Hybrid Improv Forms

They could be called the world’s most lovable hybrid – just look at that furry face! They have the playful, shed-less temperament of a poodle, mixed with the fun features of an [insert other dog breed]. And those poodles have been busy. There’s the eskapoo, the schoodle, the bassetoodle, the jack-a-poo, the rottle, the saint berdoodle, the pomapoo, the shih-poo, the poochon, the whoodle, the schnoodle and the Irish doodle.

And we’re just getting started.

There’s the yorkipoo, the groodle, the sheepadoodle, the cavapoo, the Bernedoodle, the doxiedoodle, the bossi-poo, the papi-poo, the poo-shi, the pyredoodle, the borderdoodle, the pugapoo, the poogle, and the scoodle.

Are we done here? Not even close.

As numerous, well-haired and well-named as they are, the doodle clan has competition. There are plenty of other hybrid’s up for the top title: the liger, the mule, the beefalo, the guineafowl, the zeedonk, the grapefruit.

Even the humble peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint and watermint which added together makes ‘pepper’… for some unsatisfactory reason.

Glorious hybrids are everywhere so why shouldn’t improv have some hybrid action?

I had a suspicion I was in store for an improv-form-hybrid treat, when I signed up for a session on Forgotten Forms with the legendary John Hildreth. Now, if there’s one bit of improv learning I go gooey-eyed over, it’s forms. It’s embarrassing; I swoon. I love a form. I’d want to bathe in forms. Combine a form with bath salts from Holland and Barrett, and I’m there.

What do you mean it wouldn’t be easy to stage?

There’s something about being given a structure to work within that feels invigorating to me. I used to think this was because I am a geek, but now I’m thinking there may be more to it. I’d like to take you on a scenic route which leads us back to more about this brilliant workshop. It’s just a very slight detour into some considerations about creativity.

When I was a Manager in Education I was asked to run a session at a conference. I could choose what it was about – within reason. The history of the Groodle (Golden Retriever meets Poodle…) probably would not have gone down well with the Principal. The senior management team may have been expecting me to do a session about my specialism of Literacy but I had other ideas. I’d become fascinated by a metaphorical beast called Creativity. What an elusive and complex creature!

While planning the session, I found research into the optimum conditions for boosting creativity. I decided to set up some activity stations around the room so people could explore when they felt the most creative. There was a station where you assembled a jigsaw, another where you listened to the music of Johan Sebastian Bach and another where you made complex origami animals. All the activities were designed to accompany the main mission which was to come up with as many creative uses as possible for a brick.

Yes, a brick. Bear with me… before running off to play Eight Things.

It was fascinating to see the lists people created. It also really highlighted differences in creative thinking. My boss seemed to only manage to think of 3 uses which I was so intrigued by. Was something holding her creativity back? Or was she so captivated staring at the wonders of that brick?

Talking of staring at bricks, I went to the Royal Academy Summer Show once. One of the pieces displayed in the art gallery, a stone’s throw (a brick’s throw, if you’d rather) from Damian Hirst’s fly tank, was… a brick. It was with some other bricks. Together, they were arranged to make a bigger brick shape in the middle of the gallery floor. There was a plaque sitting by the multi-brick’s side. This was a piece of art.

I have to say, I had just been expressing my mystification with half an apple attached to half a pear (a rather quick hybrid), suspended from the ceiling, so the multi-brick made me feel I’d peaked too soon. But my architect companion explained to me just how special bricks were, about how they had been designed to be just the right size and weight to balance in the human hand so as to enable them to be laid correctly.

Wow… so is this a date?

There’s some evidence that listening to Bach can boost your creativity. Why not give it a try at rehearsals for entering and editing a scene?

As part of my session I handed out Jeffrey Baumgarter’s list of 10 Steps for Boosting Your Creativity. Number 1 is listen to the music of J. S. Bach. If you fancy an experiment try putting on some Bach in the background at improv practice. Does it make you feel more creative or just produce some really weird scenes?

Number 4 on his list, which is particularly interesting when considering forms, addresses the benefits of restrictions.

“If you are stuck for an idea, open a dictionary, randomly select a word and then try to formulate ideas incorporating this word. You’d be surprised how well this works. The concept is based on a simple but little known truth: Freedom inhibits creativity. There are nothing like restrictions to get you thinking.”

Jeffery Baumgartner

I wonder if this could be why structures in improv, work so well. This may also be one reason we enjoy getting a suggestion from the audience. Not only does it demonstrate to the audience we are making it up on the spot, that it is their show, but also in it reigns us. When we can do anything in improv, it feels a giddy rush of possibilities. Where do we start? Anywhere? Overwhelm! I’m just going to have a sit down on one of these chairs for a bit.

In providing restrictions, which you’d think would be limiting, a form can perversely be less inhibiting to our creativity.

John Hildreth’s session was an unbelievably satisfying session for creativity and for a forms fan. He was teaching us not one, but two forms! Yes, two! And that actually meant three forms because there was the third form that was a mash up of the former two. Through the doodle lens, it was as if he was teaching us how to be a poodle, how to be a schnauzer, and how to be a schnoodle!

You can imagine, I was close to fainting.

This beautiful beast of a hybrid, the LaRond-ommando, combined the La Ronde with a Commando. I had done a La Ronde before but had not met a Commando. The Commando is defined by a specific edit whereby the editor draws attention to the scene being edited by saying, for example, “In this scene, we saw two people eating in a restaurant… “

The second part of the edit is then to elicit a new suggestion from the audience. So this might look like: “In this scene, we saw two people eating in a restaurant; where else might we see food around people?” The answer might be anything from food substitute pouches on an international space station, to a packet sandwich eaten by the roadside, to duck pond (who invited that guy, right?). This then becomes the suggestion for the next scene. Duck pond it is.

In the LaRond-ommando this edit happens in a timely fashion in between La Ronde style runs. A La Ronde is like a relay of improv scenes where you, for the most part, keep the same character. Think a grand Park Bench, without the bench.

You get lots of time in John Hildreth’s class to play with the balance of these forms under his expert guidance. It was a fabulous bunch of people in the class and John was such a supportive teacher and really encouraging. Plus I got to play a sporty dinosaur.

If you have the opportunity to do this session with John Hildreth, I highly recommend you seize it. He gave us really helpful tips in how to get the most out of the LaRond-ommando. He even mentioned the possibility of swapping out the La Ronde part for another form.

My mind was spinning Catherine wheels.

Ever since the session, I’ve been thinking about what other forms might be interesting to smoosh together. A Deconstruction and a Living Room… A Deconstruction Room? A Harold and a Monoscene… A Mono-rold? A Slacker and a Mockumentary… A Slackermentary? An Armando and a Pretty Flower… A Pretty Armando?

Siri, cancel my schedule; I know what I’m doing with the rest of the day.

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