Application of Types in Improv & ARGs

Frost and Yarrow mention, during their discussion of the initial format used by the Second City, that a number of “social types”—including the “blond all-Americans and the Jewish schlemiels”—as well as some “regular ‘characters’”, reappeared on stage from time to time (47). They note that such social types are not “archetypes”—stock characters common to literary works, myths and legends (47). Such use of types specific to the time and place of the improv reminds one of how ARGs often abides to existing story genres or well-known motifs in stories during their initial stages—examples include the secret society of ParaSite, the meteor of DUST and the game’s identification with the science fiction genre, as well as the secret ridden house in Mystery on Fifth Avenue reminding one of similar architecture in detective novels or thrillers. Spolin as well as Sawyer et. al, helps explain why types are applied in improvisations or ARGs.

Types are useful in that they immediately spark recognition in the audience—knowing the cultural stereotypes of their time, or having experienced recurring elements in widely used genres, the audience is able to recognize the type advanced, to be aware of connotations the type is connected to, to expect certain outcomes of the story and to notice whenever the type betrays their expectations. Spolin praises how in uninhibited improvisations the audience is engaged in “a group agreement” with the actors, able to be “part of the game, part of the experience” while nonetheless “each member of the audience must have a personal experience” (13-14). As knowledge of types is shared between audience and actor, types help the actors engage the audience in a shared experience and to penetrate the surface of the type, to look at certain groups of society in a new light as the actors themselves build the type gradually into something more complex—a character, even. Sawyer et. al explain why each member of the audience experiences differently in their discussion of the “mind as internalized social interactions” (159)—due to each member of the audience having different experiences, their knowledge of types slightly differ and actors’ transformation of the types are bound to impact them differently. This also explains the exclusion of archetypes–since archetypes originate from stories instead of experience, every member of the audience would be likely to have similar, impersonal comprehensions of archetypes, and may experience similarly if archetypes, instead of social types, are used.

Yet the theory of the mind as internalized social interactions reminds one that types are built from social interactions in the first place—the “expectancy of judgments”, of “approval/disapproval”, of “competition” with other actors or of the audience as mere spectators or judges, all of which Spolin mentions as blocking experience and energy (8-14), have originated as social interactions and were internalized. As games and improvisation performances can transform known formulas of social interaction or install new ones, may an internalization of such interactions come about? Is such an internalization aimed for, or ought players be wary of the outcomes such internalization may bring?

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