Logistics and advice for digital/physical improv skit?
October 13, 2013 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Help me think through a smart/simple/clean way to project text from two different sources onto a screen. And - have you seen/been in any shows that mix digital/physical worlds? I'm all ears for advice about how to make this an especially delightful experience. More details inside.

I'd like to switch things up for an improv show I have coming up. Two people will be (silent) storytellers, two will be actors. The storytellers will take turns writing out bits of text, which will be projected onto a screen. The actors will act out the story. Both the audience and the actors will need to read the text clearly. For the text projection, I would like to select a font/aesthetic that works with the somewhat analog and simple vibe of the show.

The simplest solution I can think of would just be a text message exchange between the two storytellers, with one phone plugged in for projection. But is there a way to do this where I can alter the traditional font/scrolling bubble nature of an iPhone or iPad screen? Alternately, the two storytellers could huddle over one iPad and trade it back and forth...but I do like the idea of two people with distinct writing styles on podiums at opposite ends of the stage, taking turns.

I've also considered giant whiteboards/easel pads, but I don't think I can write quickly/clearly enough for this.

Have any of you ever performed in or seen any other improv shows that also mix digital/physical worlds? I feel like they must be out there. What worked well and what didn't? I'd love to hear about any experiences/ideas that you think might help make this especially delightful. We may invite a live musician to join us on stage, to add some drama/exclamation points/etc, for instance. This is very much in its early phases, and I'm open to suggestions of all types!
posted by red_rabbit to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not sure if this is helpful, but it sounds like what you really want is an overhead projector (or two). Then you'd get a truly analog look for the fonts.
posted by geryon at 4:36 PM on October 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, geryon. I don't think I can write quickly/clearly enough for overhead projector, but that's a good thought! Easier than a giant easel, that's for sure.
posted by red_rabbit at 10:57 PM on October 13, 2013

I saw a masterfully done segment of the show "Old Hats" which is a variety show with Bill Irwin, David Shiner, and Nellie McKay. The segment I'm thinking of featured Irwin, holding and clowning with an iPad--which featured an animated gif or video of his face. He was moving around in front of a giant, stage-wide screen which was actually multiple panels with no visible gaps in between them. The segment was wordless, and he'd move around reacting to his own facial expressions on the screen, and then dip behind and back in front of the screen, using the gaps between the screen's panels. He was playing with the perspective of himself projected onto the screen, so that when the projected image was him getting smaller and smaller in the distance, he'd actually disappear between the panels. So hard to explain, but so simple and creative.

Obviously this wasn't improv, and everything on the screen and on the iPad was prefab, but you might be able to use it for improv if you have pre-fab stuff that the improviser hasn't seen. Or, say, there's another person on the iPad (not onstage) improvising with the improviser onstage.

Our group has toyed with improvising stuff projected on screen, and the biggest con, besides the speed issues you've mentioned (eg not being able to write fast enough), is that any improviser who has to look at the screen to react to it is turning his/her back on the audience. And if they don't look at the screen (eg if you have the audience in on some joke/premise based on the screen but the improviser isn't looking at it), then you risk the improviser not seeing something vital or maybe creating a kind of show you're not looking for.

We do a show every year that's an improvised play, complete with an improviser choosing music based on the stage performers' first choices, and actors costuming themselves on the fly in the first few scenes before their characters are set. We even use improvised special effects like a snow machine.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:57 AM on October 14, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for the replies. We toyed with this in rehearsal a bit...used a Keynote presentation in old-timey aesthetic on a laptop, hooked up to a projector. ImproviseOrDie, you had a really good point that they key challenge was that the performers would have needed to turn their backs to see the words...and that as an audience member, you want to both watch the performers AND read, and you have a chance of missing something. We couldn't land a great solution.

So we simplified: Four players, not two. No projection. No written word.

My very gifted storyteller friend was The Professor; I was his gifted interpreter. We challenged the audience to ask us any question at all...he answered it aloud in three parts; I danced/clowned/acted it out physically. There was a horse, and a dead body, and all sorts of delights. We summarized at the end. It was fun. Still polishing it up, but I think it was a decent solve. One day I would like to figure out a bit that incorporates improvising the written word. For now, though, I will work on getting faster on my feet when it comes to all things verbal!
posted by red_rabbit at 8:10 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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