Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Improvisation Workshops: Week 2

We were five this time, including me.
G couldn’t make the second week’s session, but K and T were welcome additions. K studied theatre as an undergraduate and is doing a Masters by research in contemporary performance. T is an independent filmmaker, who’s done some improvising before. She’s quick-witted and open-minded, though her posture suggests a degree of physical inhibition.
We started with a basic physical warm-up. I need to think a bit more about these, it’s only week two and I’m already bored of my “rotate everything” routine.

Developing the Movement : Group

This is an exercise from John Wright’s Why Is That So Funny? The group stands in a circle, one person makes a small, simple gesture. The next person copies the gesture, then develops it further. The third person copies the second, develops still further, etc.


I really messed this one up, conflating it with another exercise where you copy a gesture and make it bigger. I wish I’d reread what Wright says about it. Like so many of the best impro exercises, it’s about finding out what you’re doing in the doing of it. Our hesitations and chitchat along with my confusion, meant that we never really wrestled with it on its own terms. In the course of this exercise, I noticed that Tina wasn’t making eye contact, except very briefly, so I decided to work on eye contact and complicity with the ball-throwing exercise from the previous week.

Throwing an invisible ball; Group

See Week 1 for a description


It did get everyone thinking about communication, but this sessions poor focus continued.

Eye contact meetings: Group

We did this in my undergraduate course, or at least, I think we did. I may be lumping more than one exercise together. Participants circulate around the space, catching each other’s eye without going out of their way. When gazes meet, they decide whether or not to acknowledge each other.


This is about complicity again, obviously, and about making choices in the moment. I guess all the exercises I chose for the early workshops are about that, and avoiding self-censorship. I think there’s something else this exercise teaches that I haven’t sussed yet. We didn’t get a lot out of it. I think that’s because we didn’t take it too seriously. I’m noticing a trend here.

Eye contact meetings: variation

When the exercise above descended into chaos, I changed it, imposing a new rule. You had to greet someone if they made eye-contact with you, but could choose the manner and warmth (or otherwise) of your greeting.


I’m honestly not sure why I tried the exercise this way. People were ducking greetings too often, I think. Improvisation is about accepting the challenge of the exercise, and I wanted to make it impossible to duck the greeting. Of course, once they had to meet, there was less to negotiate, and the encounters, while more flamboyant, fell flat.

Brief Encounters

I’m fairly sure this is one of Keith Johnstone’s exercises. The idea is very simple. Two performers set off across the room on an intersecting trajectory. They meet, and begin interacting. The important thing is that neither should have any preconceptions about their character or the upcoming encounter. They simply react to each other and proceed to build up a scene.


This is where it all fell apart for me. Noticing the hesitant body language of some participants, I tried to throw in some of Johnstone’s status markers. Frustrated because one pair were playing a scene in profile to us, I interrupted to show them how to cheat open. I introduced props, I honestly don’t know why. All in all, there were so many different things going on that I lost track of what I was looking for, what I wanted to do.

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