Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sketch as collaboration (On writing a sketch revue, part 2)

This Friday was the opening night for the sketch show that I've been working on, Unicorns, The Middle Class, And Other Mythical Creatures. (And that's our preferred capitalization, for some reason. Maybe just because I like the way it looks and I'm on the PR committee.)

In my last post on the sketch revue, I sketched out the basics of the Writing Program (1 through 4, writing; 5 and 6, putting on a show); and I acted confused about whether or not something was funny.

Today I'm going to talk about collaboration, because putting on a sketch show is all about collaboration (unless it's a one-man show you're directing and starring in after writing).

At the Second City, Writing 1 through 4 are pretty permeable in terms of people joining and leaving certain classes. For instance, I stayed in my time slot (Saturday, 1-4pm) for all four classes; but by the time I got to 4, only one other person had been with me the whole time. The other participants either switched to different times or opted not to take the next class.

This permeability is a mixed bag: although you have to relearn every new person's idea of funny, by the end, you know a lot of people (even if you don't know them too well). The same could be said of the teachers: you get a new teacher for each class. (And I know there are jokes that would've killed one teacher that fell flat with another.)

Now, let's be honest: writing with other people in mind as an audience is itself a form of collaboration (if a twisted and uncertain form). I knew one kid who seemed to think of himself as pushing the envelope in terms of gross-out humor, but even he was keeping his audience in mind in order to gross us out. And when you write a joke and it doesn't get a laugh, you can tell yourself that people just don't get your sense of humor, but it still stings and should leave a mark. (At the very least, it might leave a scar that's less sensitive.)

This sense of collaboration goes into hyperdrive when you're actually turning these sketches into a show, which will be the topic of tomorrow's short post. (Yay short posts, am I right?)

P.S. I might in these posts say things like "writing with other people in mind as an audience is itself a form of collaboration," which you might vehemently disagree with in your own writing practice. I think you're wrong; but maybe I'm really only describing my own experience. Feel free to tell me so.


  1. I definitely don't disagree with that analogy, though I might not phrase it exactly that way myself. In a way I think a lot of writers write with an audience in mind. Sometimes it comes out as self conscious and obvious that they are trying to please. Do you find it hard NOT to let that part of your collaboration (the guessing if people will like it) make you over think the end result?

  2. I love that line. My favorite things that I've written were written with a certain friend in mind, as if I were composing a letter to them. Those have definitely felt like collaborations; without that envisioned "audience" the writing would have been very different (and far less fun).

  3. Sesheta, I might want to separate out something like "writing to the market" (which is pandering and seems icky--I think this is comparable to the "trying to please" that you mention) from something like "writing to the audience" (which has a long tradition in rhetorical thought--and is basically thinking about how what you write will have an effect on your (imagined) audience). Ursula K. Le Guin has an interesting essay on writing for children sincerely vs. plasticly that might be what I'm unconsciously thinking about here: when you write for children, you keep in mind vocabulary issues (sincerely) but you don't write down to them and you don't write to what their parents fantasize as the childhood experience.

    Of course, you can always imagine your audience wrong. I don't know if you've ever had this experience, Adrianne, but I'm sure I've written with a specific audience in mind (a teacher, a writing class, my sketch class, a girl I was trying to make out with) and missed the mark. Maybe this goes back to that empathy thing that I harp on about, but it's hard to imagine another person's interior life.

  4. I actually run a Reader's Theater class where I make scripts out of children's books and have 3-5th graders act them out. The most challenging part of it is finding the parts of the stories which I think the children will have the most fun getting into character. It is always interesting what kids respond to. The first class was a semi disaster but it gave me a chance to rework the formula into something enjoyable.

  5. Also maybe I should clarify. There is definitely a difference in writing with your audience in mind and pandering. I think MOST authors want their audience to ENJOY their work. I mean there are people out there who I think try to push the envelope, but I don't think hoping the audience likes what the see/read is always pandering and icky. Maybe thats just me. It feels obvious and unnatural when it is though. (Like James Patterson's Witch and Wizard series. UGH)