I designed this blog to invite people interested in improvised performing arts into my universe.
All blogs should be seen as both a dialogue space and an advertisement for me as a host of workshops.
(the following is my take on what the term “Platform” covers in improvised theater.)
The platform is theoretically and in practise what the scene that is about to be created is built on.
Everything that appears to the audience from the moment the light comes on stage and what happens afterwards that forms the contours of relationships is considered the platform for the coming scene.
How are the improvisers placed in the room, are there signs of what location it takes place in, are there signs of the relationship between the characters on stage, are gestures made or something said in the first moments?
All these actions, however small they may be, construct the platform on which the coming scene is to be built.
And it is now up to the improvisers to let the platform prompt them to the following actions.
A new platform arises when a relationship changes. The change in the relationship may be between persons, a person and an object, the weather may change, or a fire may occur.
Now, this new platform must prompt the improvisers until another new platform emerges.
In his book “Flow: The Psychology of Happiness” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyiwrites about a state of being he calls Flow.
This is a state of being where you are completely engulfed in the action you are doing.
Such as when you play a role in a written and staged theater performance, you must be completely engulfed in the person you are portraying, or the illusion does not seem credible and truthful.
Whereas when you improvise, you must ride on the flow, just as a surfer.
The surfer reads the strength and direction of the waves, and then uses the information he has received by reading the waves to choose which learned techniques he needs to move forward in his athletic narrative.
In the same way that the surfer reads the waves, as a theatre- improviser, one must read the waves of actions, words, and gestures. Everything that has happened, and then has the skills to choose the technique or game needed to forward the narrative at that moment.
My experience shows me that I prevent myself from accessing my theatre instinct when I permit myself to be engulfed in the flow that is described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Anton Chekov is one of my favourite authors of short stories.
His way of describing situations, persons, ambiances, and the core of the situation is remarkable detailed and wonderful.
And to me as an improviser and host of workshops, these descriptions are very useful.
Why, I will try to explain why.
There is a tendency amongst improvisers to spontaneously respond with something verbal, instead using the powerful tool of nonverbal communication.
I refer to Chekhov’s works to encourage improvisers to find other ways to react than verbally in improvised theatre. I suggest that improvisers read some of his short stories and, now this is important while reading that they notice the places where Chekov describes the progression of the narrative by the physical actions of the persons in the scene. The way Chekov uses these descriptions creates depth and form to the imagery of the readers, and he also uses this technique to create suspension and drama.
I am thinking, why don´t improvisers implement this technique in their way of expression on stage, working with this technique will give depth and character to both the person they are portraying and the scenes they are part of, and the theatrical narration will obtain another dimension.
An example? Read it, be inspired, and then improvise the tramps actions.
Here is the end of Chekov´s short story “Dreams”.
The tramp blinks, and little drops stand out upon his brow. He wipes his forehead with the sleeve, draws a deep breath as if he had just jumped out of a hot oven, wipes his forehead with the other sleeve, and glances fearfully behind him.
“It is quite true that you could never get there.” Ptaka assents.
“You are not a walker! Look at yourself-all skin and bone! It would kill you, brother.”
“Of course, it would kill him; he couldn´t possibly do it.” Declares Nikander. “He´ll be sent straight to the hospital, anyway, as it is. That´s a fact!”
The nameless wanderer looks with terror at the stern, impassive faces of his evil-boding fellow travellers, lowering his eyes, he rapidly crosses himself without taking off his cap. He is trembling all over, his head is shaking, and he beginning to writhe like a caterpillar that someone has stepped on.
“Come on! Time to go!” Cries Nikander rising.” We have rested long enough!”
Another minute and the travellers are plodding along the muddy road. The tramp is stopping more than before and has thrust his hands still deeper into the sleeves of his coat. Ptaka is silent.
SHH “I love the characteristics of A. Chekov´s short stories and love to transfer them to improvised theater!”
Here is a description:
What are some characteristics of Anton Chekhov’s short stories?
