Focus of the month
Every beginning of the month we examine one aspect of the big theme "improv", to insprire both instructors and participants.
About Audience Suggestions
written by Urban Luig
Many improv theatre fans remain faithful audience members, because they can make suggestions and thus have an influence on what's happening on stage. This is a central element of our theatre form. Audience suggestions have an immense impact on the whole show, so it's important to have a focus on this subject.
Any fan of improv theatre, who believes that his or her suggestions will decisively influence the evening, shouldn't read further. For this is not the case.
Sure, if the improvisor turns to the audience, saying: »Ok, my wife just told me that she's been having an affair with my best friend for years. So how do I react?« and the answer is »Get horny!«, there will be laughter in the audience. And if the improvisors are able to bring this somehow into the scene, it can be amusing.
However, the responsibilty for the whole evening is always with the actors onstage. After a rotten show I often hear backstage-remarks such as »...but these suggestions were really so awful!« Indeed, there can be the great and inspiring audience, which you just love to play for – and there can be the annoying audience, which makes it more difficult to get to good scenes. It can be hard work to have a satisfying show for these folks, but that's just work you have to do, you can't blame the audience for a bad evening.
»Horny!« »Toilet!« »Homosexual!« are classic audience suggestions.
Advanced improvisors often hear the advice: »why not accept the toilet-suggestion?« After all, as with all suggestions, there are a million ways to improvise a great scene, which takes place at a toilet.
With these »funny« suggestions, the important thing is how you handle your first impulse. Improvisors should sharpen their senses on how they react to annoying suggestions. It often happens, that an improvisor gets into a bad mood because of such a suggestion and with this kind of mood he starts the scene, which will consequently be a bad one.
It's of uttermost importance, that you feel inspired by a suggestion, no matter how! At best you really do want to play a fairytale entitled »The Golden Squirrel« and have an inspiration for the beginning of the story. Or you enjoy to accept the challenge and just start improvising, not yet knowing where the journey could go to with such a title. After all, you are not alone onstage! So you should build a sense of how inspired your colleagues are.
Unfortunately, there a quite a few MCs, who lack this sense. The MC asks for a genre, hears the suggestion »Woody Allen« and happily takes it, because he is a huge fan and knows all Woody Allen movies by heart. Unfortunately, none of the players do. They silently have to watch the MC counting in the scene, because HE is so inspired. But HE doesn't have to play the scene! So you shouldn't hesitate to charmingly signalize to the MC, that you feel absolutely uninspired by that suggestion. For chances are that you would improvise a rotten scene, and rotten scenes are the last thing we want to see.
99% of the audience wants to see strong scenes. It often happened, that after a suggestion like »The Golden Squirrel« a wonderful fairy tale was improvised from the beginning to the end. Everyone was enthusiastic, but suddenly someone noticed that there was no squirrel in it, not to speak of a golden one. This will usually lead to a good laugh, but it doesn't lessen the quality of the evening.
As the audience, you do want to see how the actors deal with a suggestion. A lot of the specific magic and humor of improv theatre comes from this mechanism. (Which is probably the reason why »Game Shows« usually find larger audiences than »Long Form Shows« - there are more opportunities for the audience to make suggestions). And it can lead to nice gags – however, this is only the »spice« of the evening. The »meat« are strong characters, strong relationships, and strong stories. And these are all in the responsibilty of the players.
When I am in the audience of an improv show, I like to shout in a suggestion myself. The important experience: with my suggestion, I feel co-responsible for what is happening onstage. If due to my suggestion the scene goes forward and turns out to be great, it is also my success. And if it goes bad, I am especially disappointed. The players onstage should be aware of this specific kind of responsibilty. Everyone, who calls out a suggestion, makes himself vulnerable. Thus it's very important for the players to be appreciative. »What a great suggestion, thanks a lot, we will take that!« makes the audience member feel good, and I think we can more often thank the audience for their collaboration. After all, meat tastes much better spiced than unspiced!
Together with Karin, Urban teaches the Impro4ever course »Evening class Mondays Impro4ever - acting techniques and improvising using the example of Schiller / Chekhov / Brecht« (7 Oct - 25 Nov). On the first Saturday of December there's »Impro for (grand) parents and child (also for aunts and uncles)« (1 Dec).
written by Luise Schnittert
I always ask myself: How much rehearsal do we need? How much structure do we need? What do we want to have determined? Especially concerning the topics of storytelling and styles. There are different opinions: where does improv start and where does it end? Is it still improv, if we use structures, rules of storytelling, fixed character archetypes, etc? Many think that this makes improv too »brainy«, that there is too much rehearsed routine and not enough spontaneity.
After all, improv also means struggle and fail: I don’t have to know how a certain film style exactly works, I am allowed to fail and the audience will even love me for that. They want me to take risks, to make assertions, to use stereotypes, to be wrong. It`s not about using guidelines or a fixed structure, but about using, what I’ve got at my momentary disposal and in my heart. I am an improvisor and thus someone who is daring to be creative, to be in the moment, to say YES. What a nice idea, and this is, what we actually strive for- or not? Nobody goes to an improv show because he wants to see a perfect Shakespeare play.
However, I noticed that I am the kind of improvisor, who likes a bit more of structure. And why? Because I enjoy studying form and structure. Because I feel more freedom within set borders. Because I like to really dig into a certain topic and become an expert in it. Because I love good craftsmanship. Because I connect a professional attitude with that. Because I think that »failing« shouldn’t be an excuse. And because I think that improv does need structure. Not overall, but most of the time. Otherwise improv celebrates only itself as a form and that doesn’t thrill me so much.
I like to compare it to a jazz musician. He is an expert of his instrument, he knows the tonality and structure of the song. Also, playing for children gave me thoughts on this. For they don’t care if we improvise or not, all they want to see is a great story. They don’t celebrate us for daring to play without a script.
Yes, rehearsing form, structures and storytelling can be a tiring business. It feels clunky. If you’re used to go on stage without all of this in your head, it will feel like a limitation at first. And if you don’t hit the form correctly, the desired effect might be missing and you fail in your attempt to do it »right«. Then, all too often, you are tempted to throw everything away, in order to get out of your heads and feel free again when improvising. Yes, you do need some endurance.
A couple of weeks ago, we Gorillas took a workshop on writing, and we noticed what a complex subject this is and how much there is to learn. After all, it is a profession of its own to be an author.
In the U.S. improv is firmly connected with writing, because as an improvisor you are also a storyteller and you want to play interesting and complex characters, that are going on their hero's journey.
So I believe it's worth to stay with it and fight your way through. Let the form get into your inner system. Then you can let go again, feel free within it and play with it. It's my own decision, when to grab into this tool-kit. And of course you should never loose the magic of improv. The magic of going into the unknown and creating something in the moment. The magic of being »present«. Is this a contradiction? I don't think so. But it will always remain an area of conflict and as different as we are as human beings, as different will be our improvisation.
Luise teaches the English Evening Class Wednesday Beginners / Advanced wit Lee (14 Aug to 2 Oct).
written by Michael Wolf
Dear Improv-players, our movement is continually growing, more and more people get enthusiastic about improv theatre. All over the country workshops and improv-camps are being offered. More and more groups are founded and more and more shows are looking for their audience.
In the past years I have seen quite a few shows of these newly founded groups. Unfortunately also some, of which I doubt that they will increase the number of people in the audience. Why is that so? Let me make a comparison with music, let's say Jazz. Sometimes you might think, o well, not really my taste. But even with Free Jazz musicians, these improvisors of music, you can always hear and feel that they have musical knowledge, that they have learned to play their instrument really well, that they are MUSICIANS.
But many theatre improvisors do not know how to play their instrument. Their instrument is their body, their voice. They don't know much about acting, about the rules of the stage. Unfortunately, they don't do a lot to learn about this, either. They do learn rules and techniques of improv games such as dubbing each other or beings the arms of someone else, and once they master these techniques, they feel authorized to go on stage.
I would love for you to do more for the stage: Study dramaturgy, Stanislawski and Lee Strasberg. Take lessons from a vocal coach, learn how to sing. Read, rehearse and work. And pay some respect to the stage!
Michael teaches the Evening Class Mondays Beginner with Lutz Albrecht (May 6th to June 17th). With Barbara Klehr he hosts the course »Figuren und ihre Dramaturgie« at the summer academy at Castle Trebnitz (August 1st to 4th).
written by Christoph Jungmann
My thoughts on this are related to public performances, which sooner or later for some or many of you are an issue.
It all starts with the question of what to wear as your basic outfit for the evening. Use some sort of »costume« or walk on the stage as you are? In my opinion, both choices have arguments in favor, although meanwhile I have some problems with the cool attitude of »I`m wearing what I`m wearing«. I saw this first with the cracks from North-America, who are still doing it and who can mostly show this kind of understatement, for their improv skills are so big.
But in other cases, looking completely private onstage may show a lack of awareness, or - to say it in a possibly old-fashioned and pathetic way: it may show a lack of respect towards the stage as a special place.
