About Strange Loops

When moving through the levels, one eventually returns to the starting point

Strange loops started as a workshop on improvisational theatre project about mothers and fathers, absent or present. Improv theatre is collaborative storytelling. The workshop invited 31 acting students to explore techniques of improvisation, and methods of spatial story design. It introduced the basics of how to perform long-form improv. We made objects, dolls, and cardboard settings. We invented games, and explore the concept of finding the ‘Game of The Scene” in long-form improv. We used our techniques to improvise scenes, and took a dip into our collective narrative memory in a playful manner. We were looking into: where are we coming from, as a person and as a collective? What happened that one day when you were nine years old? And why? What else could have happened instead–or maybe not? And how does this individual memory transforms into our collective childhood, our collective memory, into a theatre performance, and gameplay?

Strange Loops has been conceived by the Family Room: Benjamin Boatright, Sylke Rene Meyer, Todd Moellenberg, and Matthew Satvinsky

Directed by Sylke Rene Meyer

Music by Gabriel Almazan

Photography by Shixin Liang

Video documentation: Kimberli Meyer

Light: DaTrice Hamilton

Sound: Jessie Reynolds


Jocelyn Acosta

Paola Angarita

Brian Arechiga

Dennis Bautista

Cassandra Britton

Joseph Caldera

Jaylene Cesena

Angelica Contreras

Casey Cuellar

Adam Ferguson

Paul Flores

Dane Gbrayes

Bryan Ha

Jess Jones

Anthony Karambelas

Luciana Di Laura

Jeremy Leochner

Maritza Leon

Emmanuelle Love

Dan Myroradov

Kevin Perez

Giselle Rios

Brenda Robles

Axel Star

Matt Stepan

Thank you to: Lily Bartenstein, Daniel Czypinsky, Matthew Gatlin, Meredith Greenburg, Kim Neal, Tanya Kane Parry, Elisabeth Pietrzak.

Supported by the Puffin Foundation, and the RSCA grant of the California State University Los Angeles.

Performance structure

  1. The performance starts with all players on stage. Depending on the number of players, we created 6 teams of 4-5 players. (team A, B, C D, E, F)
  2. We have one camera on stage, facing the puppet theater, and a big screen that shows in full frame the puppet theater with closed curtain (a piece of cardboard) that has the title written on it: strange loops, a backstage camera, and a head camera.
  3. We will have a table, and two chairs.
  4. We will have one live musician: Gabriel Almazan.
  5. The director/MC introduces the players, and the general concept of the show, and asks the audience to pick one player as the presenter.
  6. The presenter is the one whose episode will serve as a starting point for the improv.
  7. Player team A will stay on stage, all others will leave the space.
  8. We will place the presenter’s basis scene (from the workshop) in the dollhouse. The presenter writes her need (as identified during the interview session) on the backside of the cardboard curtain. (like atonement)
  9. The presenter will do a stage painting of the episode. She may or may not include the table and the two chairs. The presenter will introduce 3-4 specific objects, and their placement in the scene, as well as the role of the mother in the scene.
  10. When the presenter mentions the mother, one player will enter the scene and follows the presenter’s directions (where to be in the scene and how to be in the scene) This player will be /mom/.
  11. The episode scene /mom/ will be joined by a second player /the protagonist/- that person will be /the child/.
  12. The presenter will now operate the camera, and move the camera away from the dollhouse, to film the scene. The audience will see what the presenter chooses to film, the players will not. The musician will improvise music for the scene(s).
  13. The improvised scene will eventually end (edited either by the players or by me approx.. 10 minutes). The protagonist will leave through the curtain. Presenter follows the protagonist behind the curtain with the camera. /mom/ from the episode scene exits.
  14. The protagonist will do a stage painting of the curtain scene. The audience will see this scene only as a ‘projection’ on screen. As soon as the protagonist mentions another figure in this new scene, a player will take this position. This improvised scene will eventually end (edited either by the players or by me again approx.. 10 minutes or less).
  15. From here the protagonist will exit the black box, and go outside. Here the protagonist gets a head camera. The audience will see her POV on screen. The first ‘thing’ they will see is //mom// aka the play master, played by Mat. We recognized //mom// because of her signifier (like the big blonde hair). //mom// will explain to the protagonist the game’s rules and objective. Ultimately, the objective will bring the protagonist back into the theatre.
  16. The other players (that had left the theater) form the game. Some became a setting or object, at least two players will play NPCs. The NPCs are characters based on the presenter’s interview material-like grandma or the sister. They will operate/improvise will a limited set of 3 sentences that they have been given by the play master. The NPCs serve as obstacles for the protagonist. The protagonist will have to play mini-games with them. If she wins, the NPCs will support her quest, if she loses, the NPCs will die.
  17. After the game scene, the protagonist returns to the main stage, where she will meet the father, played by Ben.
  18. The scene with father, a decision must come out of the scene with Ben. Ben/father: Did you find what you were looking for? Kafka-moment: if the player gives the wrong answer, (like: not atonement), the father repeats the question three times. If the answer remains wrong, the father gets up, and leaves through the black curtain. If the answer is right, dad will reveal the dollhouse curtain, with the initial answer written by the presenter in the beginning.
  19. From here, the initial scene starts again, this time with the players from team B that enter the situation with no knowledge about the previous scenes. This group follows the same pattern. As a result, the audience will see to what extend the given setting enforces the same or a similar story, or if the story will take a different course. This process could be repeated (looped) several times (depending on the number of players) until a specific narrative corridor has been established. As a result, we will see what objects and circumstance lead to a high probability of user behavior, and what objects and circumstance had only little influence.