Show names, group names and form names
Let’s say there is an improv group named Master Blaster and they decide to do a show called Inside the Thunderdome and for that show that create a new improv form that features stage combat that they call The Gibson.
Is it ok for you to do another impov show using stage combat? Yes, of course. It’s an idea. You can’t patent or copyright an idea. So of course it’s acceptable. It’s even better if you do three things:
- Add something to the form or transform it to make it your own,
- Give credit to the original group as the inspiration in the program and elsewhere,
- Name the show something unique so that there is no confusion with the original. Don’t call the show The Gibson, or Thunderdome or Master Blaster.
For instance, the Family did a form called The Movie in a show called Three Mad Rituals and also in Dynamite Fun Nest. When Besser taught the movie in NYC with a new cast, it became Feature Feature, and the next generation after that became Instant Cinema. He didn’t call the show Three Mad Rituals or even The Movie, they gave it a brand new name.
I’m not trying to call out anyone in particular. People do this over and over again, all over the place. And there are reasonable exceptions. This is more like a challenge to people to come up with their own titles for shows.
But that’s just my old, crotchety opinion. And by the way, I’m keeping the ball that landed in my yard.
By the way, this is not about Cagematch. That show is a special case in my mind. I generally encourage people to steal that idea and transplant it in other cities. All I ask is if you want to use the name and base your rules on my show, that you give me credit, that you don’t do it across town from another theater that is already doing it and you buy me a drink if you ever have the opportunity.
Behavior is a game
We work too hard at the top of the scene. We think we need to figure out everything in the first few lines. Are you my mother? Are you my boss? Are we on a bank heist? Are we on the playground? Is that a cane in your hand or a magical staff? Do we need to know everything? No. We don’t. And the audience doesn’t give a shit if we come up with some amazing back story.
The audience wants to see our behavior. They want to know how we relate to each other. That’s what a relationship is.
- I’m weak and you are strong.
- I’m calm and confident, you are jumpy and nervous.
- I’m an optimist, you are a pessimist.
- You need to be mothered, but I can’t do it because I’m repulsed by you.
- You are the bully and I’m scared, but I’m going to stand up to you as best I can.
- We are both so excited to see each other that we are jumping up and down like teenage girls.
- I am trying to seduce you, and you are shocked.
These are all things that can be established in a very short amount of time. Sometimes we can walk on stage and feel it immediately. We notice it in each other’s behavior and how we feel. The audience sees it too. It’s clear and simple and right in front of us to play with. But instead we walk on stage worried about the who, the what and the where. Get out there instead and worry about the how.
“But, what about the game?”
Behavior is a game. And context is important. Yes, that is true. But instead of spending all your time worrying about yes anding the context, start with behavior and let the context tumble out. It will. You might need to practice it, but it will.
- I’m weak and you are strong, and then it tumbles out that you are a private in the army and I am your drill sergeant.
- I’m calm and confident, you are jumpy and nervous, and then it just spills out that we are breaking into a safe and you are the safe cracker.
- I’m an optimist and you are a pessimist, and you are also my physical therapist.
- You need to be mothered, but I can’t do it because I’m repulsed by you, and I’m also your mother.
- You are a bully and I’m scared, but I’m going to stand up to you as best I can, because you are the IT guy whose job it is to fix my laptop damnit!
- We are both so excited to see each other that we are jumping up and down like teenage girls, and it’s a reunion of cellmates… in a prison.
- I’m trying to seduce you, you are shocked, and you are my wife.
I’ll let you in on a secret though. Sometimes the context can simply be the most obvious and straightforward. You are the bully and I’m scared, and we are both just kids. And if we play the behavior and develop this relationship–this way in which we relate–often it’s pretty damn funny too. Yes, the strange context can help make it weirder and funnier and perhaps works better if you are writing a sketch, but the behavior is what keeps the audience watching. Behavior without much context can be fascinating. Context without behavior is boring.
“Great! Now we have a scene. What do we do next?”
The same thing you have been doing. The opening moment is the scene, at least for now. Just play it. Just be the thing you were in the beginning. That’s all you need to do. Do that for a few minutes, it will come to a climax, the audience will laugh, and your teammates will edit.
There, that’s not so hard is it?