The other big and general question is, if to use costumes in improv theatre. I started with all of this 22 years ago, simultaneously with Theatersport Berlin and Die Gorillas, and both groups were using costumes. Theatresports used a small selection of costumes on a coat rack, which stood on the rear center of the stage, parting the competing teams from each other. The Gorillas had - and still have - a rather large selection in the backstage. Later I had to find out: almost nobody in the improv world, neither in Germany, Europe or North America, is working with costumes, as if this was some sort of silent agreement.
I can`t really explain, why this is the case. Sure, there are some arguments for this (and at the Jazzclub Schlot, where we peformed for 15 years, we have also done it like that): refraining from costumes increases your focus to what is happening onstage. You are not distracted by searching for the right costume in the backstage and will not miss the door that your colleague just established onstage. And you are challenged to create everything, even the outer appearance of the character, out of yourself.
However, in my point of view, the advantages of using costumes are stronger (as long as you don`t turn the show into a costume-battle): especially in a »fast« show they can help to quickly establish a new character, they can support and enrich the scene. For instance, I love the game »Jackets«, which has the simple rule to put on a jacket from an audience member. What does it do to me to wear this specific jacket? Noticing, how the jacket is changing me and letting the audience witness this process, is also a lot of fun. And there are some undeniable facts: whatever we are wearing has an impact on how we feel. And our first judgement of other people is largely based on their outer appearance. We can transfer this to the stage. And when the scene is over and I take off the jacket, I also let go of the character. The naive joy of playing, of trying out, of »slipping into a character« is supported by a costume, by eyeglasses, by a hat. It`s as simple as that for me.
Christoph teaches the Beginner Class on Tuesday together with Thomas (30 April to 18 June). At the Summer Academy at Schloss Trebnitz he teaches with Regina the course »New Paths to Improv happiness« (1 to 4 August).
written by Inbal Lori
If no one is writing our lines of text, if nobody directs us or chooses the interpretation for how we do what we do, it basically means one thing — we are the content of everything we improvise. Everything we are, everything we know, love, hate, think, heard of or experienced ourselves, could and should be legitimate material for our improvisation.
Improvising does not mean being anything different than yourself. It means being yourself in different ways. It means taking the experience of being a human being in this complex, wonderful world and pouring it into the scenes/story/character we play.
I think that understanding that helps us to make interesting choices while we play. By interesting choices I mean honest/emotional/human choices which will enrich the story, serve and move it forward. Rather than having it stuck in one place while negotiating, fighting or trying to win! I call improvisers who choose to »win« all the time and be the funniest, smartest, fastest »the smart ass improviser«. Noting touches them. Nothing goes through them and they never see beyond their own nose. As some people like it, I think it’s a good waste of the audience’s time. I didn't buy a ticket to see how smart you are, I came to see a good comedy show, there’s a big difference.
The more advanced improviser can see the bigger picture. They can follow what Tim Orr describes as »the internal logic of the character, and the external logic of the story« and use their own honest experience in order to enrich it.
Sometimes it would mean your character looses everything or to be the bad nasty person who everybody hates, or to bring in some political issue that is super relevant to you and is somehow surfacing in the show/scene. Sometimes it would be something completely different.
Having that said I want to bring up two other things that I find important:
Improv (as I do it) is comedy. Forever comedy. It means using all I know, am, think, heard of, read, saw, wanna be or not be, in order to play a richer comedy that can make people think, cry, doubt, care and of course laugh!! It is not about giving yourself a psychodrama therapy session while diving into the dramas of your life.
The other thing in bringing myself into my shows is that I want to refrain from making propaganda. I want to avoid educating or convincing the audience that my believes/points of view are the right ones. I wanna make sure that this choice of content that I bring will — above all — serve the story/scene and will enable the story/scene to be richer. Richer for me means that it might say something about life, humanity, relationships, love, hate and more. My job (as I see it) is to provoke thoughts and feelings in the audience as I make them laugh. Not educate them. This is why I do improv and this is why I love it. There is so much I can use in so many different ways and it is all an expression of who I am. Another person, you maybe, will do it in a completely different way — isn't this amazing?
written by Jana Kozewa
We go one step beyond. We let playing take the lead for a moment. We give away to the unforeseen. We are open for and accept absolutely everything. This is a kind of freedom, that in this intensity we only can experience in improvisation. Yet, with a bit of training we can take it along to our life outside the improv stage.
So here is my call: Play! Play your heart out! Play and forget all the persuaded boundaries of your grown-up brains! Play and be free!
written by Robert Munzinger
When I played a scripted play at the Vagantenbühne, I used to go to the Ratibor after my own performance. I was done at around 9:40 p.m. and turned up at the Ratibor around 10 p.m., so I was able to watch the last 20 minutes of the Gorillas show. Now what was the difference? Both productions were comedy, both had great audience response . Yet the audience at the improv show seemed to be more captivated, more »in it«. Somehow, a different kind of thrill seemed to be there, as compared to the Vagantenbühne. I remember the audience of the classical comedy as being more leaned back, amused, but rather passive on their seats, whereas the Ratibor audience was thrilled, some leaning forward, with an involvement to what was happening on stage.
So what is so thrilling in improvisation?
It is usually a kind of thrill that`s different from the suspense of a good crime story or a thriller. The core of this thrill is the question: »Fail or succeed?« Good improvisors always dare to fail, they challenge each other, check their limits. For example, if one player hands a microphone to another player, saying »we hear the thoughts of this character, sung as a jazz ballade«, it is automatically a thrilling situation, because failure is in the air.
Now we Gorillas know the strengths of each other well, and it is fully legitimate to ask for a song from a musically talented colleague, or for a poem from a colleage who is a master of words. But the audience generally doesn`t know about those strengths, they don`t care which of the actors has to master which challenge, they might think »Oh my God, now he also has to sing, I`m so glad I don`t have to be up there...«
And, interesting fact, it doesn`t really matter if all challenges are being mastered. On the contrary: the fact that you witness a moment of failure in a show, makes it even more thrilling.
With this insight, we improvisors should keep on being daring, without neglecting our strengths.
Robert teaches the Evening Class Mondays Beginner (Jan 7th to Feb 25th).
written by Barbara Klehr
On the improv stage we Gorillas challenge each other with various tasks. I have to admit, that 80% of these challenges are just pretended to be challenging.
For me, a real challenge could be having to play with a colleague, who has strongly criticized me or whom I presently have difficulties with. Or having to go on stage, although my relationship just broke up and I'm terribly sad. Or having to improvise on a topic that deeply arouses me.
And when in an improv class I watch how you guys struggle (i.e. for getting changed or for finally sticking to the step-by-step-rule), and how happy you are when something worked well, that has an impact on me as well. This joyful feeling I take along to that part of my world where people are not sticking to the rules of improv.
The question »what is your personal challenge in improv theatre« can best be answered by yourself. I believe that our classes can be a good forum for exchange on this subject. Thus the teacher and fellow students can become accomplices, helping you to meet your challenges and turning the classroom into a real space of personal training.
Improv is not real life, but in real life we can benefit a lot from improv.
written by Marie Wellmann
Marie is the head of our Gorilla office and was just recently having a coffee with Ramona (performer of Gorillas, head of the improv school and Sisters of Comedy instigator). Marie was talking about her recent trip to Colombia and how she gave a seminar for performers there about »Women and Impro«. Marie, who knows Impro »only« from watching, once again proved to be a very accurate observer, and when Ramona asked »Would you write a focus about that?« her answer was: YES. AND here it is:
For centuries, millennia, our society has been shaped by male dominance, which is still ongoing on so many levels. Patriarchy, allegedly down for the count, is still holding on tight (and with some resistance). Just recently I read a very interesting article in a German newspaper, that still very few women make it to the higher levels of the German politic system.
A look at the history books also reveals an abundance of male figures, who have apparently defined 90% of the world's history exclusively by themselves. Our language often represents only masculine nouns, we are speaking of pilotes, astronauts and dentists, but »mean« also women. Even though there is, especially in German, a quite strong movement that tries to change the missing representation by using asterisks, capital letters or the older »innen«-ending; but this has not really pushed through all the way.
What does this mean for impro? For the scenes that are performed, but also for the visibility of women from the first, very simple moment: how many women are seen on stage, and what do they portray? Which (hi)story is told, and how can that be influenced, when the rule is »Follow the first impulse«?
Associations are based on what we know, and within a quick association chain, old role concepts that are deeply anchored and have been repeated over years and years, easily dominate: The woman as mother, the woman as daughter, the woman as nurturer, the woman as catty vixen. Whether it is a character assignment by a male improviser or a self-chosen definition – because women have been living with the same brain wash – these patterns repeat and easily push through, because they have been internalized profoundly. Historic scenes that take place in the 18th century (or most of any century, anyway) can be exempt from a strong female role without any irritation. Because we have never heard the (hi)stories of these women, we do not miss them. But does it have to stay that way? To change this, we need an awareness, that can be practised. Reflection, discussion, action.
