We started the class with a relaxation exercise to help us become aware of our bodies. Becoming aware of your body is a great way to get out of your head and become present. Next we played a series of mirroring exercises. First just one person creating a sound and a move which is mirrored by another player, then everyone mirror’s the person. Finally everyone is mirroring everyone. It takes a lot of awareness of the other players to adapt to whatever they are doing. Mirroring your partner is a great way to make your partner look good. Check out this Ted Talks Video about how a crazy nut is turned into the leader of a movement by someone else who made him look good by mirroring his moves.
Luci commented about how it was easier to just follow the men in the group than the woman. Is this because the men made louder noises and bigger movements? Or is it because of social conditioning? A good improviser is aware of everyone in the group and can pick up subtle offers. A good improviser is also aware in every moment, knowing when he/she needs to take control and take initiative and when he/she needs to give over control and allow someone else to take focus.
After the mirroring exercise we played a game called “Gifts”. In this game a player gives another an imaginary gift without having to know what it is. The one receiving the gift must say what it is and accept it like it is the one thing they’ve always wanted. This game illustrates how physical gestures can also be offers. The one receiving the gift accepts the physical offer and builds on it by saying what it is. By accepting the gift with so much enthusiasm he/she also make his/her partner look good.
The last game for the evening was “Blind offers”. In this game one player starts with a physical movement, another player then enters and says something that accepts the first player’s movement and justifies it. The first then replies in a way that builds on the second player’s comment. eg. First player makes a physical movement that looks like someone scrubbing a floor. The second player enters and says, “John the deck better be spotless before we set out on our voyage.” The first replies, “Ai ai Captain!” Antoinette made a very important statement after the class. She commented on how difficult it was for her to come up with a response to the first player’s movement. She realised that the reason for the difficulty was that she thought that she needed to say something funny. She realised however that if she just focused on the other player and tried to make them look good, it’s much easier to come up with something good. Jacques also mentioned that it was much easier to just go on and start making a physical movement because he knew his partner will accept it and build on it.
So how often do we do this in real life? How often are we focused on making our partners look good rather on just making ourselves look good? How often do we block others in an attempt to make ourselves look good?
The theme for last night’s Improvisation class was listening and awareness.
Listening and awareness is fundamental for improvisation. Like I mentioned in the previous class, everything is an offer in improvisation and the more offers you can become aware of, the more you have to work with. Mayah remarked on how MacGyver is a good example of this. The character could always get himself out of life threatening situations by just using whatever he could find in his immediate surroundings. A quote from Mr MacGyver Season 2: ” I say we trust our instincts, go with our gut. You can’t program that. That’s our edge.” That’s why I always say Improvisation skills are crucial, because it could save your life.
We started the class with a classic Keith Johnstone exercise, that I call “change 3 things”. Participants pair up and observe one another. They then turn back to back and change 3 things about their appearance, like loosen one button or role up a sleeve. They then turn back to each other and try to identify the changes. I repeat this with 6 changes and then 10 changes.
The more challenging the game gets the more participants become aware of the other person.
The next exercise we played is an Augusto Boal walking exercise that I call “Stop go”. In this game all the participants walk around spreading themselves evenly across the space. When I clap they must stop and when I clap again they must walk. I do this for a while and then I tell them that they have to stop and go together without me clapping. In the first round everyone just had to focus on my clap, but for the second round you had to be aware of everyone else. Instead of being individuals just walking around being controlled from the outside, they now became a self organising system
– Everyone aware of everyone else, giving and taking control amongst themselves.
The next exercise we did is also an Augusto Boal exercise that I learned from Adrian Jackson. He calls it a “group meditation”. In this exercise everyone stands in a circle and observe one other person in the circle. Any movement the other person makes must be copied and accentuated a bit. It’s not long before everyone is jumping up and down and waving their arms recklessly. Then I tell them to, instead of accentuating the other person’s movement, to tone down the movement, ie. make it a little smaller. Astonishingly, before along, everyone is standing motionless. Pierre commented on how much energy was created by just building a little on the other person’s movement. This is a very good example of the “yes and” principle that we discussed last week.
