What is longform improv?

"Fall, then figure out what to do on the way down." -Del Close

What is longform?
It's simple, really. Longform improvisation is making up scenes as you go along. That's it. While other forms rely on premises or games that are often looking for jokes, longform improvisation trusts the performers to do it all on their own, knowing they will help one another create a success story. Taking a single suggestion from the audience, longform improvisers will create around thirty minutes of made-up scenes.  In teams (or troupes) of roughly two to ten people, the players believe that everyone on stage with them is a genius and that no mistake is ever made. Longform helps you create trust in yourself and everyone around you.

Del Close, the father of modern longform improv, said on his death bed, "We succeeded where others have failed. We created Theater of the Heart, a theater where people cherish each other to succeed onstage. Tell the students, Theater of the Heart." This mind set is how we approach comedy. If you can strip away any desire to tell a joke, you can create something funny that comes from truth. Comedy that comes from the heart. This is why longform stands out.

Like on TV?
Most people hear improv and think of the show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" This "Short-form" style of improv is not taught at WIT. Students will work towards discovering the "Harold" structure of longform, which takes three separate scenes and hopefully organically turns them into one heightened scene.

Can you give an example?
Sound vague and complicated? It's not. Here's an example of the first two lines of a basic scene:

Let's say the audience gives the suggestion of "honey."

If one player steps forward and says sweetly, "Take off the jacket Steve, the bees are gone," we have learned a lot about that moment in time. Because of tone, we know the person speaking cares for Steve. We also know that there were at one time bees in the area and that Steve used his jacket to protect himself. A strong improviser will then accept everything their partner says as truth. The player who is then endowed as Steve can respond in an endless number of ways keeping the truth of their moment. Steve responds, "It's no use, Mom. The bees always find us when we're in the backyard. Always." Five seconds ago, the two performers had absolutely no clue where they were, who they were and who they were to each other. Suddenly, without any sort of joke or fore-thought, we know that Steve is the son of the first player, they both are in the back yard, and that bees may or may not be returning at any moment. All of this is achieved through listening, trust, acceptance and a single word suggestion.

While it takes a lot of hard work and training, longform improv is above all else incredibly fun. Creating, working and laughing alongside a group of likeminded performers can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your entire life.

Written by Travis Helwig
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