Wednesday, 21 May 2014

My history of Improv before I started doing Improv

I did GCSE drama. It was a bit improv-y because most of the things we did were devised scenes which were generally improvised to start with and then we'd decide what worked what didn't and do them again until they got better. But we had no formal instruction, and what often inside was heavily dictated by a member of the group determined to make some point about human rights or something, which often seemed to make for 'powerful' scenes with no sense of fun. Apart from the occasional scripted amateur play, I abandoned drama until I went to university.

In the Uni Drama society we had a couple of members over the years who had clearly had some, but minimal, experience of improv, and it was basically used as a way to fill our twice weekly meetings without having to plan anything. We would try and emulate the games we had seen on Whose Line is it Anyway, with a few different games taught to us by other members.

Two spring to mind that I've never played since; Park Bench, where the setting is always a park and the goal of the game is to sit down next to whoever is sat there and get them to leave somehow; and Hitch-hike, where the setting is always a car and the person in the driver's seat dictates the reality of the scene.

We also played many of the popular warm up games, and in fact these were so popular that, much to my frustration, the warm up games often became the focus of a session and we wouldn't actually get to do any actual acting. But it wasn't surprising that many members of the group didn't enjoy the improv games, because we'd never had any formal training.

Nobody had ever told us not to block. This led to several funny at first, tiresome very quickly, scenes of people saying they're doing something and then the rest of the characters in the scene not going with the reality and just deciding that they're just a crazy person.

"I'm playing the trombone"
"no you're not, you're just waving your arms and singing"

You can eventually learn that blocking is a bad thing for a scene, although it takes a long time to figure out if nobody tells you.

Nobody had ever told us "yes and". And everyone always felt that the character they played was a representation of them. There was a refusal to play a character that would do something that you wouldn't, most notably with the girls whenever it hinted at anything sexual.

"So all we need you to do Candy, is burst out of the cake, sing happy birthday, take all your clothes off and do a sexy dance"
"There must be some mistake - I'm not a stripper"

Four years of that. And in hindsight I hardly learnt anything! When I did start learning improv properly it all seemed so much more awesome...

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