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A suggestion or ask-for is a device employed by almost all improv ensembles. It is solicited from the audience to provide inspiration for the show, and is utilized to prove the spontaneous nature of the performance. Since the initial idea starting the piece is selected from the audience, the show itself cannot be preplanned.
Typical suggestion types
Ensembles ask for a large variety of suggestions, including:
- a person
- a place
- a relationship
- an event
- a word or phrase
- an object (required for Invocation)
- the title of an as-yet unwritten story
- line from a song (used by improvised-movie groups Feature Feature and Instant Cinema) or a poem
- line from a movie
- "the title of a musical that has never been performed" (paraphrased from Baby Wants Candy)
The suggestion can also take the form of an interview with an audience member, where the performers ask questions about the interviewee's family or the contents of his wallet.
Shortform and longform
One of the key differences between shortform and longform improvisation involves the number of suggestions solicited in a single show. As shortform show consist of many distinct scenes, the show includes many starts and stops. Each time a new scene begins, a suggestion is used to start it anew. Some shortform games (notably Open Options) also call for suggestions to be given through the performance of the game.
Longform, conversely, strives to construct an whole theatrical piece based on only on suggestion. This is taken at the beginning of each piece. Shows typically last 15-30 minutes.
There is always debate on the "importance" of the suggestion. Often, this debate focuses on whether to take the suggestion literally; whether to go "A to C" on what the suggestion represents; or, to take the suggestion and extend it as far away as possible in the scenework. Some performers or groups believe that the suggestion should appear, literally, somewhere in the piece; often, the group game in the Harold is a place to "honor the suggestion" in this way. Some schools of thought even dismiss the need of a suggestion altogether - TJ and Dave, a hugely famous two-prov show based out of the IO Theater in Chicago, is performed without a suggestion.