Archives for the month of: September, 2013

So, the fallow months of teamlessness have passed – I’ve ‘found my tribe’, as our iO teachers exhorted us (an audience of 40+ hungry, aspirational improvisers from around the UK and Europe) to do at the end-of-class Q&A.

Things have happened, are happening – moving at an almost startling pace.

C3467X are now hosting not one, but two monthly improv nights in London. Our ‘flagship’ night, Yada Yada K, has its inaugural outing next Tuesday. This, plus dates in Manchester and Dublin, and a slew of other London gigs before the year is out. Exciting times.

Last week I took my turn to run our weekly practice. I’d worked up some ideas I had kicking about from iO week in an effort to bring a focus I thought we would really benefit from – sharing and building upon each other’s ideas.

I’ve become increasingly aware that my group is not wanting for smart, talented players. If we need to do anything more, its to get used to working with one another in a way that allows everyone to fire on all cylinders.

The way I see it: build that connection up top, and the rest flows naturally.

The set below from iOWest team Trophy Wife, exemplifies this principle really well – a wonderfully fertile, generative initiation, where everyone pitches in or commits to what’s there. Their ideas flow organically from one to the next – a single train of thought coalescing from multiple minds.

The scenes that follow are not only wonderfully played, but the groundwork for them is all already in everyone’s minds. Both players and audience can recognise not only what’s happening, but can also probably remember where it came from. To me, this is improv doing what it does best.

Also, in terms of scene transitions, these cats look pretty slick.

 

So that’s my new bar… Now, how to reach it?

My practice session started with a bit of mirroring/mimicry work, followed by getting the team to assemble stage pictures of random objects together in increasing numbers. This built toward a structured opening called ‘the invocation’ – where the group builds a series of personal, symbolic and thematic ideas from the suggestion of a single object. We then ran scenes from what emerged.

My coaching technique clearly needs a lot more work, but overall I was really pleased with the results. After a couple of runs they were nailing it. Seeing how much my team could be inspired by each other’s ideas – and as a result be emboldened by that connection – was just superb. What’s more, the ideas generated seemed to me a lot more rich in detail and realistic than typically.

So, in summary, this is the kind of thing I’ve been wanting to understand and get into for years now. It’s great to finally actually be doing it.

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So the first (annual?) iO European Intensive is (sadly) now over. Obviously, its been a blast overall.

Throughout the week we focussed primarily on different openings for long form pieces; ranging from individual and shared monologues, to stage pictures, to invocations and even combinations of these – and explored how these might translate into full pieces like the Armando and Harold. A lot to rattle through in a week, but it wasn’t an unsettling pace, and there was plenty of time to observe and reflect as well as play.

Between the Maydays long form course and working with C3467X, I’d encountered most of the forms before at one time or another. However after a week working with one of ‘Charna’s Angels’ (not their words), I naturally felt much closer to the source of these ideas. Having a chance to explore the underlying principles with an experienced teacher gave me greater confidence in things I had up to now only vaguely intuited.

Here are the big themes that emerged for me:

Physicality – One of my main weaknesses to date has been a natural tendency to avoid physical choices and moves – I end up in ‘elevens’ or as a talking head a lot. A great thing about this week was doing lots of group work involving physicality and seeing how dramatically it can effect the choices we make in scenes. Truly something you can only really understand by doing.

Connection – Getting connected with your team early on is vital and can be achieved in any number of ways. It’s also something that comes with no small measure of social discomfort – its rarely how we’re taught to operate in our daily lives, it looks intrinsically ‘hippy’ and is easily scoffed at from outside. For this reason alone, its worth doing anything it takes to break down these comfort barriers – if only to permit genuine connection both on-stage and at a conceptual level.

POV (esp. shared POV) – One of my favourite things to watch and be part of this week were invocations and shared ‘POVs’ from within a stage picture. It was surprisingly wonderful to watch the process of many individuals’ ideas gradually converging on a single point of view, or a single point of view being developed through many different minds. Also, in scenic terms, having a strong POV early on allows you to build and maintain more authentic and instantly relatable characters – which in turn enable bolder, more confident choices.

Thesis – This isn’t an idea that I’d developed much prior to this week, but it makes a lot of sense to me now. It is the idea that any of the more ‘performance artsy’ openings (i.e. not monologues) drive toward a thesis – a statement about life or the world that the following scenes will either prove or disprove. Whilst I’ve done plenty of these more ‘organic’ openings, the idea that seemed to be missing was that of a thesis – a central idea that emerges, shifts and settles throughout the group game.

So that, in summary, is what I got from this week.

I’m especially happy that I landed Tara DeFrancisco as a teacher. Her approach struck a really good balance for a mixed experience group. She explicitly encouraged the group to bond early – a trust which really helped us get the most out of what we did. Her comments and notes were incisive and well articulated, and she knew just when and how to gently nudge people out of their comfort zones. She’s also a big-hearted, wicked smart and funny woman – which always helps.

It’s been ace. More of it, please.

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