Genre Workshop Notes

Whoahhhhh! That was awesome!

I ran a genre workshop on Saturday and it produced some of the funniest, most compelling, exciting improvisation I’ve seen in ages. Yet again (like accents workshop) it started off as a skill I thought would be ‘tip of the iceberg’ but actually produced some incredibly cool stuff and seemed to really helpful.

Also, like status, genre seemed to be one of those things that when actors concentrate on fully everything else is taken off. This is probably because playing a genre has corresponding characters and locations that when the actor sticks to and concentrates on it can become more real.

Playing a genre makes actors “do stuff”. They are not waiting for things to happen, they act, take characters, move across stage, tell a story.

We also found that genres are freeing, not restricting. A genre gives you such a solid circle of expectation that you are supported by it right from the start and it triggers loads of exciting ideas. We’re also finding this with Music Box at the moment, that an interesting suggestion can work wonders with inspiring the actors, so we’re actually no longer taking the first suggestion and instead taking the one that most excites us.

I was originally planning to use film examples in the workshop, and had my laptop all ready to do this, but in the end we didn’t have to. It turns out we already know so much about genres, as we’ve all seen so much. And even with the more unusual ones we don’t need a big idea, just that fragment of an idea made bigger. In fact that became a rule of the day – don’t question the genre suggestion, just commit fully to the limited idea you have.

Also we didn’t do Film Noir! This is probably the most popular audience suggestion for genre. I think this is because on this workshop we were not doing impressions of genre (which usually happens with Film Noir, although Chris Werren is changing that), but instead we were trying to be the genre. You’re not doing an impression of a western, you’re not even “in” a western – you are a sheriff sat in a hot and humid jail drinking whisky.

I think a pleasant side effect of doing genres are the marketing advantages. The Penny Dreadfuls took off partly because they appealed to people who like sketch comedy and people who like Victorian stuff, and the two genres don’t cancel out each other’s audience. Showstopper perform to people who like impro, and people who like musicals. There are millions more people who like musicals than impro. So by doing a genre show you can take an impro show to a whole different audience, rather than the other way round.

Stuff We Did:

Name circle – say your name and a memory of early furniture or room decorations. Accidentally illustrated how adding details can lead to stories and humour by itself.

Three line scenes

Three line scenes with each playing a random genres – exceptionally funny

More than three line scenes each playing a random genre

Curtain discovery – pull back an imaginary curtain and explain to your team what you see in the space, after being first given a genre. Amazing at getting locations seen and discovered, rather than thought up and created.

What happens next – big group and small groups. This started without a genre as I thought it would be easier but actually when I gave them a genre it was easier. The genre has so much implied story that it’s an amazing starting point. The added rule was if I saw the story on Film Four on a Wednesday lunchtime, I wouldn’t think the story was weird for the genre. Sticking to this rule stopped stories going ‘impro weird’ and made it really satisfying. Also Albert was given Kung Fu movie as a suggestion, without us realising he was actually a martial arts expert. I’ve never seen anyone do a backflip kick in What Happens Next before, amazing!

The rest of the day we improvised longer stories/scenes in a set genre, with the rule again that if it was read or viewed it wouldn’t look outside the realms of that genre. I helped by describing the ‘Where’ of each scene inbetween each step, which is a style I quite like and helps out as it seems to be the thing actors are most likely to forgot to do, and yet so essential.

We ended up with some great stuff, including:

A Dickens novel, “Man of Means”, a tale of conflict between love and family and a one man’s quest to raise himself from poverty and enter high society. Featuring stunning locations in  London, the South of France, and
Sommerset.
A sports drama, “Timothy”, a tale of six year old Timothey, bullied at a private boarding school but saved by a kindly yet stern headmaster who taught him to run.
A Western, “Red Bull”, a tale of a rancher and his wife under attack from Indians, whose only hope is a down and out alcoholic Sheriff forced to face his demons and choose between being a tree or a mountain.
Shakespeare, “The Tomb”, a tragedy of two brothers encased in their Father’s tomb and confused by shape shifting witches. So perfect, and a death scene that made us cry.
Scene Whore, 1980s cop character drama featuring an alcoholic cop in New York and the characters in her life.

I now really want to make some shows out of some of them. Probably not for a while though, but next big project candidates I think.

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