The We Want Information workshops take place every Monday.
We have been exploring different Impro forms, including Harold, slacker, improvathon, rooms in a building, ten titles and basic shortform.
But most recently we have been trying an experiment. This comes from when I began doing Impro and I noticed that scenes in workshops were often so much better than scenes in shows. Apart from the obvious fact that there was less pressure, which counts for a great deal, what could make the difference? Well, perhaps the fact that in a workshop there is a single theme, generally a single instruction on which you are focused.
This was corroborated by an observation I read on a website, that on a show, the trick was to choose one Impro instruction and follow that. E.g. endow.
So I tried out an experiment I had always had at the back of my mind. I wrote down an instruction for each person, specific to their own needs, on a piece of paper, and gave it to them outside the room where we meet. One instruction was “Change your voice and physicality”.
The effect was liberating. It led to moments of genius.
The following week I arrived with 78 slips, all printed out. We were doing ten or fifteen minute groups of scenes, and for each group of scenes everyone chose a slip at random. Afterwards we revealed what our slips had been.
The slips were a mixture. Some were conventional pieces of impro wisdom, such as “be changed by the other person’s offer” or “move before speaking”. Some were gamey, eg “Be a character from a soap”, “Make your first offer in each scene a block”. And some were random: “Keep looking around for something you have lost”,”Be secretly sad”,”Do nothing at all to help the scene”.
Why did they work?
Partly, I think, because when improvising we cannot carry more than one instruction in our heads. And at a certain level any instruction will do.
Partly because if you forget the instruction, that means you are fully immersed in the scene, which is where you want to be.
And partly because the improviser feels they are obliged to follow the instruction, ie they didn’t invent it for themselves.
By default I don’t give instructions at the start of a workshop. I prefer to leave things open. But this experiment shows that one instruction, even a loopy one like ‘Keep changing which direction you are facing’, can be quite liberating.