I’ve been a little out of the improv loop this last month, adjusting to my new job and being back in London. With a couple of weeks out of the country imminent, and the Christmas holidays not far behind, it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to get back into it with gusto until at least the New Year.

This has prompted me to do the ‘end-of-year stock take’ a few weeks early. I say that like it’s scheduled (and who doesn’t love a bit of rigorously timetabled soul searching, eh?) – which it isn’t – but I’m sure you get my meaning. The issue at the core of it is this: when an improviser’s life changes drastically, how should they deal with falling ‘out of the loop’?

2012 has ended up quite far from where it began for me. At the beginning I was in a great place with my improv – part of a committed and passionate group with ample potential, grand yet realisable ambitions and lots of space to grow; learning fucktons in a team that I felt an integral part of. On the other hand, my personal life was a bit of a rollercoaster. On and off, I’d been in that slightly worrying place where improv was the release valve for the pressure that built up the rest of the time – even occasionally feeling like the thing that was keeping me together (if you’ve been there, you know; if you haven’t, lucky you).

Fortunately for me, at the moment my day-to-day is in a far better place. I’m doing what I want to do, pressure hasn’t been much of an issue so far. But in improv terms, I’ve left my home turf and all the weird and wonderful things (read ‘friends’) in it. Sure, I can still be around friendly and talented improvisers, but most of them don’t really know me from Adam. I can get to jams most weeks, but I don’t feel like I’ve really ‘gelled’ with anyone or made the creative partnerships I’d like to yet. I relish the chance to play, but haven’t found anything concrete for me to work towards.

In short, I’m in limbo with it, and I’m a little unsure how I feel about that.

I’ve thought about taking a back seat in the scene for a while – focusing on seeing more shows, (improv and otherwise), exploring London the way I never did before. I’ve considered switching tack altogether, focussing on writing and music (places where I feel more able to move forward on my own). These are both options, but they both give me that nagging feeling of turning my back on a loved one – betrayal of improv. Is there such a thing? Probably not.

There’s also a slight concern that this might be the start of my slippery slope out of improv altogether (in which case, this will be one of the shortest lived blogs on a passtime ever). I don’t seriously think that will happen – there’s too much I enjoy about improv to leave it – but I’m keenly aware that part of the risk of disengaging, even partially, is stepping back too far.

Have you ever been in improv limbo? Any advice for those in mid-drift?

I’ve dabbled in musical improv since workshopping with the wonderful Heather Urqhart and Joe Samuel (of Brighton improv powerhouse The Maydays) last year. The workshops focussed on basic musical improvisation skills and some trademark song structures that enable groups to improvise songs. These were phenomenally successful when we introduced them into our shows, completely altering the group’s outlook on what we could achieve on stage.

Last Tuesday I was at a jam led by Joe and another long-time Mayday, Katy Schutte, where music was once more on the agenda – but this time in a much more authentically driven and free-flowing way. The inspiration behind this was Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, whose work I’m sad to say I haven’t seen or heard a great deal of.

Over two hours we got used to translating and projecting our own stream of consciousness  into song with the minimum of anxiety and hesitation. The results were surprising, gripping and occasionally moving. Freeing up the unconscious really allowed people to be carried by themselves, each other and the music to places you could never get through more ‘heady’ association. The songs were peppered with moments of  poignancy and synchronicity that were truly inspirational.

The take-home for me, however, was that while song structures can carry a team and give people security in their various roles, there’s a place for something much more genuine and unconstrained in musical – something which the long former in me did tiny back flips about.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a massive musical theatre nut, but now I definitely understand the attraction.

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