Brothers GRIMM to life.
Everyone knows that Disney took some liberties with the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm when they made Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and such into movies. But the truth is still startling. Not only are the original Grimm’s fairy tales dark and disturbing, but they’re also crazy, surprising, and at times completely baffling. Hundreds of years of passing on stories from generation to generation by voice and memory alone has shaped and warped these tales into bizarre gems… with everything from talking animals, severed heads, anthropomorphic sewing needles, random visits from the Virgin Mary, and yes, fairies thrown in… sometimes all into the same story.
Remember, these are the tales that peasants told each other in the night, when the lights had all gone out and Darkness wrapped them in her velvet shroud.
These stories are not neat. They are not clean. They are not safe.
“Just saw this. Report: Pgraph keeps finding new gears to shift to. They are like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, but they are four people and they are doing improv. SEE. THIS. SHOW.”
Some Like it Improvised
‘Some Like It Improvised’ combines the comedy of mistaken identities, culture clashes, and mismatched couples into a fun night of improvised theatre. Fast-talking female reporters, out-of-touch aristocracy, independent heiresses, and percolating romance in close quarters form the backbone of these screwball plots. PGraph captures all of the charm and nostalgia of the 1930s and ’40s screwball comedies and presents hilarious improvised plays that are as heart-warming as FDRs fire-side chats!
“That was an awesome show… Suddenly I remembered the movies that I watched as a kid. And especially how fast the dialogues were… Sweet! More!”
Villainy delves into the dark side of the human condition and tell stories that focus on the villains and anti-heroes we all love to hate.
Villainy explores the thousand faces of evil, cruelty, and hatred, all in one comical, theatrical bundle. The good, sensible person in you will tell you to look away, but you won’t. Indulge in your darker side while we indulge in ours.
“it’s a testament to their commitment to the craft and and their comfort on stage that they managed to sustain a rapt audience through laugh-free periods. You know, like good theater tends to do.”
French Farce is an exploration of the latent comedy in social status. Infidelity, insecurity, and insatiable appetites for wealth and power collide with riveting consequences. No topic is taboo; No neurosis too absurd.
Rich in physical humor and word play, French Farce is a delight to watch. We turn a blank stage into a French salon, a blank script into sharp social commentary, and “improv comedy” into “théâtre improvisé”.
“The characters were well-developed in a truly farcical manner. Each actor had their moment(s) to shine. The format was so deftly handled that it practically wrote itself.”
-Orf, of Orfan Brewing
No story is worth a damn unless it has great characters. In many ways, a story is its characters, and vice versa. Family Portrait centers around the life of a different family in each show, showcasing what exactly makes every family both unique and familar at once.
Family Portrait is a looser, more character-driven show than some of our other formats. For you improv nerds, it’s a deliberate blend of Austin-style narrative and Chicago-style character work. We think you’ll find that the humor comes from a deep, real place.
“if you haven’t seen the graph in a while, you should revisit them. they are sweeter than ever now. a nice blend of the good parts of each style, and very quotable.”
– Jeremy Lamb, producer of the Out of Bounds Improv Festival
PGraph Presents: The 1930s
From Great Depression comes Great Comedy. The 1930s run was our first foray into heavily researched improv. We each went off and learned as much about the Great Depression as possible to plan for this four show run. The goal was for our stories to be grounded in the reality of the 1930s, rather than being a cartoonish distortion of the time.
Each show took on a different theme. They were: 1) Gangsters and Prohibition, 2) The Dust Bowl, 3) Riding the Rails, and 4)Changing Times and Technology
These are still some of our favorite shows, and you can bet we’ll be revisiting the 1930s sometime in the future.
“I just saw one of the best Improv shows ever. Tonight was a very special night for it placed the spotlight on nature’s loveable vagabond, the hobo. The show had me laughing from the minute the lights came up. It had everything.”
-Mike Kinald, Improv for Evil
After School Improv
After School Improv consists of a fully improvised after-school special like you used to watch when you were an awkward teenager… only this time it’s funny on purpose.
Each show focuses on a different, audience-suggested problem faced by teens. Just a few of the issues we tackled in our first run include teen pregnancy, running away, being weak, and betrayal.
“If every show we did was as much fun as Parallelogramophonograph’s Afterschool Improv show last Thursday […] we would be beating people away with sticks.”
-Andy Crouch, Education Director of the Hideout Theatre
Sometimes in a story, the journey of the hero is metaphysical. He or she overcomes personal struggles of the mind and soul and emerges out the other side a better person for it. Not so in The Traveler.
This format literally sets the main character off on a physical journey, whether it be to go vote, to find a lost sibling, or to acquire some spending money in Paris. The action follows the hero as he or she travels, meeting a large and ever-varied cast of characters along the way… all played by the other 3 members of PGraph, of course.
The Traveler is one of our most playful formats, but still focuses on rich characters and good storytelling.
“The audience suggestion they exploded from was “building a doghouse,” and it led to vignettes involving a pair of identical twins building an anti-chihuahua fence, a man unhappily bearing the burden of his late father’s hardware store, a municipal bus being chased by very fast cows, and so on, with all of it adding to the highest of jinks.”
-The Austin Chronicle
There are countless other formats as well, including The Interview, Rainy Day, 5 Units of Separation, Chairs!, Objectifying Chris Allen, PGraph & Friends, Impromatic, Pick-Our-Play, The Ratliff, The MonoPOP!, The TAB, The Rift, Book Club, Pretentious Theatre People Discovering Improv in the 1960s, Monologues for Teens, PGraph’s Personal Fringe Fest, and so many more. And there are formats that are still being concocted, like Box & String, Aha!, and Captain Roy’s Muscle Boat. But we’ll leave the telling of those for another time.