Improvisation class 5 – Stories

By Luci and Burgert

The focus of last nights class was story.
As the participants trickled in and we moved our chairs into the habitual circle De Wet shed a little natural light on his story by telling us about his drumming days with a band called Jesse Jordan. I googled “Jesse Jordan Band” this morning…they are on Wikipedia. I am impressed. On their album “Flipside” ( were you still with them when they released this one De Wet?) there is a song titled “ There goes my mind”. This track title has inspired this morning’s blog.

As mentioned, the theme for last night was “ Story” . Normally when people think of stories or re telling stories they make an effort to alert their mind that mental files will need to be pulled up ASAP and that no dawdling or “ absentmindedness will be tolerated. The internal judges stand at the gates like rodeo cowboys ready to bring in that wild idea before it sees the light of day…

This process is not conducive to the spirit of Improvisation. As you step onto the stage with someone… say these words…” There goes my mind”, and then, you play…

Herewith a short list with descriptions of games we played:

Todododo – a word association game with a rhythm.
Word association – simple word associations around the circle
Random sentences – One player thinks of 4 random sentences that another must relate together in a story.
Automatic story – one player has to ask yes/no questions about the storyline of an unknown story that the other player has in mind. What the questioning player doesn’t know is that the person answering the questions is only saying yes to questions starting with a vowel and no to questions starting with a consonant.
What happens next? – In this game one player stands in the middle of the circle and acts out a story that the rest of the group make up one sentence at a time. After each sentence the player asks “What happens next?”
Voices from the grave – 3 Players tell a story of how they all died at the same place at the same time.

Voices from the grave may sound somber and at times the subject matter does twirl on the dark side but it is a wonderful tool for “co creating” a new reality.
Cindy gave an Oscar worthy performance as the disgruntled blind nurse, whilst Manuela provided a critically praise worthy portrayal of a depressed psycho therapist at the end of her tether. Charl gave, excuse the pun, “life” , to the chirpy car salesman and together these three caused for immense entertainment with the rest of the group…thanks for sharing what’s left when your mind goes…

Key concepts:

Free association: Free associated ideas create the material from which a story can be constructed.
Reincorporation: Reincorporation is the recycling or re-using of ideas or situations from earlier in the story. By reincorporating ideas and situations you make sense of the random ideas generated by free association.
Platform: The who, what and where of a scene. Success of a scene often depends on a solid and clear platform.
Breaking routine: A good story that will engage an audience is a series of routines that are broken creating new routines.

More thoughts on story:

Stories are how we make sense of the world. We link random events together to form stories. This is a great skill, but it also has a dark side. The dark side is that we make up stories about ourselves and others that are not the truth. Then we tell ourselves these stories over and over until we believe them to be true. Here is an example of how this happened on a flight from Dubai to Amsterdam. Last year Luci and I went to Amsterdam to present our Improv cooking for couples workshop at the Applied Improvisation Network conference. During our flight from Dubai there were a few men of Middle Eastern appearance standing around in the open space by the bathroom. They were talking and the one young guy looked somewhat nervous. Luci saw them and started making up a story in her head about the men being terrorists and that they were going to hijack the aeroplane. She became very nervous and couldn’t focus on the movie that we were watching. I saw this and asked her what was going on. She showed me the men and told me what she thought they were up to. I told her that what she just told me was mostly a story and that the likely hood of the men being terrorists was very small. So I asked her what other story she could construct about the men that could also be the truth and that was not so scary. So she made up a story about the nervous looking young man that was on his way to get married and that the other men were there to support him. This story calmed her down and made her smile, and we could enjoy the rest of the movie. Who knows what the real story was. The fact is most of our experiences are only stories that our brains construct by linking random facts together. It is important to be aware of this function of the brain. The brain does this as it does not like uncertainty so it would rather create a story to create some form of certainty. However as soon as we start believing the stories our brains make up we become less present and unable to notice facts that do not support our stories. Being aware of this function of the brain is very useful. Firstly, next time your brain starts to make up a story you can be aware of it and just notice that it is your brain making up a story and stay present to notice the truth of the moment. Secondly, you can use your brain’s ability to make up stories to create very entertaining improvised performances.

See you all next week!

3 Replies to “Improvisation class 5 – Stories”

  1. Good blog.
    I read the thoughts on story to JC and we both think it is a very nice and helpful story, hehe 🙂
    See you guys Thursday, we might even bring a couchsurfer from the US 🙂

  2. I found the concept of breaking routine a great way for enriching a story and taking the character on a new adventure bursting with possibilities!

    After reading Lucille’s rewriting of the “scary men” story I am inspired to rewrite a couple of “scary” and “stupid” stories in my own life. Thank you for sharing that story!

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