I’m in the middle of writing a longtime project that will pay tribute to The Committee, the legendary San Francisco improvisational theatre. (More about this later. A LOT more.)

Some of the members that I’ve interviewed have been quick to correct me, ever so gently, when I use the word “improv.” So much so that they’ve pretty well trained me not to use it (at least in front of them), and so I’m always careful to say “improvisation” around any of them. Hey, I figure they’ve earned the right to call it what they want. After all, that’s where The Harold was developed and named.

One of the guys I talked to this week preferred the term “improvisational theatre,” at least for what they were doing in the 1960s. He discussed the development of what they were doing as developing and polishing scenes which would be repeated every night, and were good enough to be transcribed and published, which has always been Second City’s bread and butter. He differentiated it from iO shows, for example, in that scenes performed during a Harold at the iO were forgotten immediately after and never performed again. (Fireworks, as Del Close always described them.) And, I realized that it was another example of the Del Close/Bernie Sahlins argument–whether improvisation was an art form in itself, or just a tool for developing scenes.

Del used to say we should be able to perform at such a high level that we could improvise in the evening, transcribe it overnight, and send it off to Samuel French to be published in the morning.

Have longform scenes been transcribed in that way? If not, is it because the quality or longevity isn’t there? Or because no one has bothered? He seemed to feel it was the former, but I offered up T.J. and Dave as an example of the quality that he was referring to. He hadn’t seen them, so it pretty much ended our disagreement.

But how about it? Is there an example of this that I wasn’t aware of?

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2 thoughts on “

    1. howardjohnson1985 Post author

      I suspect it’s a combination of both. When transcribed, jokes always read funnier than subtext. But when you watch it played out by skilled performers, you get the best of everything. And TJ and Dave, like most of my favorite improvisers, aren’t very interested in jokes.
      Thanks for commenting!

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