Narrative Improv

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What is Narrative Improv?

In narrative improvisation, performers create a complete story based on audience suggestions.  As opposed to other improv that focuses primarily on the joke, narrative improv cares most about creating a story that not only makes the audience laugh, but has a complete arc from beginning to end. It requires grounded characters with strong objectives, meaningful relationships, and clear environments – – CORE. Narrative improv blends the excitement of spontaneity with the emotional depth of a traditional theatre experience. At Impro, performances are often genre-driven, where the improviser can sink their teeth into a style through research and exploration of themes, archetypes, and motifs.

Why learn narrative improv?  

Whether you are a professional actor or an improv enthusiast, stories are a part of our everyday life.  Stories are how we share ideas with one another.  And in improv, telling stories transcends the art form from being a series of jokes to being an experience the audience and the performer will remember for a long time.  Narrative improv stories not only make you laugh, but make you think and feel.

For the professional actor, more and more, casting directors are looking for improvisers who can do more than just tell a joke. They want actors who can keep the reality of the scene. Who have an understanding of the bigger picture and where their character fits within that.  Directors very often ask actors to improvise, and they are not always looking for a joke.  They want to see what happens when you invest in the character within the given circumstances of the scene.  So whether you do comedy or drama, narrative improv will make you a stronger actor.

Narrative improv also helps the professional writer and director create a deeper relationship to story. Not only do we explore story from an outside perspective, but the writer and director can get a subjective experience of creating story. And it helps to teach them the most important rule in both art forms, let go of judgement.

What separates narrative improv from longform improv?

Longform improv in Los Angeles has become synonymous with the Harold and Harold-esque styles.  These styles were originally rehearsal styles that were developed in San Francisco before Del Close brought them to Chicago where they became performance styles.  These days they are commonly performed as a collage of scenes where each scene finds a joke, gets a laugh, then a new scene starts that is unrelated to the first scene.  With narrative improv, a scene must end when the narrative beat is completed, not when a joke hits, and each consecutive scene builds on the scene before it.  Characters stay and are developed over the course of the story.  They have strong wants, obstacles, and ultimately have to change in order to achieve their goal.  This takes improv from being a fun night of comedy to a full fledged theatrical experience.

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