Last night I taught the first class of Improvisation: Spontaneity for the Theatre at the Wellington High School Community Education Centre. It’s a great group and I’m looking forward to seeing us all develop over the next eight weeks.
The course is presented by WIT and I was fortunate to be able to workshop and refresh the curriculum with Anton van Helden, WIT’s Creative Director of Training, before delivering the course last night. A few weeks back, we sat down at his place in Raumati South on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, ate mushrooms on toast, drunk coffee, and brainstormed.
Anton and I went back to basics, to what inspires us about teaching and performing improv. We both agreed that improv is very much an attitude and a mindset and to teach this is to awaken things in people that they can actually already do, to get them using skills they actually already have. It’s not a tick the box activity.
Key lesson: every brainstorming process is better with mushrooms on toast and coffee.
The thing that is tricky about improv is that it is a zen art. In order to do the improv, you must not think about the improv. But then, how then do you teach something that, ideally, you don’t think about, you just do?
My process is to communicate, through experience, a series of improv principles. I like to have people experience the concept first through the exercise and then examine it and discuss it afterwards. What did they notice? How did they feel when they did x? What worked well? Why didn’t it work so well when they did y? It is important not to get too bogged down in the examination but to keep moving and experiencing the principles.
As a teacher, the thing about this approach is that you must also be willing to let go of your own ideas and improvise. I like to let the class organically discover the principles in the exercises. Most improv exercises can be used to teach a variety of different principles so it’s kind of like unwrapping a present when you see what this particular class takes out of this particular exercise on this particular day.
Last night’s class was titled ‘Meet, Greet, and Learn to Laugh Together’ and together we discovered the following:
- Failure is an essential part of creativity, both on stage and off.
- We practiced failing gleefully using the Circus Bow.
- I modelled failing gleefully on a number of occasions.
Having fun and being playful
- We had fun and were playful (and learned each other’s names) using Animal Names, which broke the ice and got us used to being silly with each other.
Being positive and inspiring each other
- Making magic happen on stage (and in life) happens when we are positive and aim to inspire each other.
- Last night we experienced positivity through Paper, Scissors, Rock Cheering Squad where, after losing, we instantly started supporting the winner.
- We inspired each other by presenting and accepting gifts with positivity using the Gift Giving Game.
- We noticed that we like it when people inspire us (evidenced by the number of people who referenced a gift they were given in Moment of the Workshop)
- We noticed that it was fun to watch people being happy. This is very true on stage.
Making and accepting offers
- On stage, anything can be an offer – physical or verbal
- We practiced making offers, both physical and verbal, through the Gift Giving Game
- We practiced accepting offers by accepting with joy in the Gift Giving Game
- We noticed that it is important to be alert to offers in the Pattern Game (using colours, countries and cars)
Freeing up the brain and being present
- The brain naturally finds patterns to help make things easier for us. We noticed this in the Black Box game
- It is interesting to notice the patterns our own brain uses to try and help us.
- Disrupting these patterns (e.g. by having someone prompt you to find something different in the box) helps to keep you in the present moment and not get fixated on your own track of thought.
- Notice how you and others respond to ‘offers’ in real life. Are you/they positive? Are you/they negative?
- Practice the circus bow when you ‘fail’. Even if you’re just by yourself. 🙂
There is nothing quite like the magic of giving people their first hit of improv.