Iteration for Improvisers
I’ve seen it a million times. A group will “invent” a new form or game, practice it (or not), then throw it up on stage. Then they’ll keep throwing it up on stage whether it worked the first time or not. The assumption is that the group has to get used to the new form and that it’ll improve itself simply by being played through a few times without any conscious attempt to make significant changes. Of course, this is doing things the hard way.
Game designers are great at using iteration in their work. They’ll toss together some rules, crank out a prototype, and playtest it as soon as possible. Really, when it comes to designing a game, what could possibly replace the value of actual players interacting with this system you’ve set up for them? And, naturally, a game designer’s job isn’t complete once the game enters playtesting. In a way, that’s where the real craft begins. If it isn’t fun, it goes back into the workshop and tweaks begin. Too often, improvisers would be content to release the game as-is, no matter how tests went, and rely on the players of the game to just get used to it. That is no way to improve a game, and it’s no way to improve the structure of an improv show.
Improvisers: your form will not figure itself out. That doesn’t mean you need to trash it altogether. It means you need to critically evaluate what went right and what went wrong, and use your time wisely promoting the right stuff and excising the wrong stuff. This is true whether you’re playing Party Quirks or Harolds, Freeze Tag or Deconstructions. Test it, refine it, repeat.
Even a game has to hit the shelves at some point. Your brand new longform structure spends itself as soon as it’s implemented. It’s never complete. And so improv groups should never assume that the form is set in stone. If your second beats aren’t working, change your second beats. If your group just can’t do organic edits, don’t do them. Stop treating the form like it’s sacred. Only success is sacred.