In my experience, that reflection and discussion doesn't take place often enough. And even enlightened, emancipated women who would not consider themselves oppressed, keep finding themselves in a scene or character that repeats old patterns. Men often feel attacked or wrongly accused if women mention gender equality on linguistic or scenic levels. Women often withhold from mentioning sexist scenic work by women AND men, rather than being associated with »the evil f-word«. But without discussion it won't work. Without actively thinking further and opening the mind to different associations, the patterns will only change at snail pace.
100 years ago, women in Germany gained the right to vote. There is still lots to do. This month maybe with a discussion how more equal female roles can be consciously incorporated in impro shows. With the question to fellow improvisers »how do you perceive that?« Or with a brainstorming, which other relationships are possible between women, which occupations would be an interesting alternative, which locations are especially suitable for a strong female scene. Reflection, Discussion, Action. And go!
On Nov. 12th at 19:30 »100 years of women's right to vote« is celebrated all over Germany by 163 comedians (female) in 28 venues. The Gorilla ladies have teamed up with the »Rixdorfer Perlen« and will rock the stage of Ratibor Theater (show in German). Tickets for »Sisters of Comedy« here.
And at IMPRO 2019 there will be a workshop open only to female identifying improvisers, dealing exactly with the topic: how can wom*n create new space within improvisation.
www.improfestival.de – BIF Days: Creating Space Through Playing.
written by Leon Düvel
It`s fall, finally! Leaves are falling, mushrooms are spreading, some things are coming, others are going. Drama and dramaturgy only arise through change. Through alteration, transition, and resistance. And, as an antipode, change needs continuity. Yin and Yang. So in an improv scene we need to establish clarity, in order to let it alter. Meaning: make strong offers, define: who am I, who are you, what is our relationship?
What can be changed? Speed, volume, emotions, energy. One leads to the other. A new emotion may lead me to slower talking. A stronger energy from my partner may lead me to faster action. A soft voice could make me melancholic.
Ideally you raise the energy of change slowly to a maximum, knowing that at this point you either come to an end or find another change, another transition. Or you just have a pause, an »oasis of silence«. Thus change leads to clarity again. Stability (enriching a scene or story with details) vs. change (stepping forward with the action). This change and transition can well be supported and also initiated by the musician. At this point I would like to give credits to our colleague Eugen Gerein, who has pushed us Gorillas forward with this kind of energy-work.
Actually it`s all about the eternal polarity of life: war and peace, love and hate, fruits and vegetables. Yes, I don`t want to get pathetic, because change also means to have fun and be playful. Enjoying the resistance instead of being sticky. Of hanging on to an idea. Of not knowing what to do. Oh, how nice is Panama.
So, when you will find a mushroom in the forest, thou should know it is fall. And when a maple-leaf touches your forehead, thou should behold and enjoy the new season. And when your landlord terminates your apartment, thou should notice that it`s time for action.
written by Billa Christe
Why not enter a scene with an idea? I know, you have always heard not to come on stage with an idea. But now it's »Improv 2.0«: Of course I accept the idea of my partner, but I also have something in my head. Something, that I am dealing with at the moment. I »park« this idea and get it out when needed. I let it find its way into the scene, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, however it fits to the moment.
An example: you get »beach« as an audience suggestion and your partner goes on stage with »Sweetheart, will you bring the sunscreen, please?« Now, watch it: you are defined, but the topic of the scene is not. So, as a topic, why not use what you are personally dealing with at the moment, or what you currently discuss with your friends a lot? Maybe your child is getting ready to move out of your house, which is not easy for you. Then it's totally right to bring this topic into the scene. And instead of a »boring« beach scene, a scene may develop that has relevance to you and to the audience. »Relevance«: What is relevant for you? What is important for you? You're the only one, who can answer that and it's nice to think about it every once in a while.
Of course we have to play murderers and all that, but even here I think it's great, when you find a way to bring in personal stuff. That could for instance be, that you just quitted smoking and that this fact has an influence on your behaviour as a murderer (editor's note: the author of this text quitted smoking 4 months ago).
Take it personal, for nothing is more interesting than real life!
In this sense, I now have to take a smoke, because I really had forgotten to write this text for the September-Focus, which led to quite a bit of stress. Talk about »create more out of yourself...«
Ah, nonsense, I did quit...
written by Karin Werner
In improvisation I often miss the possibility to really get into detail when working on a character. On the other hand, improv gives me the chance to play a lot of different characters. However, usually the same 3-4 characters make it onstage, especially when you have to be fast. Sometimes I would like to have more time and also give others more time to create a character. Not in every scene, but in between. Or is the actual challenge to find a character on the spot? And could I also do that with quiet characters? Do I take the freedom to really try out something new?
In the classes, I ask my students to observe a lot and try to bring what they have noticed onstage. I love it, when characters evolve out of this. And when there is enough boldness to exaggerate and fool around, I think it’s just perfect.
So, let’s get out now: to observe, to remember, to take it onstage, and to be someone completely different again!
written by Christoph Jungmann
I believe that the topic »audience suggestions« is more under- than overestimated, however suggestions are not all that important. Sounds like a contradiction and indeed it is. I will try to explain.
Actually it doesn’t start with the audience but with the one who’s asking. Which is the first underestimated moment. There are so many possible questions, but even we Gorillas ask for the same few things every time: we ask for a relationship, for a location, for a profession, for an emotion...
There is really no reason to limit yourself to this. So my first advice is: BEFORE a show (or a rehearsal) think about possible questions. For instance ask for a reason to change your job. Or for a personal habit that you dislike. Or for a moment that changed your life.
What I totally dislike is to ask for something that has no relevance to the scene, only for the sake of asking. Like asking for a weather. Then you get »rain«, play it for a bit and mostly forget about it afterwards. Worst of all is asking for a color. In 20 years of improv I have hardly ever seen a scene where a color really gave meaning to a scene. For some reason we used to have the fashion to ask for a »hiding place from your childhood«. Nice question, but it always brought forward the following problem: if the answer was »treehouse«, would the promise of the scene be that a hidden child should be involved, or could a treehouse be used in a different context as well? How an answer to a question is used as a suggestion should be defined before.
Sometimes I like to leave the decision of what I am going to ask for up to the moment. But my personal experience is: usually only the same old questions pop up in my head. So thinking about possible questions might not be wrong.
And: be patient with your audience. They want to be funny and say »toilet«. Or »sauna«. You can take that, but you don’t have to. And I am neither a friend of taking the very first suggestion nor of telling the audience to shout out the first thing that pops up (as some of my Gorilla colleagues do). I believe that’s wrong. Yes, wrong (you see, we’re not always of one opinion).
It’s always a good thing to brainstorm together on good questions for scenes. And don’t get hectic in getting your suggestions, to the audience this may not look like a sign of speed but rather like the asking is a bothersome duty for you. Which doesn’t mean that you should take all the time in the world in choosing the suggestion. Oh yes, life isn’t simple. But above all: »Don’t take something that doesn’t inspire you.« (Keith Johnstone).
So why do I plead for consciousness in getting suggestions and at the same time believe that they are overestimated? Well, if the scene was great but had really nothing to do with the audience suggestion, no one will later ask: »But where was that uncle from Lüneburg, who was supposed to be in the scene?« Well, almost no one, there are always a few smart arses.
A suggestion MAY be an inspiration for our improvisation and we should aim for it to be, but if the scene wants to go its own way, we shouldn’t force the suggestion into it. Let a suggestion inspire you, but not dominate you!
At Summer Academy in Trebnitz Christoph teaches with Regina the advance course »Short cuts« (July 26-29). Starting in August both of them are the instructors of »Evening Class Beginners« ( August 28 to October 16).
written by Thomas Chemnitz
When I discovered improv, it felt like a huge liberation in terms of the ego. In two ways, actually: first, improv really is about playing together, about saying »YES« to the situation, to your partner and his ideas. In order to do this successfully, I have to push down my ego (which can be quite a liberation). On the other hand, improv is also about the »AND«, about my move, my creativity, my ideas. In this sense, in improv my ego is more liberated than in normal acting work, where I have to follow the ideas (and the ego) of the writer and the director. In improv, I am actor, author and director in one person – how great for my ego! And how terrible for my colleagues on stage, if I am not able to put my ego into service: I am serving the story, I am serving the moment, I am serving my partner(s) on stage. There is this improv wisdom: measure your success in improv by how much your partner(s) enjoyed being with you on stage. I think this pretty much says it all. For no one likes to be on stage with someone, who constantly pushes in his great ideas, without recognizing what the story and the partner(s) really need at this moment. And you`re really happy about a partner, who has ideas and uses them to strengthen and support the story, the scene and your character.
The ego-theme can also be detected in the improv school, though our students are for the most part no actors and don´t intend to become one. Yet there are those students, who love to discover their creativity, their funni- and playfulness and feel the urge to show this to everybody all the time. Their learning topic is to put their ego into the above mentioned service. And there are those, who listen a lot to their inner critic: »I am not as good as...«, »I am not so funny«, »I don`t know, if this is such a good idea...«. Their learning topic should be to strenghten their improv-ego and go forward when it`s their turn.
Going forward and enriching the moment, high-status and low-status, strong emotions and peaceful moments – good (improv) theatre always needs both. Good life, too.
