Friday, October 14, 2011

On the sketchiness of sketch

Why is there a lack of depth in sketch?

In beginning scene study classes, students are assigned partners and scenes from plays, movies and TV shows.

While scene study classes for the stage provide to students entire plays, scene study classes for the camera usually provide just three to six pages, a description of the character, a description of the environment, the basic blocking and fundamental emotion behind the character's words.

In such classes, every word of every line is scrutinized. You explore the rhythm and breath of every beat of the entire piece.

You analyze the wants of your character. You break down her obstacles and tactics for getting what she wants. You brainstorm ways she might walk and talk. You might even be asked to write a 12-page description of any aspect not provided in the text.

You are expected to create a whole character, complete with detailed back story.

Though the scene itself is a few pages long, after class, you know your character so well it is as though you had written (and not just read) all hundred or so pages about her.

Unfortunately, you'd be hard pressed to find in sketch such deep analysis.

Why is it that sketch comedy is not treated with the same attention to detail as other comedic forms?

Typically, sketch is performed very broad and showy. Surely it was named "sketch" because all the characters are mere caricatures of real people.

And of course there is the issue of time. If a sketch show wants to satirize a current event, the creators don't necessarily have time to deepen every character.

Or do they?

If an actor can find depth in an hour-long scene study class, surely sketch comedians can find depth in a week or two.

When an actor's portrayal of a character lacks nuance and commitment, the scene has the potential to fall flat and miss its mark.

If an actor's too aware of his audience and he defaults to simply being himself performing jokes, the scene has the potential to fall flat and miss its mark.

And if an actor is too focused on audience, there is the danger that he will stop listening to and reacting to his scene partners and will instead just listen to and react to the audience.

What's right for the characters and the scene can be subverted in order to satisfy a short-term hunger for short-lived jokes.

Should sketch comedy continue to focus foremost on structure and fast laughs, or should scene study be used to broaden its palette?

 - Mishell Livio

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