I find this game hard!
A couple of times this season people have said to me that they find a game hard.
My first impulse was to try to make it less hard for them, or give them something else. But actually my new response is just “yes, it’s hard”.
The game where this is most likely to happen is a gibberish scene where you can only talk in gibberish and not in English. Or the 1-21 game where the only dialogue allowed is the numbers 1-21 in order.
Why are they hard?
Because they both remove speech, which might have been propping the improviser up in their scenes previously.
At first with speech removed they feel like they can’t do anything in the scene. It feels hard because they feel stuck and don’t know what to do.
But that’s the whole point. The game makes that part of their improv (speech) temporarily unavailable, so they have to discover something else instead. Eventually with practice they discover the full range of emotions and physicality and movement they can do on stage.
Eventually the intellectual side that so desperately needs language to control the situation just gives up and the rawer emotions and physicality take over and the person becomes even more expressive than ever.
I remember when John Cremer first did the 1-21 game on me and I felt infuriated and embarrassed about my lack of ability to physically express anything. But as I played the game I realised I was hiding the embarrassment inside, but it was more fun to just let it out and be in the scene.
The “me” in the gibberish scene eventually felt different from the “me” that used to be in scenes more. It was more instinctual, more emotional, and eventually became more fun.
Eventually by limiting language in games we allow real emotions to show themselves in the body instead. Eventually.
They might look like simple games, but there’s actually a big change going on. If someone is not used to honestly expressing themselves fully emotionally and physically in the present moment this is a big step to discover, and it can feel overwhelming to suddenly have very real emotions swamp you on stage. They can feel like tigers that we want to keep locked up in a cage of “professional work face” but actually on stage these tigers can come out and play. You are allowed to laugh and cry in improv.
So don’t feel bad if you find what looks a simple game hard. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.
And if you find a game hard then keep doing it, it’s there to show you something and it will click after a while. And the harder you are finding it often the more you need that game.
A lot of learning drama through games comes from Viola Spolin, who believed any part of acting can be taught through playing games where the learning point of the game was buried into the successful play of the game itself.
Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv courses, and improv comedy club in London, UK. www.hooplaimpro.com