Change is Inevitable

Considering I’m a professional improviser, I’m really not great with change. For isn’t improvisation the art of change? No 2 shows are the same, and once a show is done, it’s gone forever, never to be repeated. When it feels like it’s gone badly, this can be a good thing. When it’s been a magical show, maybe there is a temptation to want to capture it and repeat it – to turn it into a sketch or a play or even a song.

There was a time when I was worried about running out of improv. I remember in early days, not wanting to warm up too much for fear of using up all my ideas before the show. That seems such a distant feeling now, and the more time passes the more I realise there is so much more left for me to explore. In fact there will never be enough time to do all of improv.

Too much change?

Here’s the thing. On the whole I think improvisers change too much. The giddy liberation that comes with not fearing mistakes, ripping up the script and starting afresh every single time is so seductive. I sometimes wonder if we go too far, and use this as an excuse to reject our own offers before they’ve had a chance to settle and breathe. Often when I see this kind of sudden change I suspect it comes from a lack of self belief rather than a real need for drama.

If we don’t do it for ourselves, then let’s do it for our audiences. Spare a thought for the poor bewildered audience member who has just entered this story only to have their expectations dashed by a sudden reversal of what has been established. Maybe a character suddenly changes their worldview, something that was not important moments ago takes on great significance or vice versa. I think it’s ok to let a new scene wobble about on its newfound feet for a bit like a newborn deer before it starts walking somewhere.

Or not enough?

Ok, great, improv solved, tick. But WAIT! What about refusing to change when change is clearly needed? What about holding onto your idea for dear life despite everything in this story calling for change? I see this happen most often when improvisers get too attached to their characters and too sure of their motivation. The show gets sticky and slow and awkward and we feel that something has to give ‘but my character just wouldn’t behave like that’ we hear the improviser cry.

Or worse, when you have listened with intent and you have the perfect, ninja level, call back of all callbacks, wrap up the whole story in a bow with no loose ends finish and then something changes making it no longer quite the perfect ending you had just seconds ago. It can be so painful to let go of the brilliant idea you were attached to that was going to work so well, but watching improvisers try to force their square-shaped idea into a now circle is way worse.

Once again, the evasive art of improv leaves us with no clear answer about when to change. All we can do is pay attention, not fear change, but not force it either. As Alan Watts says “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”