What is Viewpoints?
Hey there, what’s up?
I’ve been reading a lot of improv books recently. Everyone knows you can’t learn to improvise from a book, but you can definitely pick up new ideas and concepts to try in workshops, rehearsals, or shows. EVERYTHING is worth trying at least once, to see what works for you.
If you’re looking for a good read, I’ve got a fair-sized list of book reviews on the website. I’m always looking for more, so please send me your own recommendations.
Let’s look at one important book I read recently, and what it can do for your improv…
Viewpoints – An Introduction
In the past year, I’ve heard the Viewpoints system mentioned several times in various improv podcast interviews. So I picked up The Viewpoints Book by Anne Bogart & Tina Landau, and here are a few takeaways.
At the risk of simplifying, Viewpoints is a language to describe how movement and patterns can produce interesting effects on stage. This shorthand makes it easier for actors and directors to talk about what “works” in staging a performance.
Some of these elements are Tempo, Duration, Repetition, Gesture, and Spatial Relationship. (Bogart & Landau list 9 Physical Viewpoints in all. There are also Vocal Viewpoints that explore similar elements for sound and dialogue.)
In rehearsing a theatre piece, performers explore Viewpoints through improvisation to develop ideas for staging. This seems loosely similar to the way The Second City creates sketch material through repeated improv.
One problem stands out, however: Bogart & Landau (on p.134) admit they have never done a production consisting entirely of Open and UNPLANNED Viewpoints. Meaning they’re not actual improvisers in the performance sense.
So how does Viewpoints actually help in spontaneous performance? Are the coaches who teach “Viewpoints for Improv” training legitimate?
The book doesn’t address this, except to say Viewpoints does train situational awareness and a sense of aliveness to repeated performance of the same show. These are important ideas for performance improv, and a lot of the philosophy around Viewpoints is similar.
For true improv, I’d say that understanding the Viewpoints gives you ideas for manipulating a scene. Gesture, for example, is a focus on moving parts of the body to show behaviour or expression, which sounds a lot like Object Work. Or you could use Architecture to change the stage picture, such as incorporating the audience or different parts of the theatre.
Viewpoints could also help you review scenes and see what moves really made them tick.
Other than learning the vocabulary, it will be hard for a solo improviser to put The Viewpoints Book into practice. The techniques need group practice and exploration to really grasp. But the book might help you decide to explore a Viewpoints class, especially with an instructor who specializes in applying the techniques to improv.
For more about Viewpoints, I recommend this Improv Touchstones podcast interview with Tatiana Godfrey. (That part of the discussion starts at the 24:10 mark.)
What’s your opinion of Viewpoints? Do you think about them in performance? Have you taken a class? Hit reply and share your experience!
More for the Improv Illusionist
News and Links
Official Trailer for Doc ‘For Madmen Only’ About Improv Guru Del Close
The documentary was released direct-to-VOD on July 27th. Check your local streaming services to find it.
Chicago Improv Was Dead. Can New Leaders Revive It?
An update on the status of the Second City and iO theatres in Chicago. New owners, same old culture? Hopefully not, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
“E” is for “Environment”
Ideas from David Charles (Improv Dr) for building on your improvised environments, including a reminder about how time (of day, of year, historical) can inform and deepen your scenes.
Question(s) of the Month
What books (improv-related or not) are on your summer reading list? Have you read anything recently that connects to your improv practice?
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Next update on September 30th. See you then!