Causing a scene

Last November, I had the opportunity to interview Charlie Todd of Improv Everywhere — an improv troupe in Brooklyn NY — as research for an article I was writing. Today the issue is out, so here’s a snippet of the interview that made it into the article. Head over to see the article in its entirety.

How much of an event is planned beforehand versus and how much is left open to improvisation or chance? How does that affect the outcome?

It depends on the project. Something like a musical breaking out in a grocery store is obviously completely scripted. Although we still don’t know how the customers there will react, where they will stand, or if they will get in the way of the choreography, so there is still an element of improvisation needed. Other projects are simpler — let’s grab a blue backdrop and a stole and take “yearbook photos” on the subway. Something like that we don’t have any script in mind besides the logline of the idea itself. All of our interactions will be improvised. 

See also:
Grocery Store Musical, Subway Yearbook Photos

I’ve always regretted putting the word “improv” in the title of the group, as it certainly confuses people who want to take it literaly. But there is definitely an element of improvisation in every project we do.

When does this go wrong?

It’s definitely important to factor in your participants and making sure the experience is fun for them. For the first few years when everyone involved was dedicated and serious about the work, that didn’t matter.  When I reached a point where hundreds of people were coming out — many just friends of friends along for the ride — I realized that I needed to make sure the experience was well planned out for their enjoyment. People do not want to stand out in the rain for an hour if they’re not a veteran member of the group.

More over in the article.

Research for an article written as part of column for Interactions Magazine ©ACM. Full version in issue: XVII.2 – March / April, 2010 » From Davis to David: Lessons from Improvisation