It would be safer if I left in ten minutes. On Tuesday nights, for eight weeks.. I am taking an Improvisation for Writers workshop. It is a quick drive, the price was right, and I think it is good for me. I am probably also enjoying it. This is kind of work is like a trip to the gym… I don’t work that hard at the gym, so it’s certainly not unpleasant, but it is work for a dedicated amount of time, and it’s easy to think, “I could use this time to sit on the couch and watch TV or some other less questionable pleasurable pursuit. I think this is a frequent state of mind for those of us who live in the introvert/extrovert border town. This week I had a very hard time going… I was even –for the first time — a few minutes late due to inner resistance, but–about half way through, I was SO glad I went. (Again, much like the gym.)
Anyway, the workshop is based on the work of Viola Spolin. Wikipedia describes her as “an important innovator in 20th century American theater for creating directorial techniques to help actors to be focused in the present moment and to find choices improvisationally, as if in real life.” Her son went on to found the company that led to Second City in Chicago, but Spolin’s theater games are not satirical like Second City type improv–which is, for me, appealing.
Basically we come to the space and do a directed form of play. Sometimes it’s just word games, and sometimes it’s a kind of scene work where you interact with the other players and / or the environment in a defined way — like, “you can only speak to someone if you first touch that person.” This forces you to devise motivations to touch people — maybe patting a shoulder, but maybe in the course of handing them an (imaginary) object, or swatting a fly. It makes you more conservative with words and more adventurous with finding ways to connect and communicate. Once you “get it,” the awareness is seldom new — it’s more like I knew and needed reminding. We then often do a related free-write, and take that newly refreshed awareness into the writing exercise.
I feel like I’m not explaining it to well, which makes sense, since it is something best understood through experience over time –my eight week course would be just the tip of an iceberg– and the task of putting it into words inspired at least seven books by Spolin.
I was not aware of Spolin until last year (although I have a suspicion that I was exposed to her techniques through a movement-for-theater professor back in college) when I need to hold a rehearsal for actors, and went looking on the bookshelves for some warm-ups. That is how I ran across what I assume is her best known book: Improvisation for the Theater.
What I found in the book was helpful for my short-lived actor work, so when I saw the workshop, it seemed like a little bit of synchronicity. I think it has been.
Here’s a website and video I randomly found online, and haven’t had time to really check out yet, but it seems good: