It’s been an unusually eventful couple of weeks in my performing life, with two gigs on consecutive days, and a lot of workshops attended. This is a joy of course, and I want more of it, but it does mean that I’ve fallen behind in documenting the improvisation workshops, for which, my apologies. I hope that anyone from the group who wants to comment on these exercises will do so, though they were now more than a week ago.
I really enjoyed last week’s work. We had the welcome return of M from her holiday, J and H came back, and two new members; L who is new to this stuff and D, who does physical theatre and is also a theatre technician and lighting designer.
I asked D to lead a brief and low-key physical warm-up, and he took us on a head-to-toe exploration of what our bodies could do and how they were feeling “now, not last week or two years ago, but now.”
The one person at a time game
We then started the improvisation with a second try at the One person at a time game. See week 3 for a description.
The game really came alive this time, I suspect because the majority of participants had played it, or similar games, before. It was sheer joy to watch their alert bodies and their mischievous faces as they tried to fake each other out. As the game went on, the movement came to seem more and more meaningful, and if you haqd told me that this was a rehearsed piece, expressing something deep and true about the human condition, I would have believed you. I brought it to an end because I wanted to fit in the next exercise, not because it was anywhere near getting stale. Asked to resolve the game, they brought it to an end in a harmonious square sitting crosslegged. Beautiful. When we talked about the game afterwards, D framed it in terms of the relationship of the players to the rules of the game: It’s about breaking the rules without breaking the rules.
Dressage for Camels
Another John Wright game. They’ve been very fruitful so far, and I’m trying to get as much out of them as I can. In this game, one person (the camel)closes their eyes. The other is allowed to touch them only with the tip of one forefinger. With only this means of communication, they are to guide the camel around the room, getting them to do various things. Stand up, sit down, jump, touch their finger to their nose etc. about halfway through, I started adding obstacles.
It’s about complicity, of course, but it’s also about status negotiations (who’s in charge at any point, the camel or the guide?). It’s also about taking responsibility for other performers, and about spatial awareness, I think.
This game was fascinating to watch, because the two pairs handled it so differently. H was moving M around the room in no time, but they kept stalling, having obvious, if silent clashes of wills. D and J in contrast, took nearly 5 minutes to negotiate the first step, but by the time I ended the exercise were achieving quite subtle postural changes in a way that looked effortless.
The difference, we decide afterwards, was a matter of intention. It’s a different thing to decide that when you tap your “camel” there, the camel will walk forward, and quite another to wonder how they will react if you do “this”. The trust of a blinfloded person takes time to buid up, and can easily be lost by allowing them to bump against something, or feel pushed too hard. People also noted that the same kind of touch could mean different things at different points and still be understood, provided that good communication had been established.
Yup, it’s another John Wright game. One person is sent out of the room, and the others decide on something simple they want the person to do. Walk to the third chair along a row, for example, and sit down. It’s a bit like the children’s game hot/cold. Wright presents it as a game for building complicity with the audience and for being comfortable on stage as yourself. I think it does those, too, but it’s even richer than that.
This was an absolutely fascinating game for me, as one of the things I’m most interested in is the communication (I almost typed ‘communion’) among audience members, and from the audience to the performers.
This is a problem-solving exercise with the audience providing the clues, not just with their applause, but also with body language and facial expression. One task we set up so that the performer would have to spend much of her time looking away from the audience; as we suspected, it slowed her down and made her less interesting to watch. You couldn’t see the expressions, puzzlement, frustration, curiosity, playing across her face.
One of the very interesting aspects of this game is the degree of negotiation it requires within the audience. You make collective decisions, wordlessly, about how to delineate degrees of rightness, what if, for example, the performer is in the right place, but facing the wrong direction, or touching the right object, but with the wrong hand?