3 min read

Improv: Notes from Week Two

One week later, and sadly with none of my colleagues in tow (pikers!) it was time for improv again. This week’s session was based around being aware of others on a stage, and being able to act off whatever is happening even when there isn’t a specified leader..

To start off, we did a series of exercises of naming and then imagining things. This started off easy (point and name) and got harder (name the object one point back, and then name it anything but the thing you’re pointing at). People found that when it came to making things up, they fell into habits of making lists (toothbrush, toothpaste, toothbrush holder…) or just working off what they heard other people say around them (there was a ripple effect of objects being named ‘elephant’ for example).

We were also given a series of call and response exercises with random words, such as picking imaginary things up, and having words thrown at you and having to answer as soon as possible, without trying to be funny. People did struggle with this idea as they wanted to be funny rather than quick, but what came out was that responses could be funny, and often it came in the setup (pretty much asking anyone “shithole?” is going to get a funny answer). This idea of going with the flow and setting up someone else to look good has carried across both sessions and is perhaps one of the core fundamentals of improv along with the offer. (One experienced improv performer in the group did point out that he’d realised some of the random things he’d come up with such as ‘holograph’ would be wonderful to use as offers). People also played with different ways of generating imaginary objects, be it visualising something and pulling it out, or working from the shapes that your body made in the act of picking something up.

Another aspect of going with the flow we dealt with was learning to be aware of a wider group and react to and with it. We had to learn to start and stop as a group, as well as act out wider scenes. (I remember doing some of this stuff in high school drama classes, but had a very different take on it all back then). We got some hilarious frames.

Image of 6 people in different positions in improv
Freeze frame exercises: bank heist (loved the dead person in particular)
Image of 6 people in different positions in improv
Freeze frame exercise: the last day of holiday

We also did physical mirroring, where again the leader could change. This is the closest to contemporary dance we’ve ever got, and it did remind me of the work I saw dance students do, with learning to understand space and working with others. To add to the confusion, we had to compete with a jazz band downstairs. (And I was certainly aware of my lack of co-ordination).

We finished up with a verbal spin on this mirroring: where we had to pair (and later team) up and say things simultaneously, first with a defined leader, and later with no leader, only agreement. The latter had some bizarre results: “never look at the sky”, “you are a good looking woman” (to a pair of boys)? But the key of this was learning to lose control and go with whatever is given to you, specifically from letting the words emerge. 

This was far more group oriented than the first lesson, and did require wider awareness, and an ability to not think too far ahead: when you have a group of 15 people milling around, pretty much anything can happen. As a designer, this did make me think of our work: when you're co-creating, you need to be able to go with pretty much whatever happens and alternate between leading and following.