Maybe this month you put your focus on that part, that is more difficult for you. Have fun with it!
written by Luise Schnittert
I would like to dedicate this Focus to my good friend Kim Clark. In 2011 the Gorillas were invited to the Chicago Improv Festival. Four of us went there (Robert, Tom, Felix and me). In Chicago we were welcomed by David Fink, who was our host during this time and - as we later found out - also Kim Clark's boyfriend. We lived in their house in downtown Chicago and had a great time there. Kim and David were excellent hosts and real experts of improv and art in general. The two of them had founded a theatre themselves, the »Acorn Theatre« at Three Oaks, Michigan, and they were all around the art scene of Chicago. Add to this, that they were the nicest, funniest and most generous people that I had met in a long time. Time was running by fast. We had two shows during the festival and after one week it was all over. The audience gave us nice receptions, all we heard was »Awesome!«, »You're amazing«, »I loved your show!«. I was quite a beginner in improv and overwhelmed by all of these impressions. It doesn't happen so often, that you perform at the IO (Improv Olympics). In my spare time I was looking for jazzclubs and found the best and most exciting one of them all: Green Mill. Full of these musical and theatrical impressions I knew: I have to come back.
That happened in 2013, I returned to Chicago for three months (a longer stay is not allowed without a work visa). I had asked Kim and David, if I could rent their ground-floor-apartment, but they had already a student living there. Instead they offered me to stay in their library. For free. They put in a sleeping-sofa and offered me to stay as long as I wanted to. Thus another exciting three months of Chicago began, as a guest with David and Kim. I went around a lot: Impro Mash-Ups, Shows, Classes, Open Stages, etc. David mainly took care of the »Acorn Theatre«, whereas Kim was teaching writing-classes at DePaul University and worked on his TV-project »Big Questions«. This project later brought him an Emmy-Award, which is only one of the innumerable things that he did and achieved. I was just reading his Wikipedia entry and can't believe it - I had no idea!
For example, he was head of the »Writing Program« at Second City and later was betitled by the »Chicago Sun« (together with two others): »Second City Improv Comedy Legends«.
During my three months I had a couple of downs. Sometimes I was fed up with improv, everyone was yelling »Have fun!« at me and the pressure of being fast and funny was just too much for me. I felt like a lame duck, while I actually wanted to be an actress. Second City is a huge improv-machine, with thousands of students, classes and shows. Like a big university, no comparison to anything here in Germany. It looked like every person of the U.S. was enrolling in a class, especially the actors and comedians, who were going for a career. Here in Germany, the land of Goethe and Schiller, improv was and often still is not taken seriously as an art form, but in the U.S. it is THE stepping stone for everyone who wants to be part of the entertainment business.
Usually, I was getting up with Kim, and while he ate cake for breakfast, he happily chatted about his projects and especially about his joy in teaching. It was always funny and interesting to talk to him, I really enjoyed our conversations. Once, when I came home from an Open Stage, as so often in low spirits, he said: »Luise, if you don't think improv is funny, then you are a professional!« He always knew how to cheer me up. Later, I discovered smaller schools and theatres and enrolled in different classes, for example »the art of slow comedy«, taught by Jimmy Carrane, and I felt more and more at home. I started going to castings and soon I had to decide if I should go home as planned or give it a try and apply for an artists visa. I went home.
These three months were distinctive for me. What the Americans are really good at is to say »Yes, and!«, the improv rule number one. This positive energy and approach towards things is really fascinating. And Kim was one of the best at this. He understood how to be creative on a high level, how to support the abilities of others and stimulate them, how to think further and how to be positive towards life. Which also means to say "»Yes, and« to any tough blows of life and to keep on moving. I often think of him, on stage or when teaching.
Last Saturday, April 21, Kim passed away. This news came totally surprising and hit me like a sledgehammer. I am in deep sorrow, yet also very grateful that for a short time I was able to be part of his life. Kim, you are my focus of the month, I miss you!
Luise teaches the Advanced Evening Class from May 5th to July 2nd together with Michael.
written by Lutz Albrecht
Sweat is running down your neck, dizziness is in control of your knees, your heart is pounding, your chest tightens up and you can hardly breathe.
Fight or flight?
More or less, we all know this feeling, when we are getting ready to go on stage or have just entered it. The German word for stage fright is »Lampenfieber«, meaning »fever from lights«, and indeed the symptoms are similar to that of a real fever. It just depends on how high your temperature is. If it's just slightly higher than normal, it may lead to better presence, full concentration and crisp reactions.
However, if the temperature is too high, you will suffer from shaking, tension, a flushed face, physical and mental uncomfortness, lack of concentration and forgetfulness. All of these symptoms will hinder you in playing mindful, focussed, with lightness and as a team-player.
So what to do, when your temperature is getting too high and possibly even ends in fear?
In order to fight your fright it's valuable to understand what you are dealing with. Due to evolution, in dangerous situations our blood is flooded with adrenaline and noradrenaline, in order to get us ready for a fight or flight situation – simply for survival. This all happens automatically and very quickly (if you would have taken some minutes to find out if that sabre-toothed tiger is really dangerous or not, he might have already eaten you up). If we can't reduce the level of adrenaline and noradrenaline through physical movement, we stay in alarm-mode and suffer from the above symptoms.
Now, having to go on stage surely isn't a life-or-death-situation. So why is it, that many actors are getting into this alarm-mode?
Stage fright is connected to the expectation, that your performance is judged negatively by the audience and possibly also by your colleagues. Quite similar to when you are facing an examination. Negative thoughts arise, such as »if I am getting a negative jugdement, will I then be offered a job like this again? And if not, will I get any job, an income, be able to pay my rent...?« When you are in this negative spiral of thoughts, it may seem to your brain like an actual life-or-death-situation.
Assuming that you will receive negative judgement is negative thinking. All negative thoughts, such as »I can't do this«, »I'm not good enough« or »the other ones are much better« can easily lead to stage fright. And it's not so easy to get rid of these thoughts, because they are deeply wired in us, often implanted during our childhood.
So, what can we do?
First of all, it may already help to accept that we do have stage fright. It's no use to suppress our fears, we have to face them. Physical movement helps to reduce the level of adrenaline and noadrenaline, so doing a physical warm-up can instantly help. Additionally we can calm our mind and fight our inner critic with positive thoughts, such as »I am looking forward to this perfomance, it will go well«, »In improv, an audience actually enjoys to see a performer struggle or even fail, they admire his boldness«, »I am not alone, we are a team«, »I am so sexy«.
When we notice that one of our colleagues is suffering from stage fright, we can calm him down and cheer him up with words of encouragement: »You are a good improvisor!«, »We are all with you«.
We can also use a calming fragrance-oil such as lavender – our olfactory sense is directly connected to the amygdala, the brain region that is essential in regulating our emotions. Or we shift our focus to something else, i.e. a funny warm-up-game.
On long term, I can try to re-programm my inner negative mindset and turn it into positive: „»I can do that«, »I am good«, »I am optimistic«. I can learn to have a different attitude and re-condition myself: be more tolerant with mistakes and weaknesses, step down from my perfectionism, and so on.
So stage fright, like any fear, is nothing you have to fall victim to!
»There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.« (Hamlet, Shakespeare)
»Stage fright may come fast, but improv is faster, ha!“ (Lutz Albrecht)
Lutz Albrecht teaches the Evening Class Beginners Monday until April 30th, and also is performing as guest player for Die Gorillas.
written by Maja Dekleva Lapajne
In March, as winter is slowly ending, it is time for one of my favourite and for me also most influential events for my work and life in general - the international festival of theatre improvisation in Berlin.
I still remember vividly how I first joined it in 2003, how two incredibly nice but strange men with hats waited for us at the Ostbahnhof, how I was watching and playing shows with my mouth open and my heart beating fast with excitement, how I didn't want to go to sleep at all not to miss a single moment of meeting incredible artists, having long discussions, drinking lots of alcohol, partying hard, how I was analysing and dreaming about endless possible developments of the art form, how I was daring to think about theatre possibly becoming my profession, how I was proud of my country and liking the fact that I stand on stage as a representative of Slovenia, how we were looking forward to soon be joining European Union, how I was eating salads with balsamic vinegar and raw mushrooms and late night steinofen pizza, how I was having fun while protesting against the American bombing in Iraq, how I believed that improvisational principals can change the world.
I'm older now. I need to sleep, I cannot handle long nights anymore and I am drunk after two glasses of wine. It is not so easy for me to watch impro shows anymore, many times I am bored or frustrated. Sometimes I get angry at realising how we, improvisational artists, fall into unquestioned conventions. I am thinking about how it is possible that everything looks the same even though it is improvised. I do not find pride on my list of emotions regarding the country I live in. I see the social, political and economical situation in Slovenia is not better than in 2003. I am still protesting but rather than fun I experience despair. The inequalities within European Union are bigger and bigger, nationalism and xenophobia are rising, international corporations are gaining power over governments, we keep comforting ourselves by the »freedom« of buying cheap products for which the rest of the world has to suffer. Slovenia has built a barb wire fence on the border to Croatia which puts a bloody line in the area that once was one country. So I am not as optimistic and enthusiastic as I used to be 15 years ago. And most sadly, I do not believe that improvisational principals can save the world.
