When people hear the word improvisation, they often imagine a terrifying environment, where the loudest and fastest compete to be brilliant and funny. But this is not how we approach improvisation. It doesn’t bring the best out of everybody and it doesn’t sound very fun! Some people thrive under pressure, and some people hate it. Or rather, people have different tolerances for different forms of pressure.
In our classes, we create environments that will allow everyone to participate in a way that works both for them and for the group. We work very hard to make people comfortable and build from simple exercises to more complex and challenging ones in a way that means participants often don’t realise how far they have come.
To this end, most time in our sessions is spent in pairs or small groups. We rotate these regularly to keep the combinations fresh and to give opportunities to examine how we respond to different people. Most of the time, an audience is completely unnecessary.
Our sessions will normally contain the following stages:
Depending on the nature of the session and the team, we may start with a short presentation. This will set the context and explain the ideas underpinning what we do and possibly the specific outcomes for the day. Generally, this is no longer than ten minutes.
We normally start with a full group exercise or two. These might be passing an impulse or word around a circle, or responding to simple rhythms and ideas. These exercises get people used to responding quickly and instinctively.
Improv is built on creative abundance. It is easier to create ten ideas and choose your favourite than try to force a single idea to work. These exercises involve uncritically creating many ideas in order to not become precious about any single one.
A core part of improvisation is working on how we collectively build in small increments. In this stage of a workshop, we practice the principle of ‘Yes And’ (also known as Accept and Build) and feel how vulnerable creative processes can be, but how powerful when a team is on the same page.
Depending on the aim, a session might include an opportunity for some or all of the group to perform in front of each other. This is never obligatory. The aim of this is often to artificially raise the pressure and see how we respond. It can also be a lot of fun.
A core part of any improv session is to reflect. Our sessions will generally contain at least two points where participants are given the opportunity to think about the meaning and effect of what they are doing. This is normally done in pairs and then as a full group.