Impro Rules, what the???

I’m pondering again....

It is natural when one is pondering something to try and look at it from different angles.  The latest thing to do flip flops in my trampoline mind is the idea of rules in improvisation.

I have heard time and time again people argue about the rules of impro and the usefulness of them.  My ears perk up and go Vulcan like when people speak about the Keith Johnstone rules.  So it has taken me a long time to actual click with this because, I guess, it was such an obvious to me but what rules?  In all my time working with Keith, teaching at the same events with Keith, directing next to Keith, and working at the Loose Moose theatre I don’t ever recall a set of rules.  I don’t remember any rules being spoken of in notes after a show, or Keith telling me I broke a rule.  I do remember him telling me I need to make more mistakes.  So, again I ask, what rules?

This is another obvious example of how Keith’s work has been misinterpreted and misrepresented.  Because Theatresports™ has a sports structure and at some point someone may of said ‘the rules of the game are’ to an audience, suddenly there are rules.  That is simply not true. 

I also think that inexperienced, or unaware, or simply bad impro teachers create rules so they can have a sense of control in the work.  There have been many ‘rules’ quoted to me that are bandaid solutions to try and improve improvisation without understanding the cause of why people step into certain impro traps.

There are observations, and discoveries of human behaviour in regards to theatre, improvisation, spontaneity and being in front of an audience.  With this experimentation we have learned there are common behaviours.  These behaviours have been named, creating a terminology, so we can identify and learn.  This terminology is always evolving as are improvisers.  There are exercises (games) developed to help train improvisers.  Good exercises are working towards enhancing or correcting human behaviours depending on their impact in allowing the improviser to be present and available to the spontaneous moment without fear, or creative censorship.  Some of these exercises will have a structure, but this is not a rule, it is a how to do this exercise to reach it’s desired result.

It baffles me that people think that Keith would be so restrictive.  If you read impro then how can you endow him as rule master.  The man who speaks out against the confining structure of our education system is going to set rules of learning? 

People crave a right and wrong.  They want some balance point, a comparison post to be able to know if they are doing it right.  What is right?  My right is going to be different from other peoples.  I’ll express my point of view with passion because I am passionate about the work.  I’ll have an opinion about what you express, and I may or may not agree.  But, I believe deeply that everyone has the right (dare I say duty) to question, explore, develop and learn what type of work they want to create.  I learned this from Keith.  Keith doesn’t give a universal right and wrong he gives his opinion about what he thinks works and doesn’t work to develop improvisation and story.  Of course he thinks he is right, everyone thinks their opinion is right.  Keith would frequently say ‘Question everything’, he would time and time again encourage us to explore our idea or concept at the Moose to see what we could learn or discover.  We would often do things I am sure he shook his head at and wondered why we would bother, but never stopped us from trying. 

The only rules I am aware of are rules like ‘never say no’, ‘never ask questions’ and these are not from Keith or Loose Moose.  From what I understand these come out of Chicago.  I’m not sure if they are Del Close statements (which I doubt), or students of Del’s or students of students of. 

Rules confine and define.  Rules start establishing a right and wrong, a good and bad.  Creativity does not work within these guidelines.  That is why so many drama programs at schools are in such a horrible mess.

If you need a rule to hold onto then it should be Make Your Partner look good.  Because without that trust in each other we have no place to start from.  The rest?  Well, that is up to all of us to explore.


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