By Rob Wittig and Mark Marino
[Cross-posted at Netpoetic]

On a recent trip to the University of Bergen, we had the opportunity to meet, discuss, and compare notes on some of our mutual interests in Internet art, specifically in a highly performative, “real-time,” spontaneous form of writing that seemed to run through our various projects. As we compared notes, we discovered an emerging genre, which we will begin to detail here. On the eve of another exciting improvisational collaborative project, Grace, Wit, & Charm, we offer some preliminary thoughts on this new form we call netprov.

Grace Wit and Charm

Past Projects
Here are a few of our past projects with varying degrees of improvisation that nonetheless have given rise to our conceptualization of netprov.

Rob’s Projects
Chicago Soul Exchange, online marketplace for past lives (blog, collaborative, performed live over 1 week)
Friday’s Big Meeting, a chatroom novel (faux chatroom, released live over 1 week)
Blue Company, hand-illustrated email novel (e-mailed daily for 1 month, performed twice, 2001 and 2002), which inspired Scott Rettberg’s response/sequel Kind of Blue
Fall of the Site of Marsha, faux-vernacular webpage fiction

Mark’s Projects
The Ballad of WorkstudySeth, Twitter fiction provoked by workstudy students (Twitter & Facebook, during 3 months of 2009)
The LA Flood Project, a locative narrative and flood simulation (Google Map, YouTube on-going, and simulation tweeted during LA Times Festival of Books April 30-May 1, 2011)
The Loss Wikiless Timespedia, Wikinewspaper open to wikizen journalists everywhere (Mediawiki installation launched April 1, 2009).


Netprov = networked improv literature.

Netprov uses everyday social technology plus the ol’ tricks of literature, graphic design, and theater to create stories that unfold in realtime within public mediascapes.

Common characteristics:
Prose fiction — stories by and about people who don’t exist, done by writers emerging from the literary tradition of novels and short stories;

Real Time – texts are asserted, in the fiction, to have been written moments before publication;

Unity of Time –the fictional world and the reader’s world are contemporaneous;

Vernacular Media — projects are written in the popular everyday writing/reading media of the time, regardless of whether or not the medium is considered a “literary” medium;

— often with groups of writers adopting and writing particular characters in whole or in part, composed of the assembled troop and reader-participants.

Interactive — reader comments and contributions can be included and can shape the story;

Live Theater — some netprov projects include performances where the online characters appear momentarily before an audience in a theater or other venue and advance the story;

Designed to be Read at Work — one never knows where one’s readers read, but an ideal of netprov is to seed the real world with imagination, to sneak fiction into a reader’s mindstream during the time devoted to “reality” rather than compartmentalized time set aside for “entertainment;”

Partially Pre-written and Partially Improvised — plots can be predetermined, some texts are pre-written and are published using electronic, timed-release technologies others are written moments before publication;

Inclusion of Current Events — which are woven into the story themes and enrich and often hijack them;

Satirical Approach — the urge to fictionalize everyday writing forms and to use for performance the millieus that purport themselves to be pure and transparent expressions of the self often grows out of the satirical impulse (a la A Modest Proposal);

Embedded Performance — the form gains its energy by performing in the streets of contemporary networked culture and ranges from clearly framed fictions, published in online journals, to more guerrilla styles of performance that might catch a reader unaware;

Designed for Incomplete Reading — it is not assumed readers will read every word or every episode; the strategy is to give readers a rewarding experience both if they read only a few messages and if they become devoted fans; the goal is to be skillful enough to entice readers into the depths;

Designed to be Remixed — netprov projects need not be closed fictional systems; netprov chunks can be designed as riffs to be remixed into readers’ own projects and culture blends.

We admit Netprov is somewhat of a misnomer, in that it refers not strictly to the pure, all improvised, Chicago-style theatrical Improv of Del Close and Charna Halpern, but as much to the actor-workshopped and written sketch comedy of groups like Second City, the Groundlings, and television shows like Saturday Night Live and MadTV. The value of the “-prov” suffix is that it gives the sense of a creative work “done before your very eyes,” it echoes the down-to-earth satire of theatrical Improv and sketch comedy, and prepares readers for projects that are experimental. It also stresses the real-time opportunities for readers to play along, to join in.

Netprov is often close to the roots of Improv, the Commedia del Arte, where an outline “scenario” is given to actors instead of specific lines.
For example: “Next Tuesday Shirley and Antoine will have a text-message hissy fit about the top story on that night’s CBS Nightly News that will result in Shirley leaving Antoine.” Apologies to Antoine if you’re reading this before Tuesday. Sorry dude. It was never going to last. Enjoy her while you can.

Whose Tweet is it anyway?
Twitter offers one of the most form-fitting media for netprov. First, unlike Facebook’s seeming insistence on authentication, tweets are a playful space where the snark reigns over sentimentality. Second, Twitter’s 140 characters have become a writing constraint played by millions, as much a writing challenge as the haiku or one-liner. Twitter also is home to many fictional characters, such as:

Fake Rahm Emanuel @MayorEmanuel by Dan Sinker

4 May

Julie Levin Russo points us to the many fan communities tweeting the characters of Battlestar Gallactica or The Office.

What makes Twitter ripe for netprov is the flashmobby ability to create memes quickly that are easy for others to join in. A simple @ or # can bring their contributions into the stream. These memes can become nano-genres (for example, the recently trending: #icanttrustyouif or [corrected] Mark Sample’s fake digital humanities conference #MarksDH2010, born of his irritation that his Twitterfeed was filling up with a hashtag from a conference he was not attending.

Up next: Grace Wit & Charm

Deb takes the Plunger

This Saturday begins a prime example of netprov, entitled Grace, Wit, & Charm. Merging Twitter with 2 live theater performances, reader-participants will be able to pose and answer challenges for the SmoothMooves corporation, which offers clients enhancements for their online avatars (grace), social media messages (wit), and online dating (charm). The project begins May 14 and runs until May 29. See two live performances in person at Teatro Zuccone (in Duluth, Minnesota) or online May 17 & 24. Twitter hashtag: #gwandc (use also #help if you’d like to pose a problem or challenge to the team). The team of employees will be answering challenges online throughout the two weeks and during the stage show. Visit the project website.

1 Response to “Netprov - Networked Improv Literature”

  1. 1 Neverblue

    Pic is really funny .. hahahah..

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