So last week, the Upright Citizens Brigade came to Austin, performed some shows, and taught numerous workshops. I wanted to take the classes, but I was on vacation, so I was insanely curious about them. Fortunately, Peter made a few extensive overviews of Besser's classes, and Jastroch and others wrote about their experiences as well. I've read a LOT of interviews and articles about the UCB style, so nothing they said came as too much of a surprise, though it's great to get some more detail. I basically condense it down to:
- hyper-hyper focus on game. In fact, ALL comedy is game-based, if you think about it, really.
- don't knock, and in fact, encourage, coming out with a premise at the top of the scene.
That second point isn't as antithetical to Johnstone as I might think. Most of the teachers I've had the pleasure to learn under have said that having something when you come out is absolutely fine, but be prepared to joyfully throw it away if your partner beats you to the punch or it doesn't work out the way you're planning it.
A better "opposite" to UCB style, if you must have one, would be Dave Razowsky's style that he taught at the last Out of Bounds. He was really into building the entire scene by paying super close attention to your partner.. using their body language and facial expressions to build your scene up from nothing, and then building up from there, piece by piece.
So here's the primary difference that I see b/w UCB and Johnstone.
UCB's goal is to perform unscripted sketch comedy.
Johnstone's goal (well, MY goal, anyhow) is to perform unscripted theatre.*
Both perfectly valid things. There's a lot to learn from games and premises, I think. But in my mind it teaches you to do one very specific type of scene, and leads to a very quick paced show. And if that's the only type of scene you're interested in, then so be it.
I always feel a little weird claiming to be of the Johnstone school of improv. It's my basis, certainly, but I try pretty hard not to be dogmatic. I really want to pick up as much, skill-wise, from every source I can get my hands on. I could certainly improve my game-finding, heightening skills a lot more, and be a better improviser as a result.
*not that sketch comedy isn't theatre... just a very specific type.