Friday 10 January 2014

What is Improv?

With the next course coming up and more people are asking, 'What exactly is improv?' (In my world I still can't believe there are Improv virgins out there) I've decided to write this post to attempt to tackle that question.

Basically the easiest short answer that I could give is, "Have you seen 'Whose line is it anyway?'? It's like that only its live and much, much better".

In an ideal world, where we we aren't so impatient to get the answer in sound bites, I'd prefer not to do that. Improv is about sooooo much more than just those short gags caught on camera in Who's line.

So, allow me to attempt to let you see under the skirt of the old dame of Improv. My version anyway.

We all know it's fun. As previous Improbable Alison put it so aptly, 'It's the most fun I've had with my clothes on!'. Oh how my stomach muscles ache after each session. People always leave on a high after Improv. Whether its an audience member, player or course participant, they all leave with a smile on their face.

But why is it so much fun? Yes, there are gags and yes, people do say funny things and sometimes they even say super clever twisted witticisms at the unexpected drop of a hat. Not all the time and certainly not everyone.

Yet we still have fun, watching or doing because we are playing and watching the enjoyment of playing. I'm a huge fan of that word. PLAYING. I love that when I'm doing Improv I get to say 'I'm playing tonight.'

Being a mum of two small children now I see their joy at playing. I also watched their playing develop. (Like I do with all my Improv children. I'm joking. I'm not that much of an Improv matriarch. Or am I? *evil laugh*)

There's a developmental point for a child when they start playing with others and let me tell you, it doesn't come naturally. Children love playing but they are not happy to play with others... in the beginning. Choruses of 'Mine! Mine! Mine!' and rantings about 'That boy is playing with my car!' (even though you're at a toddler group and your child only played with that toy once last week and then left it, but now someone else is playing with it and the world is ending mummy!) regularly infest your ears.

So, you try putting your toddlers together and watch as they play in their own personal space, completely ignoring each other until suddenly, one of them vaults over and thwacks the other child who was contemplating playing with 'her' garage. Maybe this is just a western thing or Guernsey thing, I can't speak for all the children across the world but I have done my time at toddler groups to observe this mania!

But there is a point, and it usually happens around school going age, when they start asking 'can I play with so and so?' The penny has dropped, it's more fun playing with others than playing alone.

Why is this?

When you play by yourself you are limited by the bounds of your own self, your imagination and your experiences. When you play with others your limits are suddenly exponentially expanded.

This can be frightening at first because as you know we as little puny humans evolving in a big scary world naturally fear what we don't know, and to be frank, who knows what lurks in your friends head. Sometimes I'm not even sure what lurks in my head never mind three other people on stage.

But unlike children, who seem to effortlessly assimilate the concepts of playing together and enter into whole new worlds with each other with little prompting, as adults we need a bit of help to get there. That's where the magic of teaching Improv happens. Not really teaching, but discovering the tools to make that leap to playing effortlessly with others.

So Improv is playing and all that playing involves. Building stories, creating worlds and characters, trusting yourself and others, laughing and sometimes even failing, because there's no right or wrong in playing. There are rules yes, but rules are different to something being wrong.

There is a structure and loads of fantastic theory that has been discovered and rediscovered by those fantastic Improv Masters who have put it down in much better writing than mine. But really it does just come down to releasing your inner PLAY.

So onward to Monday when we play.

Ps the class is also fully booked so sorry if you missed out. *crying in cornflakes*

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