Pulling Back the Curtain of Discovery Exercise

Pulling Back the Curtain of Discovery

This exercises is from the Narrative workshop a few Saturdays ago. The aim of the day was naturally improvising exciting captivating stories that make sense without worrying about narrative.

Naturally – tends to come from improvisers being intuitive, playful and discovering rather than thinking or trying to get it ‘right’.
Exciting – tends to come when improvisers boldly step into the unknown without hesitation or knowing where the story is going to go once they are there.
Captivating – tends to come from drawing the audience in, opening up to the audience, sharing believable real worlds and emotions with the audience.
Make Sense – tends to come from people reincorporating and justifying mistakes.
Without Worrying About Narrative – not planning ahead, yes and one offer at a time, playing with characters, objectives and having fun, looking backwards and present not planning.

The group entered a very realistic imaginary world for the entire day, because reading the notes is generating real memories of actual events for me, rather than just remembering a bunch of people in a room above a pub. As in, the stories told on the day I seem to be remembering as if they are real life.

One exercise that came out of it was a great method of teaching discovery in scenes and stories. So often improv feels a bit too intellectual, so I love exercises that are more intuitive and let people effortlessly discover things in the moment.

I adapted this exercise from Jonathan Kay and Adam Oliver.

1. A group of five people hold hands in a line.
2. Person at one end of the line holds up their free hand to an imaginary curtain.
3. When ready they pull back the curtain and then name what they see in front of them – it could be something from their own life, something new. It doesn’t matter what it is, whatever their mind has given them they name, unless it’s something they don’t want to go into in which case just close the curtain and start again.
4. They name the location they’ve found and take the rest of the group into the location by hand.
5. They continue to look around and discover things, naming things as they go and touching them. Rather than thinking things up encourage them to open their eyes and see, or just point in different places. Also they can vary between looking low, high, close and far away.
6. The rest of the group don’t ask questions, they are there to support and listen.
7. After a bit of time they close the curtain on that world, go to the other end, and someone else takes over.
8. Repeat for the whole group.
9. Repeat again asking them to also put in characters in the situation, or even themselves. Don’t ‘invent’ characters, just discover.

Before starting it’s good to get the room in the mood for gentle discovery. It’s fun as they effortlessly populate a whole world.

Where this changed was when we involved the whole group in simultaneous discovery:

1. Five improvisers are all in a line, not holding hands this time.
2. They simultaneously pull back a shared curtain.
3. One of them names what they first see.
4. Everyone discovers together. They walk around the space touching and naming what they see together.
5. Encourage them to put in people.

Were then able to go one step further as group, and use this game to then pitch us into action. The group would pull back the curtain together, discover a world together, and then someone could shout ‘Be It’ or ‘Do It’ and some of the actors would have to inhabit the world as the characters and play the scene. What it effectively did was separate out the platform building, and make it a joint group discovery, so that when the players were in the scene they had a group mind understanding of their environment.

We then moved on further and found that at any point one of the improvisers could shout ‘next scene’ and the stage was cleared. They then started with the curtain again and discovered the next scene again, before shouting ‘do it’ or ‘be it’ and inhabiting that new scene.

This rapidly created captivating multi-scene stories, with each scene starting with the curtain pulled back and the actors sharing their discoveries with the audeince. When the stories became exciting sometimes the actors were tempted to skip the discovery section, but putting it in always lead to better scenes and a greater shared understanding between the actors and audience. In fact the discovery section was great at captivating the audience and drawing them in.

Overall lots of great stories told and played.

Lots of love,

Fun and friendly improv classes in London. The UK’s 1st improv theatre.



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