Narration, Improv, and TV

Shannon and I in “Get Up” have been working on finding our new show format. So we’ve started exploring narration as a tool in long form. It’s a powerful device and something that up to this point I don’t think the Austin Improv scene has been able to fully capitalize on.

-Narration allows you to fill in the scenic details–the sets, the props, the costumes. (She walks in to the palace. The glow from the crystal chandeliers reflected off of her satin dress as the orchestra swelled . . .)
-Narration allows you to jump in time, forwards or backwards, clearly and cleanly.(Later, that evening . . .)
-Narration allows you to jump around in space. (Meanwhile, at the docks . . .)
-Narration allows you to explore inner thoughts and themes. (Johnny knew this was a bad idea, but decided to go along for the ride . . . )
-Narration allows you to frame a story from one or more perspectives. (“Joshua was always late and it drove me crazy.” “Charlotte was always mad at me at work–jealous that I couldn’t get more done in less time.”)
-Narration lends it self to certain genres (Film noir, comic book, memoir, intergenerational story, etc. . .)
-Narration allows for a lot more story in a lot less time. (see above)

I’ve noticed that a lot of my favorite TV shows (especially new ones this season) are narrated. Arrested Development, Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother, My Name Is Earl, Desparate Housewives. I think this is for a couple of reasons: air time is getting shorter and shorter for shows as advertising time grows, so shows have to pack the same amount of story in a shorter amount of time, using narration. The old sit-com format of characters telling jokes isn’t’ working anymore. It’s not believable when characters talk like comedy writers (and no one laughs on the shows either.) Narration allows one-liners to live on–with a narrated set up. It also gives a balance to having zany or outlandish characters. It keeps the story grounded while wild things can be happening.

In our two person show, I’m interested in exploring tag-team narration for a longform. I’m hoping that will keep us on our toes and prevent us from too much playwriting. And I’m hoping that it will allow us to tell stories we haven’t been able to before.

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About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.
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  1. Sara said:

    Can’t wait! BTW, Is there a GET UP/ GNAP website? I was working box office at the Hideout the other night and a guy asked me when GET UP was performing next. I said he could check out the AIC website for the Twofer schedule, or contact one of you.

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