I like formats. Playing within The Harold’s dictated structure of Opening, 1A, 1B, 1C, Group Game, 2A, 2B, 2C, Group Game and 3A/B/C an improviser can spend less time on the wings worrying about what to initiate and more time focused on how to initiate.
I like rules. Rules free us to play Pavlovianly and enable audiences to engage, even subconsciously, in the pattern. Again, while rules indicate what gets said more creativity can be pumped into how what gets said gets said.
An improv group has a lot on its plate building something collaboratively out of nothing. A set format and established rules can be helpful spines to flesh out – useful maps on which to erect roadside attractions. An improv group though that is experienced in a wide swath of formats, a troupe that is working from the same rulebook, can grow to trust in its ability to be flexible.
Sure, at “Harold Night” every show’s content will be different and of-the-moment. And, sure, a known format, like The Armando, can foster a loyal crowd week after week. But. But if a group of improvisers who know each other, trust each other and share the same language can get on stage and follow each other into a format made up in-the-moment? That’s improv as improv does best.