Sweeping Away the Cobwebs

I’ve been interested for a while in the role of rehearsal in improvisation performance.

In my role as editor of FringeReview, I get to see and review a lot of live improv performance and to talk to those performers and companies about their work. Most improvisers rehearse!

That might seem a bit strange to some. Of course, they don’t rehearse their content – they “warm up”, get into the “zone”, get into a flow state in order to hit the ground running when they are live on stage.

There are a lot of different ways to get into that flow state. One of the reasons to warm up in improv is to clear out the cobwebs. Early in the warm up process, as we play a few warm up games and activities, our UN-originality, our clichés come to the surface. It is as if we a rusty, as if we are blowing the dust off our previous day. If improv is a regular activity, what comes to the surface are the payoff lines, phrases and actions from previous shows.

It’s like decluttering our inner stage so we really do have a fresh, empty space to work on. Not all of those past patterns disappear, but we “put them away”, we “place” them back into the pool of possibility. We might well draw from that pool again, and some of our past ideas might bubble or erupt to the surface again – but they will be as new, fresh, and part of our authentic spontaneity.

Improv warm ups can clear out that clutter and clear the air at the same time. Music is good, as are quickfire movement and word play exercises. In a way, “warm-up” only describes part of it. it is also “clearing” that happens.

I also like activities that really do focus on that clearing process. Speaking gibberish can be good, as can fast word association. We can also do quite the opposite and do some calm mindfulness, some quiet visualisation, focusing on letting go, allowing things to pass away. An exercise called the Backwards Review is also a useful way of “undoing the knots” of previous patterns by reviewing the previous activity in reverse order. I think this works because we put the past (what went before) “before us”. It is another gentle clearing exercise.

Improvisation – the blank canvas, the space for “whatever” – we warm up in order to clear for the new.

Comments welcome

Paul levy

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