The Essence of Improvisation

Is spontaneity a moment? Or does the spontaneous “event” actually occur outside time?

Is spontaneity a split-second conscious “in the moment” decision or is it something that cannot be conscious but surprises us “in the moment”?
Does an in-the-moment spontaneous act, compared to a split-second pre-the-moment decision to act make ALL the difference in terms of quality of improvisation?
I think many improvisers confuse momentary pre-deciding before an act (which may take place just half a second before the “improvised act”) with real improvisation. Improvisation has to be in-the-moment – we have to be operating in the moment, in real time, able to decide “in the breath” not “before the breath” for pure improvising to be happening. The ego which needs to know in advance, always destroys the improvisational moment…
Or does it? Does the ongoing one-second-in-advance planning process create a sense of self-assuredness, self-confidence, aiding FLOW, facilitating ourselves to “let go” into the moment. Then moments of pure improvisational genius “arise” here and there, from a pool of self-confident planned play?
I found a lot of the improvisation-based performance at various theatre festivals this year to be a bit too planned. There was a sense that the improvisational anchors being used were a bit too heavy and dug into the bed of the Sea of Spontaneity just that bit too deep. There was a sense of the improvisation being of the “one-second-ahead-but-still-planned” kind. It’s very easy to confuse the comfort zone of a split second’s planning with the real danger and electric thrill of the in-the-moment kind where the improviser is actually riding on the roller-coaster of their own UN-planned spontaneity.
Some would say this is not possible. We are always thinking ahead. I am not so sure. To be, as C.S.Lewis puts it, “surprised by joy” is quite possible. It involves a genuine “letting go.” Here I think Winston Churchill’s quote, “The best way to keep power is to give it away” comes into its own. We have to give ourselves up to the moment – it’s an authentic surrender to the whatever, where we have to trust to our emergent wits, which we are NOT in control of in a “clever” way, in a pre-fixed, pre-intentional way. Our cleverness and whether an idea “works” or not, is based more on instinctive skills, trust in ourselves, and an ability and a will not not take hold of the split second “before”, but to let the present envelop us.
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One thought on “The Essence of Improvisation

  1. Your words a wonderful. It is clear that you have discovered “something” through improvisation that you want to share. I know this addiction.

    I have been around for a few years, and the muse of improvisation has determined the steps of my life – it so good to know that we are not alone.

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