Awareness

Lovely bunch of people in our workshop this evening. Left
me so positive about impro that I’m writing this blog on the tube home
immediately after. 
Workshop was on Awareness, as in being totally aware of
what the other improviser is saying, doing, moving, feeling. 
There is quite a lot of talk on listening in impro books
in general, but surprisingly little on seeing. Sometimes you’d be led to
believe impro is a purely verbal pursuit, but actually the audience get a huge
amount of pleasure from bold physical offers. 
So I wrapped up listening and seeing into Awareness. 
For me listening and seeing are one of the most
fundamental skills in impro. If you aren’t hearing and seeing the other actor,
and aren’t aware of what they are doing, then you can’t really improvise with
them and can only improvise alongside them in your own separate world.
We want people improvising with each other, connected to
each other. 
There are loads of different techniques and exercises to
make sure you are aware of the other actor and receiving all their offers.
These techniques also have the pleasant side effect of removing
self-consciousness, taking off the pressure of being funny, and keeping improvisers
in the moment. 
Sometimes improvisers seem to experience a ‘workshop
freeze’, where they’ve been to so many different workshops run by so many
different people that they are trying to do too much on stage and actually
freeze up when they’re in a show. The idea isn’t too learn every single
technique and then try and do them all at once on stage, otherwise you get
stuck in your head and stop having fun. It’s better to only consciously take
one thing on stage, whatever works for you at that time, and have fun with
everything else. 
In my experience shows don’t go down so well if the actors are trying to take too many things on stage with them, or aren’t taking anything on at all and just find themselves stuck there trying to be funny. A good balance is to only consciously take on thing on stage with you. 
I personally seem to perform best when I go into the show
with the mantra “react and add to every single offer, especially the small
ones.”
Here are some techniques to raise awareness, listening and
seeing between improvisers. Play with them and use the one that works for you
on stage:
Group Walk/Stop/Jump: the group walk around the room,
stop in unison, freeze, start walking in unison, jump in unison. Encourage the
group to follow each other, not lead. 
Diamond Dancing: four improvisers up, in a diamond
formation all facing the audience. Play music, they dance, copying the person
in front. If the group turns to face the left, right or back they copy the new
person in front. Then break it up and have fun with it, inventing dance
routines on the spot. 
Group Mirroring: the group stand in a circle. Each person
mirrors someone else in the circle, but so that the whole circle is connected.
Or the group just mirrors itself, the slightest change in one person is
mirrored across the group. 
String Puppet: one improviser operates the other from the
front using imaginary strings as if they were a string puppet. When they go
behind the puppet the puppet is actually in control but they still move strings
accordingly. 
Use their words: Use a word, or as many words as possible, from what the
other improviser just said in your line. We did this in the “That’s Right Bob”
sales channel game, with two improvisers working together to sell a product as if on a sales channel.
Last Word First Word: Start your line with the last word the other improviser
just said. 
Voice Mirroring: saying the same thing that the other
improviser is saying at the same time in the same way, but in your head. At
first you can voice mirror out loud as an exercises, but then turn the volume
down and do it in your head in a scene. This is one of Adam Meggido’s
(Showstopper) favourite techniques and he’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever
met.
Mini Meisner: repeat between each other facts about the
other person that are undeniably true. Start with clothes, then, hair/eyes etc,
then movement/expression, then emotions.
For instance:
“You’ve got a black t-shirt”
“I’ve got a black t-shirt”
“You’ve got a black t-shit”
“You’re smiling”
“I’m smiling”
“You’re happy”
“I’m happy”
Then do the repetitions but under imaginary circumstances,
eg with a location added. This helps the improvisers to be aware of everything
the other person is giving them – movements, expression, words, emotion, and
use it. It also helps to not differentiate between what the improviser is doing
on purpose and what they are doing accidentally. If the improviser laughs while
saying “captain, iceberg dead ahead”, then their character is also laughing.
Repeating All Offers: play a scene but after each line
the other improviser says everything they just did, said, moved, expressed,
before adding their line. This games means that all the focus is on the other
person, and not worried about story/being funny. Give location, character,
relationship before starting. 
For instance, set on a cruise ship:
A: “Cabin boy, take the wheel”
B: (Repeating all offers) “You pointed really sharply at
the wheel, giggled, and said take the wheel.” (Line) “Yes captain, it would be
an honour.”
A: (Repeating) “You took the wheel and spoke in a squeaky
voice yes captain it would be an honour.” (Line) “Look out, rocks dead ahead!”
B: (Repeating) “You pointed out to sea, and laughed as you
said look out, rocks dead ahead!” (Line) “You’re happy about the rocks.”
Actor A was laughing accidentally but B picked up on the
offer and used it, as they were aware of everything about A. As the scene
played on it turned out the Captain was deliberately crashing the ship into the
rocks as an insurance scam, had put the cabin boy behind the wheel so he had a
scapegoat.
It’s very satisfying when actors use everything the other
person is giving them, especially the things that are happening accidentally. 
There is also something truthful about
improvising like this. If someone really is laughing, or looking nervous, or
walking away from you, or shaking, then use it. That stuff is actually
happening, so be aware of it, and use it.
Lots of love,
Hoopla
Impro Classes and Shows
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