But! Improvisation still is my biggest passion and my most important field of research. And I love the community that has grown around it - artists, audience members, teachers, students, theorists, critics, all differents kinds of lovers of this incredible living art form. And I am very excited about the festival which this year we (and how beautiful it is that I can say we!) call the Our Lives Festival. People from all the 28 EU countries will meet, perform, debate, party, fall in love, argue, exchange, play and create together. The title Our Lives implies a proactive stand focused on society celebrating differences and equality. As opposed to »My Life« where we could be following and exploring the trend of selfies, personal growth and the idea of individual success and reward, we rather focus on understanding, living, cocreating society. As opposed to »Our Life« which would be implying the same situation for everyone, we rather focus on diversity. As opposed to »Lives« where we could either explore general anonymous lives or take a strong distance to the object of research, we rather look into concrete lives and take a proactive role in cocreating them. With art we cannot cause great social changes but we can make room for collective creation, a space where it is possible to survive and even have a good time. We are developing small but important alternative models of collaboration, cocreation and coexistence.
In March, as winter is slowly ending, we shall meet. And who knows, the spring might come soon after.
written by Karin Werner
Lately, in one of my classes, I did an exercise, having three people talk about an event that they had been part of, each from a specific perspective and with a given emotion. The students were asked to make the emotion stronger towards the end and finish with high energy. This is similar to a part of the Gorillas Show »Das große 7«.
It's not so easy to get emotional on stage and, at the same time, tell a story together. After a somewhat hesitant beginning, suddenly one of my students really got into it: very emotionally she talked directly to the audience. The rest of the class was listening, stunned and impressed. After what felt like a very long pause, they took their turn and the class ended very loud and tumultous.
I also was surprised about this sudden emotional grip to the story, about the impressed faces of the others and about the power that this moment had.
I don't think that it should be your goal to impress others. Usually then it will go wrong anyway. But what's really cool is to be impressed. As long as this doesn't paralyze you. Instead of letting the thought »I can't do that« dominate you, you should rather be carried away by the energy that you just witnessed and go for something new yourself!
In any case, I have decided to be impressed more often, no matter if by my students or by my colleagues. And then tell them about it.
written by Björn Harras
A lot of stuff can be done on an improv stage. If it`s a flight through outer space or a creepy family scene in the basement, your imagination has no limits. However, this is often easier said than done.
Many scenes take place in the ordinary world. Husband, wife and lover or father, mother and children are ingredients for scenes that everybody knows. Add the fact that someone loves somebody else and this person loves even another one and you have a standard scene. So far, so boring.
So how can we stretch the limits of our imagination? How can we achieve to improvise more interesting scenes? How can we go beyond?
We simply have to be daring. Dare to leave our own limited world and jump right into adventure. Dare to make an offer that at first sight doesn`t seem to fit the scene.
Standard-scene of a couple? Tell him that you have made an exciting discovery and then both fly to South America to have an adventure in the jungle, looking for a hidden treasure.
Because it`s change, that drives each scene. If nothing changes, the scene stays as it is and will sooner or later run into a dead end. Try to think out of the box and try not to censure yourself. Everybody knows this inner voice: »I don`t know, if I could do this now...« - YES, YOU CAN!
In the sacred (and secure) space of our improv school you are allowed to try out everything: be furious, be vulnerable, be an astronaut or a pirate, be tiny or be a licked pen in the coat of Santa Claus. Just be daring - nothing can happen to you!
written by Lee White
So let’s talk tragedy.
It’s a word that encompasses a lot. In the world of story telling there’s many different approaches to it. In improv shows I find it often gets done with little care or imagination.
Some improvisers think that going for a negative or sad ending will be funny. The two characters getting a divorce at the end of the story or one killing the other doesn’t automatically make it a tragedy, or a comedy for that matter. Characters who suddenly become jerks or do something that seems so out of character just to get a reaction or aim towards some tragic ending doesn’t complete it either. Having a sad ending doesn’t make it a good tragedy.
There are random chaotic things that happen in life. No sense or purpose. Some like to show this in scenes. I feel that people know that. We live with it everyday. So why show that? If we show that life is senselessly cruel, we need to show that people can survive such things and life can go on. It can work and it can be fine to just end on a tragic note but consider why you make a choice to tell a story that ends with »bad things happen in life« as a final thought. Ending at the tragic moment leaves the audience with little hope and a frightened walk to the car.
For me as a viewer, there’s one element I like to have to really feel good at the end of a tragic moment/story. (Yes. I like to feel good after a tragedy. My Mom always said while crying after a sad show »There’s nothing like a good cry.«)
A good tragedy should teach us something. The audience must see where the protagonist who suffers made the mistake. Show what went wrong. Then we can see the lesson that will hopefully teach us something about the way we are, the shared existence on this planet. It should leave the audience with guidance to not make the same mistakes the characters made. Maybe they will reflect on their past and change their future.
To me the idea that the audience should learn from all stories we create is important but not always the case. In tragedies I think it’s crucial the audience walks away with something. If not hope in life, then a lesson or thought to give new perspectives.
What we learn from characters in stories guide our everyday lives. A great tragedy can change the audiences future.
Dear reader, in two days I have to submit the focus for November and - oh dear - I have nothing yet, not even an idea what to write about, and I actually have no time at all, I play daytime and evening shows, I have rehearsals, I teach workshops...
I had known my duty long ahead and, as it is, kept on postponing it. Now I’m in a fine mess: I`m completely overstrained. OK, what about these improv-tools? Accept what is happening. Say YES to the moment. Wasn`t that it? So: what is happening? I am overstrained. I told that to Ramona, guardian of the „focus of the month“. And her answer was: „Then write something imperfect, write about being overstrained.“ I guess she was right, so here it is, my focus of the month:
written by Konstanze Kromer
1. Make it public that you feel overstrained
2. Use this state as an offer
So often we are afraid that we are in a scene and don`t know how to go on. Being blocked, not understanding what is happening, having no idea at all – oh my god!
„So – make it public“, I say. Just say „Stop!“, turn to the audience and ask them. „Who is this guy – my father or my teacher? I really don`t know.“ The audience will know, and they will love you for your candidness.
We just had this situation in a show: the whole story got more and more weird and complicated, we didn`t understand it any more and couldn`t explain this within the scene. So we made it public. We involved the audience, asked them, and within a moment everything was clear, we were relaxed and could continue to improvise with new energy. Thank you, audience! It is so relieving to know that you can always do this when in need. There is nothing you have to hide, endure or push through. If necessary: make it public. As I just did: Help! I am overstrained with writing the focus of the month!
The second insight is: everything is an offer! If you find yourself all tense on stage, sweating and panting from the fear of having no idea – use it for your character. You might be a low-status who has his first date in ten years and doesn`t fit into his pants any more. Or a medieval woman, accused for being a witch, who is waiting for the torturer to come and not knowing what is going to happen. Whatever!
So, being overstrained might be a gift. By making it public to Ramona, I finally found my subject for the focus. And, hey, I actually dared to submit a short, imperfect text. So, thank you, Ramona!
One last advice at the end: When in class, don`t wait until you HAVE to go on stage. Like I did with my task of writing the focus. Better jump into the scene, even if you think that you have no idea. You will save yourself from all this before-stress. And afterwards you will feel great. Jump, and the net will appear!
Konstanze will teach with charme, clarity and a wise view the Tuesday Evening Beginners Class, starting in January.
written by Inbal Lori
I mean, come on - would we be doing this if we needed anymore rules in our lives? Don’t we already have enough?
I think we are improvising (at least some of us) because of the freedom, joy, creativity and playfulness. Not because we are technocrats wishing to obey rules, right?
And my answer is: As a beginner use these tools as much as you can, explore them, play with the possibilities they offer. Than, the more advanced you get, this tools will become your second nature, which means you will have more confidence in knowing when to use what. And sometimes you might find that the scene would actually work better if you don’t follow them in this particular case.
You will have the freedom of using them when they are needed and not using them when they are not.
Instead of trying to blindly follow the rules put your focus on what gives you - and more importantly your partner, and not less importantly, the audience - pleasure. And if that means doing things totally different from what you were taught - than go for it!
But remember: it has to be enjoyable for your partner and the audience. After all, it is all about doing the best show you can.
»In impro we have no rules, just tools. The only thing closer to a rule is an ethical code: make your partner look good«.
I loved that sentence, because it reminds us of the most important thing - I guess: we are doing this together. Impro is something that is happening between us, so really listen and notice your partner. They are your biggest resource and inspiration. Follow the pleasure and use or »unuse« the tools as needed!
written by Regina
Improv provokes change. If you improvise, you deal with action, for this is what the stage needs. Inevitably, an action will change the present situation. At best, every action of my partner causes a change in my behaviour and vice versa – it`s like a game of ping-pong, which can bring about the most unusual behaviour patterns.
As a systemic therapist, my goal is to give people the opportunity to broaden their options for perception and action. In improv we try to find connections and relationships between everything we have. Thus it was a natural step to combine improv and therapy in my work.
But how can you link them and where are the connections?
The more I studied systemic therapy, the more links did I find. I am convinced that my long experience with improv effects my attitude as a therapist. Many aspects of improv seem important to me in this context: accepting the ideas of my partner, perceiving the first impulse in myself or in my partner, putting the focus on the interaction between me and my partner, trusting what is developing at the moment, reacting flexibly to each new development and letting the unusual happen.
When working in a youth psychiatry and in a psychiatric ambulance, I was able to use the potential of improv exercises. One highlight for me was doing status exercises with adolescents. To see, how some were able to surprise themselves, how they were suddenly acting completely other than usual and how this was perceived by the others. Suddenly it was possible to look directly into someones eyes and to dominate in a conversation. What a precious moment, when this young person suddenly realizes: Ah, this I can do as well!
How can you transfer the experience from a situation of play to real life? How can this be attended in a responsible way? Which exercises are the most useful for which situation or which problem? These are the questions in my work, and I try to find answers and explore different possibilities. Luckily I don`t have to search alone, for another one from the Gorillas is working and experimenting with the links between improv and therapy: Barbara, in her work as a music therapist. When we had our first symposium this spring, we were able to have a great exchange with many interested therapists. And in fall we will have a network meeting.
Others use methods from improv theatre in therapeutic context as well, such as the colleagues from Second City in Chicago, who offer improv workshops for people with social fears, in cooperation with a local health centre.
So, in order to throw the rock far enough: when will we have the first international exchange about improv and therapy?
Regina offers (together with Barbara) a workshop for interested therapists on October 14/15, giving an insight into the world of improvisation. Playful, practical and with time for reflection, different improv exercises will be explored concerning their therapeutic use. The two of them are qualified for this, since they are not only Gorillas but also therapists and both love the potential connections.
written by Karin Werner
»Exert pressure«, »be under pressure« - these terms bring about negative associations. Yet there are situations in improv, when a soft or challenging pressure may help to get me deeper into a certain situation or to leave my comfort zone.
It's great to put a character on stage, which the audience loves and laughs about. And yes, it is fun to indulge in this laughter and put another coal on the fire. Then all of a sudden this character may get into a more serious situation. It is my choice now as an actor to either release the upbuilding tension with a joke and give the audience more laughter - or to be vulnerable and accept this emotional situation. This moment is a gift. I usually quickly and unconsciously decide to accept this gift or not. If fear lets me stay in my comfort zone, it is good to have a partner onstage, who - with gentle pressure - insists on having my character stay with the (uncomfortable) situation; it's good to have a sidecoaching director, who forces me to accept the (uncomfortable) emotion. And if I am able to trust my partner or my director (or both) and open up, the show may gain a nice extra colour.
And when you watch your partner and think »Come on, stay with this now!«, it is great to really try keeping him there and bringing him forward.
Same in teaching: what a joy it is to see a student overcome his fears and make a step forward. This doesn't always work and so I want to be there and encourage him to try again and again. Just as I do.
written by Leon Düvel
Sometimes, sitting at the bar after a show, someone asks me: »Aren't you ever afraid to have no idea? Did you ever have a blackout?« Yes, I did have a blackout once. And yes, I used to be afraid of having no idea, afraid of this emptiness (...) Luckily not any more, for I know: emptiness gives room. Room for your partner, room for the imagination of the audience, room for your own feelings. So: don't be afraid of the emptiness.
Actually, there is more danger of talking a lot and saying nothing. Making new offers too quickly, instead of staying with what you have and pushing it forward. Not going into detail and moving forward too fast. In these cases, a moment of silence, a bit of emptiness would do good. A brief rest to reflect on what has been said and played.
However, this emptiness shouldn't be used to let go of the scene and the situation. It is not a rest for the improvisor. You should stay with your emotion and your energy. Then the next step, the next idea will follow automatically. It's really all a matter of energy. If you keep it up, the tension of the scene will stay. So will the emotion. Or a new one comes up. Emptiness should never make an improvisation stop (...) In that case you should fill it up.
Actually, emptiness is a beautiful thing. Something we should look for, something almost sacred. For it is hard to find. It's quite impossible to really do nothing. An empty stage can be an important moment in a show. It creates a special atmosphere, filled with thoughts and images, all waiting to be worked on.
Sitting at the bar, if I am honest, I can still sense this little fear of having a blackout (...) But that's not bad, it can even be good for the stage energy. It can help to keep up the tension in an improvisation, like walking a tightrope. But don't be afraid of »not knowing«, for hopefully this will lead to a mistake, and as you know: »mistakes should be friends«. See Focus May 2016. (Personally, I am more afraid of an electric power breakdown, concerning this I can remommend the book »Blackout« by Marc Elsberg).
Leaving the bar after my third non-alcoholic beer (improvisors don't need drugs), I sometimes say to the guy who had asked me: »I would be more afraid of forgetting my lines in a scripted play«. The guy, who is drunk by now (he is not an improvisor), then usually replies: »I guess, then you would have to improvise, huh?« (...) And then I have no idea of what to say next. Good night.
written by Billa Christe
Having wandered through the theatre scene of Berlin in the past years, I found out, that a lot of directors work with improvisation as a tool. Actors are told to improvise a certain sequence and don`t they dare play it the same way next night. Armin Petras, for a long time superintendant of the Maxim Gorki Theatre, with numerous works as a director, does this. I was sitting in the audience and thought: why is this so authentic? Because it was improvised. So I thought: why don`t we do it the other way around and improvise more as if it were directed. That`s how „Theatre. Improvised“ came to life, now known as »#NEU«.
Improv theatre lives from being in the moment, actors and actresses take risks, don`t know what they are doing? I believe in all those years - 20 years as you know - that improv theatre can do more than just play scenes that start with an audience's suggestion. I enjoy seeing actors on stage, who know exactly what they are doing or pretend that they know. Who engage with the partner, but the partner also sees what you want to play. I give my partner the focus to let him have a three-minute-monologue, as if it were written, no fidgeting, very secure and authentic, for he knows where he is aiming at.
Having learned so many rules throughout the years („give focus to each other, everything is there that you need, let your partner look good, go into action, find out, what your relationship is about) we are quite qualified to really play theatre. Come on stage, knowing where you come from and go off stage, knowing where you go to, this is a basic rule of acting.
I am in favor of doing this more, to teach this and to improvise like this. I`m not always successful in doing so, I catch myself flirting with the audience, but so what, I keep on trying, the journey is the reward.
Isn`t it the biggest compliment, when the audience cannot believe that the scene they watched was completely improvised? This adds the little extra to it all. And it is a great joy to let stories and emotions come up, because you know them, you have lived through them.
It`s time to bring it on stage. Improv can do more. More theatre.
written by Christoph Jungmann
I believe it was in fall of 1985. I took part in a workshop at the transform theatre (you know that something is long passed, if you have difficulties finding it on google). The workshop was led by a Polish director, an elderly, soft and almost wise man. After I had played a scene, he said, in his characteristic accent: „You know, theatre iiis mostly one thing: surpraaiize.“ This sentence has definitely stayed with me like no other. When I have spent an evening in the theatre or at the movies and wondered why I disliked it so much or why I couldn`t be enthusiastic, although there was nothing bad about it, I always come to one conclusion: Because it did not surprise me. Likewise, even if an evening wasn`t so great on the whole, it may still stick with me, if there was a surpraaiize.
Naturally, in improvisational theatre, due to its nature, the moment of surprise is more vital than in other theatre forms – you never know what is going to happen. But is that really true? For after all, even our beloved world of improv can be infiltrated with the expectable. To see capriciousness at the improvised job center or to see a priest going after a boy or to see a Russian drink a lot of vodka – oh well, all of this looks very familiar to me. Even if I don`t know the dialogue yet, I see how the wind blows, whether I am part of the scene or watching it. Now here comes the tricky part: where and when are we negating what Johnstone called „the obvious“ and where are we getting „original“? Hard to say, actually. I don`t think there is a rule for it, it is a matter of the moment, of the stage magic and of the actors intuition. So follow your impulse, but if you`re not sure: go for the things that you wouldn`t usually do, don`t play a ticket inspector or a homeless person in a subway scene, rather be a nice and attractive mother-in-law. Surprise them all: the audience, your partners on stage, and yourself.
Christoph is teaching during our Summer Academy on Schloss Trebnitz and in his domino-class he helps you to find surprising characters and monologues (August 31st to September 3rd).
written by Norbert Riechmann
»Space« is a word that you often hear in an improv class. Usually it refers to the space of the scene, a location that we first have to establish with our imagination. But there is also the space that we take and claim for ourselves. And the space that we give to our partner. And the space that we give to certain elements or thoughts; you could say that in this case »space« is a synonym for »time«.
As we are entering the »music room«, there are also spaces. Musicologists speak of a »diastematic space«, which means the space between the lowest and highest note in a melody. If this space is large, the melody can make large movements and is often hard to sing. Is the space small, it may get monotoneous quickly.
So what has all this to do with improv, with my spontaneity?