We ended the class with 2 focus games. In the first we passed around imaginary balls and in the second we created 3 different patterns that we had to continue without dropping any pattern. In both these games you have to constantly switch between focusing on one person and being aware of everyone else. Later it starts happening simultaneously and you go into a state of flow. This state is very playful and you start losing yourself in the activity, becoming less self conscious and more aware.
I’d love to hear your comments.
Thank you for everyone’s participation. I look forward to next week.
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.
In his book “A million miles in a thousand years” Don Miller distils the essence of a good story as “a character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”. In the previous class we focused on creating a strong character (a character that knows what he/she wants). Now to write this character into a good story he/she needs to overcome some kind of conflict to get what he/she wants. In her article, “A Story structure for change and growth”, (click here to download article) Petro Janse van Vuuren identifies 4 essential characters that make up a good story. The first is the protagonist (hero/main character) of the story – the character that wants something. The second is the antagonist (nemesis/villain). The antagonist is in direct conflict of the protagonist and doesn’t want the protagonist to get what they want. A third character is the mentor (guide/guardian angel). The mentor helps and guides the protagonist to get what they want. The last character is the contagonist (obstacle/ tempter). The role of the contagonist is to distract the protagonist from achieving what he/she really wants. The contagonist is not in direct conflict with the protagonist like the antagonist. The contagonist tests the protagonist, to see if he/she is worthy of getting what he/she wants.
In Monday night’s class we played a new game that I made up based on these 4 characters. I call this game “The 4 roles game”. In the game 4 players are each given one of the 4 different characters. Three scenes are played. The first scene is between the protagonist and the mentor. In this scene what the protagonist wants must be clearly defined. In the next scene the protagonist meets the contagonist, who tries to distract the protagonist from achieving his/her goal. In the last scene the protagonist faces the antagonist and must overcome him/her to get what he/she wants. Here is an example from last night’s class. Ruan played a dancer who wanted to win the Olympic dance medal. Luci played the mentor who taught him to dance from his heart. In the next scene Ruan is distracted by his girlfriend (contagonist) played by Minki who wants him to copy other dance styles in his dancing. In the last scene Ruan is faced with his arch nemesis (antagonist) Juan-Philip, 3 times dance world champion played by Olaf. In order to beat him Ruan remembers the words of his mentor, reminding him to dance from his heart. His own authentic dance style overwhelms Juan-Philip and he wins the Olympic dance medal. WOW, what a beautiful story, made up right there on the spot because everyone knew what role they had to play.
So what role are you playing in your own life? Are you the hero? Or are you your own antagonist, preventing yourself from getting what you really want? Or are you the hero but find yourself lured and occupied by the distractions of a contagonist in your life? Or don’t you know what you really want so you are not really living a good story? Are you experiencing life as a series of random events? (If you want to read more about knowing what you want read my previous blog “what do you really want?”)
You are the author of your own life story and you have the power to cast the other roles in your life. Think of someone who you have cast as an antagonist in your life. Maybe you want to quit your job and start your own business but your father or your husband doesn’t want you to for whatever reason. You can cast them as an antagonist who is preventing you from getting what you want. However you can cast them as a contagonist who is helping you to know if you are ready for this big step. Or you can even cast them as a mentor that is guiding you to make an informed decision. The way you cast them will determine how you will react towards them and the influence they will have on you. In this story the antagonist isn’t really your father or your husband. The real antagonist is being stuck in a job that is not allowing you to live out your passion.
Understanding that all 4 roles are essential for a good story will help you to recognize and accept conflict, temptation and support in your life so that you can be the hero of your own life story and get what you really want out of life.
If you want to know more about how to become the hero of your own life story attend our Personal Success Story workshop.
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