Last night another group of brave souls embarked on their journey into the “spur of the moment” …the magical world of Improvisation – a world filled with mystery, secure uncertainty and spontaneity. The class got under way with a game called “the story of my name”. In this exercise everyone is afforded a chance to tell the story behind their name. This game introduced some fundamental principles of improvisation , namely 1. ) listening and 2.) Creating a story without planning.
This was followed by a name game in which you have to say someone else’s name in the circle and walk towards them, the named person must then say someone else’s name and walk towards them before the first person reaches them. When people play this game for the first time they are often anxious about making a mistake. This anxiety usually results in a perceived failure. Our fear for failure is often what causes us to fail. In improvisation we do away with failures and mistakes. They simply seize to exist in our world. Everything that happens is seen as an offer that can be used. This is encapsulated in the phrase “make your partner look good”.
To elaborate on this improvisation fundamental we played a game called “Circus Bow”. In the game every participant gets a chance to make a large bow and say anything in the line of “I failed” or “I made a mistake”. The rest of the group then gives a big round of applause…as though this failure was a beautifully constructed success.
For the next exercise everyone paired up with another participant and counted to 3, each time alternating who counts next. After a while the number one is replaced with a sound. Then 2 is replaced with a move and 3 is replaced with a word. After the game Mayah commented that what made it difficult was that you have to listen and remember to speak at the same time. That is very true about improvisation. In improvisation you always need to balance opposites – listening and speaking, being aware of yourself and being aware of others, taking control and giving up control. The only way to do this is by being present and doing whatever is required in the particular moment.
The next exercise called “mirror mirror” built on this idea. Participants paired up again. One participant moved while the other participant mirrored every movement. Then they switch. Whoever was leading now follows and vice versa and in the third round both lead and follow at the same time. The aim of the game is to move exactly at the same time – in sync. The only way to do this is if you are really focused on the other person and aware of yourself at the same time. Pierre also mentioned that you need to be very playful about it. The best part of this exercise is when you don’t know who is leading. It’s as if you are both thinking exactly the same thing. In improvisation we call this a group mind.
The next improvisation fundamental was accepting offers and building on them. In improvisation this is described by the phrase “yes and”. It means that any offer that is presented is accepted and built on. The opposite of this is called “blocking”. The phrase we often use in life to block other peoples’ offers is “yes but”. To practice “yes and” everyone paired up with someone else and planned a vacation. In the first round all had to respond to their partner’s idea with a sentence that started with “yes but” and a reason why the suggestion wasn’t a good idea and then give another idea. After that everyone had the same task but instead of starting the sentence with “yes but”, the participants had to start their sentences with “yes and” – accepting the other player’s idea and building on it. When you accept you bond with your partner, you create wonderful new ideas and you build positive energy. When you block, you get frustrated, nothing creative results and you build negative energy. Why is it that we more often block than except in life? Some reasons that came out of the group are: ego, fear and laziness.
The last game for the evening was “Yes lets!” In this game any one can make a suggestion like “Lets read a book” or “Let’s sit on a pyramid and howl at the moon”. The others then respond very excitedly with the words “Yes lets!” and mime doing what was suggested with enthusiasm. It’s amazing how much fun this game is if you really commit to it. It is not very often that people accept our ideas with so much enthusiasm and not just say they support it but also do it right away. Antoinette made a comment about what a huge gift it is to have your ideas accepted like that. So this game was like a big Christmas party, everyone just showering each other with gifts. This is absolutely the spirit of improvisation – giving, accepting and gratitude. What a great way to end our first class. Thank you for everyone’s participation and I’m really looking forward to next week.