When it gets to music in improv and we not only think about »singing«, the term »space« (which can be used in various ways) may help us to improvise differently, richer, better. We can discover spaces, give space, take space. Next to the concrete dialogue and movement in a scene, you may take notice of other existing spaces, that can help to open up, relieve, enrich, even give joy. If we are open for this, we might notice that sometimes we don't have to talk at all, because music can transport our emotions much better than words. In Romantic Comedies you can often see this work. Or we let music give subtext to our scene. Then a simple, happy scene may suddenly become threatful or even scary (as in the famous movie »Jaws«). Or we let us guide by music in an abstract way, work with the temperament or the movement that the music offers.
There are many more ways to deal with the term »space«, see above. If we dare to enter and explore all of these spaces, our work on stage can be richer on different levels, more interesting. And in the end we will have more fun. Isn't this a nice goal?
Norbert is teaching the Tuesday Evening Advanced Class May 23rd to July 18th with »music« as the central subject. The class deals with singing, listening, using music to support characters, and – yes, of course - with space.
written by Jacob Banigan
Let’s consider an impro show to be a sandwich.
Picture any sandwich you like. Food is layered between bread on a plate in front of you. OK? That’s the show. You have manipulated your life, your time and money with a plan to consume this experience. But before you eat it, let’s look at what it’s made of.
The Layers of an impro show sandwich:
The format of the show is the bread.
Defines its shape and structure and holds it all together. Supports the content. It is the reliable, dry layer that allows us to enjoy the contents without getting all messy. It is how we recognize the sandwich/show from afar. We see it or hear about it and say “I can grasp that.” It is the promise “Consuming this will be satisfying”.
The fiction is the meat, or protein.
The shared imagination of everyone in the room, the dream we are all buying in to. The content. The situations of the scenes, the characters and their world.
This is the nourishment, it’s what we consume it for. The satisfying heart of the experience. It has substance.
Usually this is the first thing we ask about a sandwich, “What’s in it?”. But alas, we cannot know until we experience it together. We hope the filling will be filling. But it’s a mystery sandwich, before we decide what to put in the middle.
The story is the roughage: salad, lettuce, sprouts, etc.
The fibrous material which aids the digestion of the substance.
The story lays across the fiction and allows us to follow cause and effect, so that we get something from the content. We need stories, in order to process what happens in our collective dream.
Without this fibre, we would consume the product without getting all the healthful benefits.
The games are the extra toppings: tomatoes, onions, etc.
The challenges from objective games, the agreements that arise from the subjective “game of the scene”, or the patterns that we discover and uphold. They each have distinct structures that give extra surprises of flavor, when you notice them.
And although each layer is tasty in it’s own way, you can’t separate them and consume them one by one, like a weirdo. They really must all be experienced together in each bite…That’s how we do it. Moment to moment, Bite for bite.
The metaphor can be stretched to include many aspects...
The theater is the table. The stage is the plate. We’d like them to be clean and presentable when our meal is served. The mess we leave after it’s over serves as a reminder of what wonderful things were within.
The lighting is the sauce. Warming mustard. Cooling ketchup.
Music is bacon. So good.
Sometimes we like it cheesey. We know it’s not totally healthy, but you only live once, right?
Peppered with jokes. Salted with tears.
A schmear of schmaltz is sometimes welcome.
A glass of wine on the side is always welcome.
And every sandwich/show experience is enhanced by the context around it’s consumption. Who was I with? Where were we? What was happening in my neighbourhood, the city, the world? What circumstances lead me to this point? That sandwich changed my life... I really needed it.
And you cannot explain the experience adequately. Have you ever tried to describe a sandwich, and felt that the listener really appreciated what it meant to you? You had to be there.
We have to make sure that we serve fresh product, not processed. We should be proud of each ingredient, and hopefully know where each one came from. People should leave the table satisfied with that particular sandwich, and perhaps imagining new recipes for next time.
Jacob Banigan belongs to the top performers of international improv theater. He is playing improv for 27 years and has had great share in the development of this artistic form. He has been the artistic director of the Rapid Fire Theatre in Canada, and for considerable time has been a member of the “Theater im Bahnhof” in Graz, the “English Lovers” in Vienna and part of the “Rocket Sugar Factory”. With the latter he will be seen on May25 at the Ratibor. And from May 25-28 he is leading the wonderful workshop “Ignore me!”
written by Michael Wolf
Go on stage, get breakfast ready: open the bread box, take out the bread, it`s not ready sliced, so you have to cut a slice.
Talk with your son about his education.
Put butter on your bread, the butter is not there yet, take it out of the fridge, it`s still a little bit hard, but you can do it. Spread the butter evenly on your bread, you have to be careful, because the hard butter can make the bread tear.
Explain to your son, that the years as an apprentice are tough years, the years that run to fat are yet to come.
Open the fridge again, take out the jar with jam, close the fridge, open the jam with strength, take off a bit of mold from the top, notice that you are not allowed to put the butter knife into the jam, take a plastic spoon from the drawer. Use it to put jam on your bread, not without closing the drawer before.
Tell your son that the sweet life will soon begin for him as well.
Why do I write all this? To show you that you have to go on stage and DO things. Don`t become comfortable, go into detail.
And then talk about other things, not about your action. But from your action you will get time, inspiration, and a meta-level.
written by Robert Munzinger
Actually, it doesn`t matter at all how you start an improvised scene. Literally e v e r y t h i n g is right. To yell for help, to run into the audience, to sing the aria of the queen of the night, to slice up a cucumber, to strip, to chip, to whip, to peel, to kneel, to steal – whatever! Everything is right. As soon as something is there or isn`t there, you can start to add, to copy, to bring forward, to establish something completely new - whatever seems the right answer to the question of the beginning, if I may put it like that.
Actually, it doesn`t matter at all how you start an improvised scene. Literally e v e r y t h i n g is right. To yell for help, to run into the audience, to sing the aria of the queen of the night, to slice up a cucumber, to strip, to chip, to whip, to peel, to kneel, to steal – whatever! Everything is right. As soon as something is there or isn`t there, you can start to add, to copy, to bring forward, to establish something completely new - whatever seems the right answer to the question of the beginning, if I may put it like that.
So, when you begin improvising, one of the first steps is to really understand the principle that everything is possible to begin a scene with. This is due to another principle called „Say YES!“ If you know, that your partner will really accept and say YES to everything that you offer as a beginning, the spell of insecurity and doubt is already broken. Knowing about these two principles (everything is right and say yes) should make it possible for you to trust yourself and follow your first impuls.
And yet: although it doen`t matter what to start with, I usually advise my students to start by establishing the space, for example by beginning with an action. Or to find an attitude that you have towards the space you are in and/or the action that you are doing. If you decide on WHERE you are and HOW you feel, the imagination will easily open up and let other characters appear. Of course, this way of beginning is no set rule (only rule in improv: no rules), but it certainly doesn`t do any harm and in case you really feel uninspired, the best thing you can do is to establish a space and develop an inner attitude towards it and then the inspiration will come all by itself.
OK, now I will slowly begin with the ending...
But Robert will start right away again in January with teaching the „Games, Games, Games“ class. And in March on three weekends with „The Format“. All classes are on the „Impro4ever“ level.
We wish all of you a Happy New Year!
written by Regina
Endings in improv appear fast, they like to surprise with a twist. Finding the end in improv seems to be easy, because a new scene directly starts, a new story is on its way. The lightness of improv lets you find the courage to try out something, that doesn't need to be continued into eternity. This lightness sometimes touches arbitrary action: „Who cares, this will be over in a moment and something else comes up.“ The ending then comes as a relieve.
We have tried out different ways to end a scene: fluent transitions with a change of body posture, indicating a new beginning; a hardly noticed ending. Sometimes not even by your partner, who is still playing the preceding scene. Or the end, set by the musician or light technician; I remember our improvised Fassbinder.
Finding the right end of a scene together: When it works, it feels good. Nobody says a word, that needn't to be said, for all sense that the story is finished, each further sentence is one too many.
When we started with improv - back in the last millenium – we often set a clear end: „And black!“ An unmistakable stop, to prevent a displaced ending, missing the moment, when the story is told and all loose ends have come together. For after this, new ends develop, which are also bearing new beginnings.
Other endings may feel unsatisfying, because we all know, there was more to be told, something is still missing.
Finding the courage for the end. Truly ending something, when there is nothing more to improvise. All being said, each further word is taking away the value of what was said.
„And everything ends, and no storm is coming up“, Rio Reiser sang in „Junimond“.
Is it possible for something to completely end, not to be continued somehow? Don't ideas, characters, atmospheres of a completed scene appear again later in the evening, somehow, somewhere?
When is something really at an end?
Be ready for farewell and for restart (Spuren, Hermann Hesse)
In memory of Saskia.
Regina is offering glogg at the Winter Open Stage on Dec11 and will drink up the leftovers all alone. So help her!
