Agendas in impro

One day in an improvisation class I began toying with an exercise having one person play the worlds worst improvisor and the other play good improvisor.  It was a extremely useful exercise and has provided many interesting results.  For those who don’t know the exercise I will go into it another time, right now I am buzzing on another thought.

You see, lately I have noticed something new emerge out of the exercise.

I ask everyone to partner up and provide the directions I stated before.  You would think if half the room was asked to be the worlds worstimproviser the room would be filled with mayhem.

It isn’t. 

Interestingly enough you have most people actually looking at each other and listening to each other.  Perhaps verbally they are attempting to block but this is not the worlds worstimpro.  I have seen people who claim to be experienced improvisation performers (and teachers) who are attempting to perform an improvisation show who are far worse. I’ve seen people who are manic, yelling over top of each other, or physically banging into each other with no awareness as to the other improvisers position.  I’ve seen improvisers pretending to be pigeons and shitting on each other (when the scene was in doors and there was no justification for the pigeon except the player wanted to be on stage).  I’ve seen improvisers be aggressive, demeaning, abusive, and violent.  I’ve also been in conversations where this workwas defended by being character driven, edgy and in the moment.  It wasn’t, I was in the audience and it was self indulgent crap fuelled by fear, panic and disconnection. 

So, I ask these questions.

Why when asked to perform using the skills of acceptance, communication and inspired creation do improvisers sometimes become horrible human beings?  and, Why when asked to be the worlds worst improviser do they suddenly look like calm, listening, connected improvisers?

Its obvious it relates to agenda.  In my exercise both improvisers have an agenda, something they must do to do it right.  In order for them both to achieve their goal they actually must listen to the other person.  How will I know what to block if I don’t listen?  When let loose on stage to perform, the agenda changes from skills to product.  It then becomes the spotlight, joke, gag, laugh, self.  All that has been taught, and oft times quoted is dumped for the agenda of getting it right and being funny.

It simply isn’t good enough to learn improvisation and then turn the teachings into t-shirt slogans.  We actually have to apply it all the time.  Otherwise, what is the point?  We can’t give into the fear of failure grabbing us and altering our work.

As Rumi said ‘Don’t move the way fear moves you’.


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