In this class, we’ll be discussing some of the most basic “rules” and ideas of improvisational theater (or, as we call it here in Chicago, “improv”) and looking at how these simple and powerful concepts can be applied to the art of writing. Each week, we’ll discuss a different aspect of improv and how it might apply to our work as writers. Then, in the spirit of improv, we’ll engage in several wiring exercises and share our work with the group. That might seem scary but, we promise, everyone’s work will be met with nothing but support and agreement. We’ll carry pieces forward from week to week so that you can really start to see how these ideas all work together to help inform not just the work you put on the page but also the way you think about your writing process.
Week One—Yes, &…: We’ll start off by exploring the improv concept of “Yes, &…” and how we can apply the idea of radical agreement to our own work. There will be a couple writing exercises that we’ll all share and discuss with each other as we try to commit to the idea of listening and responding to the work itself.
Week Two—Who, What, Who, Where, Raise the Stakes: Once we’re comfortable listening and responding to what our work is already telling us, we’ll take a look at improv’s economy of information, especially in “set-up” of a premise and how it can pertain to writing. We’ll do some writing exercises based on various improv games and see how various constraints can make us commit to ideas, characters, and settings more quickly and completely.
Week Three—Finding the Game in the Scene: Good improv often looks like magic, the way two or more performers seem to “read each other’s minds” and build a seamless scene on-stage. But there are simple rules to any good improv scene and those same rules, about finding and using patterns, can be very helpful on-page, as well. We’ll write and share work that comes out of this discussion and then revisit that work to push it forward using the tools we discover.
Week Four—Form and Structure: From the most basic game to the most intricate long-form piece, improv makes use of form and structure, both pre-planned and discovered, to guide and sustain scenes and shows. We’ll take a look at some of these forms and discuss how they might apply to a work of fiction, be it a flash piece, a short story, or even a novel. We’ll use pieces from earlier weeks’ exercises and begin to explore ways to shape them using these ideas of form and structure.
Week Five—The Edit: Improvisers are more than just performers, they are also directors. Knowing when to cut a scene is just as important as knowing how to push it forward. We’ll talk about editing in improv, both when to do it and how, and then write and share work based on those ideas.
Week Six—Rewind/Revise: Improvisers almost never get the chance to revise their work. But the improv game Rewind can give us a starting point to discuss how we can apply the ideas of radical agreement to the revision process. We will spend some time revising the results of previous weeks’ writing exercises, applying the tools we find in our discussions.