Often described as ambiguous, lyrical, bizarre, humorous, and even haunting, Anton Chekhov’s works cover a broad spectrum of human emotion and spirit. A Chekhovian short story or play points to — but refuses to open — the cupboard where the skeleton is concealed; rather, secrets are slowly revealed.6. okt. 2016
This is a way of creating characters that have emerged from experimental work with Yves Lebreton, partly at Statens Teater Skole in Copenhagen and later in Paris. It must be said that if I had not met Keith and his thoughts on creating through improvisation, we probably would not have found this way to create characters.
This is how it works for me, let me start with an Artefact.
I take a random Artefact, for example a tin can; I have a look at it, and now I describe it ……
“It is in the shape of a cylinder, round, and higher than broad, it is empty but has a hard surface, it is shiny, and it is labeled, “Chickpeas in Water.”
Now I let my imagination react to this description; what does it envision?
It envisions a man with a slightly round belly but taller than he is round. Inspired by the images the imagination gives me, I now shape my body.
I straighten the spine, and get a feeling of being taller, relax the abdominal muscles a bit and get a round feeling.
Basically, I now “possess” the body of a person.
What about character?
Well, the description says:” … is empty but has a hard surface, it is shiny, and it is labeled, “Chickpeas in Water.”
I now use my imagination in interaction with my actor-instinct (1), to open the possibility of pretending to be a person whose character is being shallow but pretentious and believing that he has something nutritious to bring to the table.
I have now created a foundation on which I can build, a foundation which consists of a physical attitude as well as a mental attitude with which I can meet the circumstances of the moment in question.
And basically, I can create characters using the same technique from a costume or a prop.
I have a look, make a description, and let my body and actor-instinct be inspired in a way that makes me able to “pretend” to be a character.
I believe that the two following descriptions will give me enough information (2) to create the founding elements of a character using this technique.
The hat is in dark soft material, has a narrow and yellow ribbon, it is worn, it has personality, is old-fashioned, and looks a bit whimsical, as if was full of humor.
The Book is square, has a hardcover, it is old and worn, filled with explanations, stories, adventures, and knowledge, and exotic pictures.
(1) Actor-Instinct: Is my expression that denotes the abilities and skills one has acquired by having worked sufficiently with various acting techniques and practices so that one’s socialized ego steps aside for one’s creative self.
(2) Enough information: This is a term I often use; I would ask: “Do you have enough?”, By this I mean did you receive enough information from this to start the work of creating a character or whatever you are in the process of establishing?
Perhaps it is essential to say that the ability of my body to react instinctively to the gifts of my imagination is due to the training I had in l´atelier de Mr. Etienne Decroux (Expression Corporelle) in Paris and later followed up by the work we did in Théâtre de l. ‘Arbre led by Yves Lebreton.
Work in the studio
The studio is an environment of training, maintenance and enhancing of known skills and techniques.
It is also the space where you are exploring and discovering new ways of working.
According to what you want to express on stage and how you want to express it.
And it is the space where you work on stuff that didn´t work out the way that was intended last time you were on stage. You bring the experiences from your work on stage into the studio to adjust, add new ways, and decide, try out, and prepare what you will use next time on stage.
The Studio is the place where you prepare yourself to be unprepared.
When you are describing a character or working in other ways to establish/create a character, you must be attentive to your body and register the moment of The Buzz in your body.
I am sure that you know what I am talking about when I say buzz; it is like any other moment in our life when hormones are released, set in, and affect your mood.
But when does these moments happen and what triggers them?
To me it can be the way I put on a hat, how I pour the coffee, the way I hold my hands behind my back, the glance I cast at her smile. These are physical and bodily triggers.
There are also triggers to observe in the way we are thinking.
I might think:” What a jerk!”, in some moment as a reaction to something said or done, simultaneously I sense a Buzz in my body.
With the proper training in the studio, I can learn how to transform the kernel of this Buzz intothe credo of the person I am portraying, the way he is looking at the world and what is going on in it.
