Well it turns out I still suck at improv. I tried the drop in class last night, and came out with two conclusions: Firstly, yes, I am terrible on the fly. Secondly, I really want to get better. Make no mistake, I had fun, but it was difficult and I spent the class oscillating between joy and panic. We played a couple of games under the guidance of our teacher as she fed us small snippets of advice. Good ones too that seemed simple but didn’t feel instinctive. The idea that your goal is to make your partners look good. The idea of establishing a who/what/where/why when entering a scene. The idea that it’s best to grasp for simple concepts, that it’s not about trying to be funny but instead aiming to make the scene work. To start low tension in order to have headroom. All excellent advice that I forgot in the heat of the moment. Even without stakes, it felt like there were and I shrunk from my first thoughts, slowing my process.
First and foremost, I’m too far in my head. For some reason in everyday conversation I’m fine pulling out all kinds of bollocks, but when there’s an audience I get embarrassed. Even if it’s an audience of friends or classmates. My first thought pops up and I quash it. At least five times I had an idea or word pop into my head. I started thinking about how everyone would respond to it, what they’d extrapolate about me for thinking that way. Whether it’d lead to me being gradually ostracised (seriously. Can’t help how my brain works) and I’d shy away from it, scrabbling for something else. Then another classmate would say the word I’d be thinking of and it worked well. Another issue is freezing up merely by being on the spot. Having to think of a profession or activity seems monstrously difficult, when I know I’d be able to do it without strife in a normal, carefree environment. Then when I do have thoughts, they stay super linear, being terrified to stray from a safe path.
The games were neat. We played one called Convergence where two people count “one, two, three…” and say the words in their head. The goal from then on is to find the word “in the middle” of those two words. Everyone’s working together to move towards this “convergence”. After two people say the words they thought were in the middle, those become the next round’s words in which to find the middle word..It doesn’t have to be literal (after my brain told me the middle word between a chair and a snake was a body pillow), a general concept is fine. It’s incredibly fun and goddamn rewarding when it finally comes together.
We did the classic Word at a Time, where you tell a story one word at a time. I found this challenging. Not difficult to come up with words, but difficult not to try and lead sentences in a particular direction I had in my head. It’s not like my partner would be on the same wavelength. Because of this, both times I played my partner and my story went nowhere. Zero narrative. It was fun, but challenging. Our last game was to start doing some kind of action. Then our partner would come in and establish who we were, what the situation was and we’d put together a short (under a minute) scene. Then we’d swap around and our partner would come up with the action. I remember seeing others perform and having thoughts like oh, a gym? That’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that? I’d criticise myself for thoughts before and after putting them out there, just a cacophony of negative self-talk. It’s tough to move past but getting there would do wonders for me.
After the class finished (and at 45 minutes, it sped by) I immediately wanted to go back and improve. I started trying to work out when I could next return. There’s this combination of terror and excitement and I feel impatient to come out the other end.