Five things improvising teaches us
Saying "yes and" to everything is one of our core principles. But what does improv really teach us?
Here are five things that come to mind. All of these are how we run Likewise.
1. Everything matters
In an improvised scene the way someone tosses their head, the catch in their voice, the fact that they don't reply, all of this matters.
And in life we spend a good part of our time "mind reading" in this way.
Great improvised scenes include reference to this information we mostly keep inside (you nodded your head, which makes me feel like you agree with me, but your mouth isn't saying yes yet!).
2. Saying yes takes you somewhere
Recently my council repaved the roller-coaster footpaths in my street. They put bitumen close to the fences, and then a strip of gravel close to the street.
This would be good for the growing trees and plants, and it would mean no more footpaths that lurch up and down as tree roots grow.
It also looked very Paris: gravel makes me think of the Tuileries and many of the beautiful gardens in Paris. But some of the older people in my street complained. They were concerned they might turn an ankle on the gravel. One of the women thought she'd be unable to manipulate her zimmer frame across the 30cm of gravel.
They petitioned the council and next week the gravel will be 100% bitumen. We don't feel like Paris in Newtown any more. We feel like an airport runway. There are tiny piles of gravel around each tree, but otherwise we're back to square one.
Saying NO to the change means that the street scape remains constant (well, actually blacker and hotter). Saying YES may have required a little effort, but saying yes moves us forward.
I'm in two minds about whether the gravel was a good thing or a bad thing. But I know one thing: saying "yes, let's" moves life forward and onward.
Saying no keeps it stable and constant, but it doesn't make for much art!
3. Everybody knows your name
The best improvised scenes are scenes where everyone in the scene knows everyone else. It means you have back story.
So in the improvised world everyone already knows your name, like that famous bar in Boston.
The older I get the more I notice how people are aching and yearning for community: a place where everybody knows your name.
And beyond individual scenes, improvised shows attract a certain kind of audience and a certain kind of player. The improvising community, audience and players alike are a community in themselves. Throughout the world improvising bonds us to each other.
So in improvised life (who's scripting your next words?), everybody knows your name.
4. You can count on people to be themselves
And this is true also.
You can count on people to be themselves. Or to put it another way, arseholes will be arseholes. And kind, generous souls will be kind, generous souls.
I truly believe that how you do anything is how you do everything.
People who make life complex will continue to do so - each behaviour is a reflection of their other behaviours and patterns. People who are always edgy will always be edgy.
You know there are players you can count on to have a funny line to end a serious scene. Players who can turn any scene into a relationship quandary. Players who will catch you when you fall. Or throw themselves under you to cushion the fall.
In life it's the same. The people who turn up to help you move house are the people who turn up to help you paint your lounge room are the people who turn up with chocolate when you're sad.
So is improv teaching us about life, or is life teaching us about improv?
5. You are enough
Keith Johnstone, says we should strive to be "ordinary" and stop trying to be interesting on stage. Because what audiences want to see on stage is the ordinary world.
The ordinary world is hilariously funny. Yes, pirate ships and alien space monkeys are fun, but if the pirates don't know each other, like or hate each other and do things which we can relate to, then I get disconnected as an audience member.
I'm not saying that improvising should always be deep. Or run of the mill.
We can watch extraordinary people (alien space monkeys) have an ordinary day (arguing over who gets the last banana, who emptied the banana skins last, or whose turn it is to put on the dishwasher). We can also love to watch ordinary people having an extraordinary day (the day my husband left me, the moment I realised I was in love, the first time I took a plane). But the ordinary figures in the scene.
It's what makes what we do on stage relatable.
So improvising teaches us that we are enough. Our ordinary lives, our extraodinary moments.
That's what we try to do in Likewise. We're building a show where everybody knows your name. Where you can count on us to be ourselves, and to be enough. Everything matters to us. And we'll say yes.
Say yes to us this month by buying your tickets here. The show is October 16th, 2014 at 7:30.