On originality

I’m currently reading “Impro for Storytellers” (where’ s the v?) by Keith Johnstone in an effort to perhaps better my skills and knowledge. And WOW it has opened my mind. Keith Johnstone writes almost exclusively in Socratic dialogue, in a constant argument with the people on stage who are arguing back with him. Its so nice to see something original and unusual (or is it? more on this later).

Anyway, the section I just passed through had repeated emphasis on trying not to be original on stage. I’m having to re-define what original means to me. Johnstone seems to say that originality in the bad sense he puts it comes from ideas that “come from nowhere” and then, by their lack of success, return to nowhere. Sort of like a popular Motown song. Johnstone’s “students”, meaning the poor people that he is heckling on stage from somewhere in the audience, are constantly urged to go with “obvious” ideas.

I think I pick up on this. The audience sees where a scene is going:

You enter a living room, sit down, flip through the channels, looking lazy, maybe drooling a little. Suddenly, an angry female enters.

Turn to page 46 for the original idea, Turn to page 9 for the obvious idea

Page 46:

The angry female that just enters says “My intestinal worm is speaking in prose again.”

The audience laughs for a bit, then they think what the fuck. Now that the reality (living room, lazy-responsible relationship) is broken all value of the scene is lost. You could do anything (light yourself on fire, go to the moon, enter an abstract dream sequence) and it wouldn’t mean anything since it wouldn’t be too wonky compared to what just happened.

Page 9:

The angry female puts her hands on her hips and says “Why are you sitting there watching TV, there’s work to do!”

Maybe not as funny, but “obvious” and reasonable. Especially if the “mom” comes in and stares for a good 10 seconds to creep the audience out, and then suddenly speakls. This fills in the audience’s expectations.

Now, the mom can leave, meaning it is a perfect time for the existentialist tapeworm to begin speaking in prose in my stomach, probably about the problematic mother-son relationship. This makes more sense because it is more obvious than randomness.

As I read through the book, I’ll probably write out more of there so I can help myself understand. As for now, I hope the broken typing is appreciated.

I’m hosting next week! I’ve found some awesome ideas for games in the Johnstone book too.