Armando (And Other True Stories)
An Armando is a long-form improv format in which the improvisers get a one-word suggestion from the audience, and then one improviser steps forward and gives a brief monologue. The group then performs three or four scenes based on that monologue, then another monologue is given and three or four more scenes are performed.
It is, in essence, a fancy montage. However, the monologue acts as a kind of “idea-generator” in that it fleshes out the suggestion into a number of relationships, locations, activities, and themes the improv group can use as inspiration for scenes.
When I first learned to do an Armando, I was told to tell a true story. True stories typically have more details, and therefore give the improvisers more to work with, and are easier to come up with on the spot, because you aren’t inventing them. They already exist.
Now, I have recently heard the Armando monologue taught as “a story, maybe true, probably not,” but I take issue with this for a number of reasons.
The first is simply that the things people make up on the spot tend to be less detailed than stories from life. The monologue is not meant as an outline for the scenes, but as a kind of bank for the scenes to borrow ideas from. A story from life is more likely to have solid, realistic details than a made up one is.
The second is that people are more likely to invent an embarrassing or uncouth story than they are to tell one from life. I have vivid memories of an Armando I witnessed in which the monologue was about a man having his genitals bitten off by a dog, and the doctors and nurses laughing at him for having been turned into a woman. This was the improviser’s first Armando, he didn’t know any better, but the entire back line, and the entire audience, was cringing. By the grace of god, they managed to perform all their scenes without referencing castration, but it was a tense set.
That, of course, was an extreme case in which the details given didn’t lend themselves to a quasi-polite show. The improvisers weren’t comfortable with the details given in the monologue, and so they were forces to take inspiration from broader themes, which is fine, but not ideal.
The point of all this is to say, I love the Armando as a format, but I believe one should always encourage true stories. That is all.