What is Long-form Improv?

Hoopla’s next long-form courses are starting in November and January. Details are up on the website here.

What is Long-form Improv?

So you’ve nearly finished your level three course and learned how to improvise awesome standalone scenes! So what’s next?

Total freedom!

Welcome to the world of long-form improv! In brief, long-form improv gives the players less restrictions and a lot more freedom to play.

  • Is there a character you like? Keep bringing them back in new and exciting locations!
  • Do you want to start a new scene… in outer space? Start that new scene… in outer space!
  • Do you want to meet that character’s Grandmother that keeps being mentioned in a scene? Let’s meet that grandmother!
  • Is there a theme like ‘good vs. evil’, ‘love’ or ‘courage’ that keeps appearing in scenes? We can make the whole show about that theme!
  • Do you want Grandma to be fighting the good fight against our alien oppressors while orbiting the moon? Let’s do it!

Learning long-form improv allows you to weave your scenes together to create a complete show of your design. Another way of thinking about it is if improv was a necklace, the scenes would be the diamonds and the string would be long-form that holds them all together.

Instead of breaking up a show with lots of suggestions, long-form takes just one suggestion at the start and uses that to trigger multiple scenes that connect together and can jump through time and space. It’s exciting stuff!

On the course we will teach you some simple techniques, exercises and formats so that once your finished with the course you will be able to make the show of your dreams every time you perform onstage!

Formats

In the Hoopla long-form course, you can learn lots of different ways of tying scenes together by learning editing techniques and different formats. Formats are similar to the improv games you’ve played in other courses but last for multiple scenes. Just like with games, there are hundreds of formats that you can learn but here are some of our favourites:

  • The Life and Times Of…: Discovery a character’s story as we cut back and forth throughout their lives.
  • La Ronde: Every scene we introduce a new character to replace an old one in this character lead piece that resembles a play mixed with the spontaneity of improv.
  • Montage: A scene free for all! For improvisers who want massive amounts of freedom while connecting the scenes as they go.
  • Armando: We hear real life stories and opinions of an improviser which the players then bring to life live on stage!
  • Living Room: Recreate a party atmosphere by lounging, talking nonsense and performing bits in this relaxed and informal format.

In the words of our teachers…

We love long-form at Hoopla and our teachers are no different. We asked some of our teachers to give us some insights into long-form and here’s what they had to say!

Nick Oram

Long-form for me is when improv gets really exciting. You start with nothing, you don’t know where it’s going to go but you’re trying to create a show.

Now you’ve completed the level three course, you know how to create scenes on the spot. Some of this course will be about getting you even better at improvising those scenes, improvising great characters, with emotion, being really fun and funny but also being serious and moving. So some of the course will be continuing to build on this. But we’ll also be looking at how do we turn the individual scenes we’ve got into a show.

But the thing that’s different and exciting is we’ll then be exploring the question: “What can we do with these individual scenes to create something even more interesting in the form of a 25 minute show”?

So can we take a character and put them somewhere else? Can we put them in a different time period, or take them back or forward in time? Can we get them meeting new people and will that impact them or change them as a character? Or can we leave that character for a bit and fifteen minutes later bring them into a new scene where they are unrelated and see how that mixes things up?

Equally, how can we be inspired by something else in our created fictional world? Or can we take a theme and have that running throughout the show? I like the fact that you’ve got so much potential in terms of the different avenues that you can go in. These interesting scenes can be turned into something more special, magical and more exciting.

Susan Harrison

Long-form is a continuous improvised piece which is inspired from a suggestion at the start (or a couple dotted throughout the piece). This is as opposed to short form from the Performance Course where the games are made really clear from the outset. In long-form there aren’t any clear structures and games from the audience’s perspective. Instead the improvisers are discovering the relationships, characters and games that occur, are being discovered by the improvisers themselves.

James Witt

I think in long-form the players starting using their own initiative a bit more, I’d say it’s more creative in some ways. You’re not going straight for the jugular, you’re not aiming for the satisfaction of laughs all the time but when the laughs do come they can be even more satisfying as they’re bigger. You’ve earned the audiences reactions more and it’s a bigger payoff in the end.

I think there’s a misconception that it’s narrative storytelling (as some long-form is narrative) but the Hoopla long-form course is more about finding the fun things yourselves without a specific structure. You can have little narratives in long-form but you don’t want to get wedded to them!

Katy Schutte

Short-form is the style of improv you would have learnt in the performance course. It’s essentially improv scenes with a prescribed game with them. So like in New Choice, the rules of the game make it so you change the last thing you said for example:

Katy: Nice to meet you, what’s your name?

Liam: My name’s Liam.

Director: New Choice!

Liam: My name’s Dave.

Director: New Choice!

Liam: My name’s Colin.

And there’s often a director on the outside of that running that. Whereas in long-form you discover what that game is while the scene is happening. So there’s no one on the outside saying “The joke is this” or being in control of what the players do. It doesn’t even need to be comedic! Everyone’s in control of the show and it’s a group discovery of whatever the fun thing is.

Steve Roe

In long-form the cast take just one suggestion at the start of the show and then use that to weave a multitude of interconnecting scenes. They can use tags and edits to connect scenes together and jump through time and space to explore characters and themes. There are no interruptions from the host, they take the suggestion and then the cast go for it! It is a very free experience and the group come up with something in the moment that nobody could have thought up by themselves.

Weirdly short-form and long-form are strongly connected. Most short-form games were invented by people like Viola Spolin, Del Close and Keith Johnstone back in the 60s as a way for actors to experience the skills of improvised acting needed for long-form like listening, agreement, character, emotion, commitment and more. They attempted to improvise whole plays (the birth of long-form) but found the actors needed to work on skills and behaviour to achieve that so invented games on specific skills to help with that (the birth of short-form).

Short-form is where you learn and embody the habits needed for improvisation, long-form is where all those skills come together in harmony with the team.

The exciting thing about long-form is that it is an ever evolving art-form. It originally came out of the minds of hippies in the 60s and is still changing today. At Hoopla we are inspired by the past but not stuck in it, and are constantly working on new long-form formats and ideas to help develop the future of improv.

It’s not a huge jump from our level 3 scenes course. In that course (and the ones before) you’ll be used to improvising standalone scenes from suggestion, in our level 4 course we now start to connect those scenes together. In the level 4 course we deliberately use quite loose show formats, so you aren’t having to worry about complicated formats on stage while new to long-form, and in our level 5 courses we then look at more specific formats in more detail like The Deconstruction, The Harold, Improvised Movie and more.

Hoopla’s next long-form courses are starting in November and January. Details are up on the website here.

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