The Dusty Change Machine


Back in May, I took a workshop at Arcade from the two founders of The New Movement Theater in Austin. If you don't know TNM (I didn't), you should really check them out. It's an amazing story that you can read more about in their book

The workshop was teaching this form they do at TNM called The Dusty and since the workshop, I've really come to love it! Kristy Nolen at Arcade approached me about putting together a team there to perform the Dusty. Smash cut to Change Machine, the newest house team debuting this weekend.

Which brings me to the most common question I hear, "What is the Dusty?"

TNM folks have the real answer. But I have a blog and like to type so I will give you my impression in about 1000 words. Then you can come see "the picture" this Friday and more often on Sundays in 2014!

The Dusty can be looked at simply: it's a form with no sweep edits. But it's so much more than that. Much like Harold has a structure (3 beats, group game, etc.) but becomes much more than its structure, the Dusty is Chris Trew (and company)'s philosophy of improv baked into a form. So it's hard to talk about one without the other.

Here are the major components I take out of it: there are no sweep edits (hence the name). But more important than what there is or is not is WHY. You never want to sweep away what was built in a previous scene and start from scratch. Much like a good scene takes an initial choice and grows everything from that seed, the Dusty takes each scene and builds a tree and then a forest, creating a world with many disparate characters and situations, each linked in a way the audience can see from what was there before.

So while we never sweep and start from scratch, we do want the tent poles to start far apart. When this form struggles, it is because we are not "expanding the world." We are falling into narrative holes, or rehashing what happened in previous scenes. So there are built-in (and new) devices to help us expand the world.

The most notable of those is the tag. Similar to tags you've used in other forms, but Chris is very particular about how tags work. We will use other tags, but these particular tags are important to understand. Take a 2 person scene–there is some pattern unfolding and done well the players are aware and playing that pattern. When a character is tagged out, the next players job is to play that same pattern, play the whole "invisible script" start to finish. Only once it is finished, can than the next tag happen, and it must then. We see this character in widely different situations–distancing us from the original "plot", expanding the world, but still holding that throughline. 

This pulls us into editing–editing can happen really any way you want. Say we get to that 3rd pattern. The "main characters" are still playing their pattern, but now they are in a park so there is an old couple feeding the birds on a park bench next to them and a boy flying a kite–just to fill in the scene. At this point, tags, exits, new interactions, or some other move might bring us into one of their stories. And the Dusty continues. There's a lot of freedom here. Group scenes come and go, small characters become main characters and vice versa...

A universe builds as we jump from scene to scene.

Come see the debut of Change Machine open for Dinner with the Nolens this Friday!