/ #Again! #Improvisation 

Humble and Demanding

Yesterday lunch, you were eating your usual sandwich with this fantastic ham and cheese. You were so real eating this meal.

With each movement we could feel that you were enjoying it. Sometimes a simple sandwich can evoke a smile. Your co-workers around the table were not paying any particular attention to you but were unconsciously affected by you: their posture was influenced by the dirty plastic bag you left on the middle of the table and by the gestures you make when you eat. Some days you start a discussion over lunch. Some other days like yesterday, it’s with the eyes that the silent communication takes place.

This scene is banal, this scene is boring, this scene is real.

Add a stage and an audience and anyone of us will start doing some strange things. We’ll start exaggerating our movements to make this sandwich eating more interesting. Others around the table will overreact to each bite you take as if just being normal was not enough. And the public will be bored, not because the scene is necessarily boring but because suddenly, with the presence of the stage, some actors have decided to play the scene instead of live it.

What is Theater

This is one paradox of theater. We want to tell real life stories but by adding a stage and an audience, the moment and the truth disappear.

So you need to start over to learn how to act, how to be influenced by the other actors and how to have emotions. We train to be able to reproduce in front of an audience an everyday scene like eating a sandwich, a simple act that every one of us manages to do when we are involved. This is what we call being an actor.

So you need to start over to learn how to move in space, how to move your body, how to place yourself in your environment and how to orchestrate the actors, space and movement to reproduce something we can believe in. This is what we call being a director.

So you need to start over to learn how to tell a story, capture what is interesting, what is true and what is meaningful. Just being able to express and maintain emotions, to follow characters and to make this particular moment important. This is what we call being a writer.

And that’s what an improviser is trying to do in real time: being an actor, a director and a writer as the scene is being created.

The humble improviser

I had the opportunity to do a one week intensive improv workshop with Again! Production in summer 2017 after doing improv for around 10 years. I think the most surprising aspect of this workshop was to admit to myself what seems obvious:

improvisation is hard

One of the first idea you meet in improv is “Yes, and…” which mean we should accept as much as we can, we should be positive and we should avoid our negative habits when playing with others. Too often, these essential ideas are replaced by the idea that improvisational theater is the place where you can do whatever you want…

… without any care of if you are actually playing truthfully or if you are just the next stereotypical elderly,

… without any care of if you actually recreate a scene worth remembering or if you are just two players standing in the middle of the stage,

… without any care of if you are actually writing a beautiful story and not looking for the best jokes combo.

This workshop reminded me that this essential concept was not there to hide the most important element: improvising is this crazy art form where during the scene, you are trying to be the theater director, actor and writer at the same time.

That’s hard, that’s probably impossible, that’s exciting.

The demanding improviser

Again! Productions teachers of the workshop, Ian Parizot & Emmanuel De Chavigny, have an educational background in theater in addition to their improvisation training and experience. It makes their workshop (and their courses) rigorous and highly demanding. I don’t think I’ve ever met another group that sets such high standards in improv as they do. The teachers expect a lot from you and this pushed me further to improve as an improviser.

Crédit photo : Luis-carlos Davila

It seems that Again! Productions vision is that improvisational theater doesn’t need to be a subculture comparing to classical theater and that a good improv show can bring you just as much emotions, story and beautiful ideas.

But to attain this you need to accept to fully immerse yourself in improv, to affect and be affected.

The everyday improviser

This Humble & Demanding approach is not restrained to the Improv or Theater world. Startups call it the Minimum Viable Product, they concentrate on a little task in a bigger picture and try to do it as best as they can. What we can learn from the improv world is that you can also apply this approach to communication and to your behavior.

Notes

  • Again! Production is doing a lot of workshops & shows (even in english!) that you can find on their website : https://www.againproductions.fr
  • If you’ve never done Improv (go find a workshop!), you can read “Impro” by Keith Johnstone as an introduction to it and its links with life in general.
Author

Baptiste Coulange

CTO at @cornis_SAS / socially acceptable maths nerd of @podcastscience / always improvising