Or I can use that kernel to get information on how the character I am playing is endowing another character with the characteristic of being a jerk in any situation.
It is more than likely that the person I am playing has different Buzzes to other characters he meets on stage. And I am certain that when you listen you will be surprised by the multitude and variations of Buzzes you will experience in the studio and on stage.
When a buzz happens work on sustaining it and find ways to nurture it.
The next level is to remember the buzz and finding your own ways to recall and reactivate it, so that you have a stable foundation to establish a character on,
You must be aware that there is a humongous multitude of all kinds of buzz you can experience, and hence there are all kinds of creatures, angels, power-freaks, insects, mountains, all sorts of beings that can be based on a Buzz.
I think working with this approach to working with characters calls for a lot of exploration and finding in the studio.
This approach to working with character, I have worked with when I hosted workshops on theatre improvisation (drama / humour) and clown workshops.
And I would enjoy hosting a workshop on this in your studio.
I find a humongous and very distinct difference between working in the studio and performing on stage.
My performing in the studio is mainly about maintaining know skills and techniques, and experimenting, exploring, working on finding new ways to perform/act according to needs and intents.
I really want to be able to juggle more with words and ways of saying things, how can I train that, where could I get inspired?
Or in performing this didn´t really work how can I find ways to make it work?
These are questions I like to ask and find solutions to in the studio.
Being on the stage is about something quite different; on stage, my performance has another purpose.
My purpose of appearing on the stage is to use all the techniques and skills I have found and practised in the studio to tell relevant stories.
That might be a horrible story about trafficking or a sentimental romance between two lonely cows.
By nature, we people avoid being in or witness awkward moments and situations.
But as improvisers creating theatre we must go into the studio to train, explore and find ways to play villains, assholes, and other kinds of people who behave in unusual and not ethical ways. We need this kind of portraits when we want the stage to be a place where we expose the realities that are lurking in the cracks of society and show how the whole masquerade is run.
Often you will hear actors say that they find greater pleasure in playing the villain than the nice person.
I think we improvisers should be inspired by those actors and teach ourselves to find the joy in playing this kind of characters and make it a delight to perform awkward moment.
This could be a theme in a workshop I would love to host.
When I look at my life, it resembles an ever-going chain of changes.
In one moment, I am hungry, the next I am a bit annoyed “The bus is late again”, then a warm sunbeam hits my face and I smile, later I have an interesting conversation with a colleague, then someone tells a joke and I laugh heartly, my phone vibrates in my pocket, “Hello”, a friend is crying “My mother passed this morning, can we meet?”
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
To me improvised scenes should also be “chains of changes”, as improvisers on stage we must be willing to stimulate the spectators by letting the people we portray have a variety of emotional, intentional, and attitude changes.
And I suggest that this kind of flexibility in the way we act and respond on stage should be trained, experimented with, and discovered in the studio.
I think we should find new ways of performing in the studio, and then improvise with these new skills on stage.
Find new ways, stay curious, explore, and create.
Sorry I have to leave the kettle is calling, hot water – tea-time.
You must learn how to say No in a benevolent and inspirational way
This way of thinking, acting, and responding is closely connected to and in the same spirit as the joy and playfulness, we are aiming for in the different games and exercises of giving and receiving gifts.
When the other says No to a proposal, I, as an improviser, should see it as a gift; the other is offering me a possibility to play; when I say Yes to No, I will make it an important piece in the puzzle that will bring life to the narrative that is about to emerge.
I must learn how to aloud the No to be a stepping-stone that will lead the way into the unknown. I must train myself to treat No´s with the same compassion and benevolence as I do when I receive a Yes.
As an improviser, I don’t embrace failure; I accept it didn´t work; it was a no-go.
What I do in those moments?
I tell you.
Either concrete or mentally, depending on the circumstances
I put my hands in the air with a smile on my face and with and with a grateful and joyful tone to my voice, I say: “AGAIN!”
Thus, as an improviser, I say yes to the no and let my imagination tell me where to go now.