Don't do your best.

From Impro Inspirations Newsletter – March 29, 2019

"Funny how some people look at their children and go, do your best. And other parents go, that’s not good enough I’m sure you can do better. Hard to argue either side. One side leaves the question, have you really done your best? And the other side leaves the question of, are you pushing too hard. Thoughts?"

A friend wrote the above question on Facebook aimed at parents.

It caught my attention because both approaches are focused on result.
One with expectation 'do your best'.
One with judgement 'have you really done your best?'.

This relates quite strongly to the language I hear around our own improvisation work.  I hear this in rehearsals and workshops, so much focus on the end result.

Of course there is an end result but are you creating for the end result or for the possibilities of what you can create?

Simply put it is the difference between end goal rehearsal and process based rehearsal.

A process based rehearsal has concepts and ideas, explorations, discoveries and failures. You start with a seed, not knowing what plant will grow. You encounter problems, find solutions through exploring ideas. It isn't easy, but I find it stimulating.

I was co-directing a show in Leuven, Belgium with Felipe Ortiz called This Is A Pipe, based on the artist René Magritte. We decided to start the rehearsals by exploring exercises. We did not define the show for the cast, did not give end objectives, did not lay out the plan. We had some ideas and we wanted to see what would be created if the cast was simply exploring the ideas without an end goal.  It was exciting and it was hard.  One cast member spoke openly about discomfort and fears to the cast (so nice and refreshing to have such honesty), we had a cast member feeling a great deal of anxiety and doubt and another who stepped out of the show.  All of which is absolutely fine. A creative process is not easy, it is not an absolute, it has inherent risks in it meaning it could fail. Which is exactly why we should embrace it!!!
An end goal your process is quite different because it is all about completion and delivery. As a result you deny yourself the opportunity to explore, question and challenge the content and presentation freely. You deny yourself the creative process in all it's fun and awkwardness. You deny yourself risk and create a false safety by feeling you can control results. When you end goal you are running a formed idea for people to learn and deliver. You are not exploring you are reproducing. 

This explains why their are so many cookie cutter impro shows happening all over the world.

Recently some of us Loose Moosers have been talking about the early days of Theatresports. It was great to be reminded of how the components of the show's format came out of solving problems.

Frank Totino shared
"The origin of judges and scoring came from Figure Skating and gymnastics. We had just been inundated with the Olympics from Montreal, so those images made sense for Theatresports. Not referees, or umpires, but judges holding up scoring cards. The Horn came about because we couldn't figure out how to hook a whole team off stage at once. Theatresports developed because we tried things out, and when there were problems and failures, we tried something else till it began to work consistently."  

The creation of Theatresports was through process rehearsal. 

A process focused rehearsal creates a team mentality at looking at what you are creating, how you are creating it, what is the objective and how do we solve the problems along the way to make it happen.  Even in performance your mental focus will be on what is happening, not am I doing it right.

If you are focused on end goal you are in a different headspace during rehearsal and performance. You are looking for a right and a wrong, a clearly defined ‘here is what to do.’

I believe this also explains why some people and groups have a difficult time with notes.

Process rehearsals work in solving problems together as a team so notes are necessary as it is input of information to help understand if we solved the problems or we need to try new approaches.

End goal rehearsals work in identifying what you should and should not do in a very right and wrong mentality. It creates more individual and less team focus. Notes in this context feel negative because we are looking to be valued for getting it right and notes feel like expectation and judgement and more personal.

My friend’s original questions comes from end goal;

  • One side leaves the question, have you really done your best?

  • And the other side leaves the question of, are you pushing too hard.

I think we should be thinking from process and ask;

  • What have you learned or what are you learning from the process?’

  • ‘What can you change or do to improve?’

What do you want your players to be thinking about their work and the show?

Side note about This Is A Pipe. Here is a video of Felipe and myself talking about the process and one about the audience response.

All content copyright © pattistiles