Intimacy & Impro

Also available in French translation

This blog's musings comes from a fb post about intimacy in improvisation.  A subject that seems to be, excuse the pun, a touchy subject for some companies.

As improvisers we are trained in looking after our partner.  We are working in a space of shared trust and respect.  We develop the skills of connection, acceptance, listening.  We are trained to value, play and create together by inspiring and delighting each other and responding to each others offers in the shared moment.  With all of this work on trust, value and acceptance, why is intimacy hard?

Improvisers with guns will stand close to each other, improvisers in love are as far apart as they can get on stage. Why?

I know that some believe that it is a result of people feeling awkward about touching each other  or it is to respect boundaries  Ok, then why do we have comfort in climbing on each other, pushing each other, coming out of someone's groin in a birth scene, or humping someone's leg? Surely these cross bigger respect lines then holding hands, brushing hair gently out someone's face or cuddling on a couch.

Some say it is the intensity of the emotion. Yet I see people yell with far greater intensity. Why is anger and aggression safe and tenderness and love difficult?

If we are really building a group that trusts then this should not be an issue.  So it puts to the question 'Are our words our work." do we practice what we preach?  Many teachers are quoting great slogans but are we putting the slogan into application.

If we are really looking after our partners and aware of our partner we should be able to pick up on their cues of comfort and discomfort and this should guide us in our moment to moment choices.  Their response to my offer is an offer in itself.  If I find myself blocking my impulses because I do not want to offend, there is a lack of trust and fear.  We fear that our partner will misinterpret our actions and be offended.  We should trust that our partner knows that an offer made is for the scene and not with any personal intent.  If my character calls your character a name, which is relevant in the scene, it is not me having a dig at you. Similarly if I you'd you it doesn't mean I am attracted to you.

We can de-bowel an alien together.  I can make a deal with the Devil or play Hitler.  I could stab, shoot or punch or choke you to death.  I could vomit on you, steal your boyfriend, abandon you on an island.  All of this is acceptable and unquestioned behaviour.  But if I kiss you then I may be crossing a line.  Hmmm.  So we are comfortable playing violence and don't question it as acceptable material yet love, affection and sexual behaviour is questionable and awkward.  Wow.  What does that say?

Why are we so afraid of revealing anything. This is a major block in improvisation.  It prevents people from doing any form of real relationship work be it love or family.  It prevents any work on social situations, global issues, or anything that reveals a point of view or contains morality. In other words, the really interesting story material.

My worry is that there is so much impro training focusing on the verbal punch that we are missing out on what improvisation is.  I'm not advocating anti-comedy, not at all.  I'm advocating pro-listening, pro-valuing, pro-connection.  Our credo of Make Your Partner Look Good, Acceptance, Yes And have all become disposable values in the quest for the self glory laugh and audience appreciation.  We whore ourselves and betray our partners.

Does that sound a bit harsh?  Well, perhaps but it is what I believe and what I see happening.  Look at the numberous YouTube clips that are out there.  Listen to what people are saying on stage.  What is being defended with the weak excuse 'come on, it's just a joke'.  I was horrified watching one American company who had 5 guys and 1 gal in the troupe.  In one scene the guys were watching the football game she was just ordered to get beer and when it wasn't cold enough she was told to do the sorry sexy dance.  In another scene her boss hit her.  In another scene she was the prude while a guy in a bad wig was the desirable girl who knew how 'to do it right'. Why would she would trust any of those guys to touch her In an intimate and gentle way. Let alone Kiss her or start to make out with her. There is nothing in their actions that show any awareness of her or respect for her as a fellow improviser.  There is no trust, there is survival.

Perhaps our questions about intimacy are just showing a deeper problem.  One that lives in the mentality that the laugh is everything at all cost.

So maybe this simply comes down to respect and trust.

How much do you honestly trust your group?

How comfortable are you with on stage intimacy?


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