She will also be teaching the Monday morning class starting
written by Dominik Klarhölter, who, together with Lisa Rasehorn, is making a scientific study at the University of Leipzig/Dresden on the psychological effects of improvisation
Are we getting smarter, prettier, happier with improv? »Yes, definitely«, someone might say, who plays improv himself. But is it really true, from a scientific point of view? Classical music supposedly makes kids smarter, rain prettier and money happier. So why shouldn`t improv somehow do all of it? After all, each improv show is like a fabulous brain-jogging, a wild roller coaster ride of emotions and an everlasting source of creativity and fun.
Since we didn`t want this to stay part of the »felt knowledge«, we decided a year ago to make a scientific psychological study on improv. Not much has yet been done or published on this matter. This fueled us to make this study, as we did our own experiences as improvisors, where we see many aspects, that are worth to be more closely examined – as the whole section »Focus Of The Month« is showing. So we asked ourselves: Does playing improv really make you more attentive, more stress-resistant, more self-secure and self-effective, all of which are a base for higher satisfaction in life and for a healthy psyche.
Before we will be able to give answers to the questions of our study in a few weeks, here is an attempt to deal with the initial questions from above: Does improv make smarter? This actually will be a question for other kinds of studies, for a lot of IQ-tests would have to be done. Another way to ask: Could it be that smart people choose improv as their »playground«, because it challenges them in different ways? And what about pretty, does improv make prettier? Well, taking the detour of smile wrinkles and the corresponding positive emotions, I am sure it does. Remarkable, and indeed something we found in our study, is that after an improv-class of several weeks, the improv students really did show a higher degree of self-effectiveness – a basic and learned trait, enabling you to take your life into your own hands and to feel ready to master even difficult future situations. In this regard it is well possible that self-effective people say: I stop disliking my large ears, from now on I will like them, period. Almost as if I would prescribe myself self-acceptance and self-love. Sounds strange, but it does more likely work with people who have a higher expectation of self-effectiveness. Because they expect that they themselves can be effective. Thus they can more successfully manage all kinds of challenges, no matter if they come from the outer world or if they are self-assigned (like: stop smoking, learn 10-finger-typing or a new tense in a foreign language). And as a side-effect, this increased self-effectiveness makes more resistant towards fears, depressions or higher stress levels. To put it short: In this sense playing improv really does increase your psychic health and even your degree of happiness, for unhappy people rather are convinced that they can change little or nothing in their live.
So, whereas modern science proves that classical music (unfortunately) does not make you smarter, rain (unfortunately) does not make you prettier, and lots of money (fortunately) does not really make you happy, playing improv might indeed be something real. And we expect even more than we and others have yet been able to scientifically undermine, for our scientific possibilities and methods had been limited.
So, research on and with improv will continue, and until then it means: Go up on stage, not knowing what will happen, thinking yes, acting and trusting and following impulses, being present and ready to fail with a smile, so that we may all get even more smart, more pretty, more happy – or enjoy just to stay the way we are.
Dominik Klarhölter and Lisa Rasehorn are improv-passionate students of psychology in Leipzig. They are writing their master thesis on the effects of improv theater on psychic health. Some of the students of our improv school have participated in the study. Among them we will draw 3 coupons worth 50 EUR for the improv-school at the Winter Open Stage on Dec 11th. Dominik will also be there and tell us more about the results of their study. For all of you who have yet missed it, but are still interested, here is a link to the test: Improv study
That you may get even prettier and your self-effectiveness may further rise!
written by Thomas
„Und kam die goldene Herbsteszeit,
und die Birnen leuchteten weit und breit...“
(„And when autumn came round, the golden tide,
And pears were glowing far and wide...“)
Most Germans know these lines, which come from a famous poem of Theodor Fontane about the Squire von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck in Havelland, who gave his juicy pears to the children of the village. And doesn`t everyone cherish a fully ripened apple, pear or plum, picked at its peak from the tree? That`s what I call perfection. And what did it need for that? Enough sun, enough rain, good soil, no pests, and simply enough time to ripen. Mostly things, that we have only limited influence on. Sure, the apple farmer can grow high efficient cultures and use a lot of fertilizers and pesticides in order to ensure a good harvest. But first of all there are still better and worse years and secondly, an apple from the supermarket just doesn`t have the taste of a ripe apple picked from an old tree. After all, the supermarket apples are picked before they are fully ripe, so that storage is easier.
So, where is the connection to improvisation?
When you begin with improv, you learn to be spontaneous, to follow your impulse. That`s a lot of fun and after a bit of training there often is high speed and energy onstage, people go for the quick laugh and in the end everyone says „wow, that was great!“
But concerning content and story, these improv shows often lack a lot. They feel to me a bit like those supermarket apples: they look good but all the same and actually they are not really that yummy.
If you want to improvise stories that are remembered by the audience (and by yourself), you need time. Most of all, the improvisor needs time to develop. Almost everyone makes the experience that after the first thrill, improvising suddenly may become hard work. At first you only hear „say YES“, but suddenly you have a bunch of „rules“ on your mind: How does a story work? Where is the turning point for my character? How do I play a character in the first place, instead of just being myself? Oh, and then „less talking, more physical acting“, „don`t forget to create and honor the space you`re in“, „remember status“, and so on.
At this point it only helps to relax and stay calm. Don`t try to do everything at once, put your focus one time on this subject, one time on the other, and appreciate every progress that you make, every scene that worked a bit better for you, that felt a bit more „ripe“. The young apple tree also can`t bring forward a whole bunch of perfect apples, even if it had permanent water, sun and fertilizers. It takes a few years for him to be big and strong enough. We Gorillas are improvising for almost 20 years now and we still feel that we can learn a lot.
What applies to the maturity of an improvisor, also applies to a scene or story. A good story is like a ripe apple. As this one has the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, so does the story need a good balance of funny and serious, it needs interesting characters and an interesting subject. And all of this cannot be genetically engineered and forced to be in always the same high quality. Actually it is about detecting the story, attending it, with all the improv skills that we momentarily have (also see the July focus on „Leadership“ about this). And then finding the right end (picking the ripe apple), which for many improvisors is really hard to achieve. But don`t worry, the sense of finding the right end can also ripen...
So stay with improv (and with our courses), take what you need to mature as an improvisor, stay calm (with yourself and your partners on stage), pick yourself a ripe apple and enjoy the golden days of autumn.
(By the way, on www.mundraub.org, you can find public fruit trees, to pick ripe fruits from for free.)
Thomas Chemnitz is teaching with the Morning Class Beginners with Leon from Oct. 31st to Dec. 19th.
written by Barbara
Summertime is a time to travel for many of us. It`s fun and feels good to encounter foreign places and get into the unknown. We are in this special travel mood, open for a bit of adventure and ready to accept things that are new and strange to us.
But now? Vacation is over, so back into the dull everyday-life? Let those bad-mooded colleagues spoil your own mood? Will this good vacation mood go away faster than your suntan? Or can you preserve it?
To encounter new and unknown things and learn how to deal with them is a topic that we always have in life. Sure, in your vacation you do it voluntarily and feel more ready for this kind of challenge. After all, we are only there for a limited time, we don`t REALLY have to adjust and to change. But otherwise?
In our workshops we teach you to say YES to the offers that you encounter on the improv stage, and those can also be strange, unknown, uncomfortable.
If you bring the idea of improv further, it can sneak into your life. Here you can also learn to encounter a new person, a new idea, a new topic without prejudice.
Rejection is not in the sense of improv and resistance is „rejection of a change process due to fear of side-effects“, as Berekat Karavul puts it in his „Handbook Project Management“.
If you start to deal with those feared side-effects, it can really get interesting to see, what is coming up, if you put some thought to it in a quiet hour and try to write down, what it really is that you are afraid of.
So what can I do to change the situation, if I really don`t like it the way it is?
Make another offer! Like in the „Let`s all...“ game.
„Be the change you want to see in this world“, as Mahatma Gandhi put it. A classic calendar quote, but if you take it serious and act accordingly, things around you really do change.
Actually this is, what we try to teach and learn in our workshops on various levels.
After all, the only thing we really can change is our own behaviour and attitude, not that of the others.
But now take your time to come back after summer vacation. Open one of those wine bottles that you brought with you from your trip, put up your legs, and indulge yourself in sweet vacation memories.
And then reanimate your surge for the unknown.
Possibly in one of our courses.
Barbara Klehr is a professional actress and Jazz singer. In her work as therapist she uses the tools of improv theater. Barbara teaches the Taster Weekend on September 24th+25th, the Evening Class Beginners from November 1st to December 20th, and Impro4ever "The Harold" with Leon and Norbert from September 5th to December 19th.
written by Konstanze
For quite some time I have been interested in Buddhism and its contemplative practices. Not with a religious goal to end up in Nirvana, a little bit maybe to become a better person, but mainly because it helps with almost everything. A modern term for this would be „mindfulness-training“.
The buddhist wants to reduce his suffering through mindfulness. In meditation, which aims at schooling the mindfulness, you practice to accept whatever is happening without sticking with it. Suffering, so it says, is part of resistance or the so-called „stickiness“. Meditation practices to let go, to let be.
That doesn`t mean that you shouldn`t be sad, angry or nervous at times, but you learn to let these feelings be and accept them, and also not to identify with them, to dwell in them and thus prolong them for more than necessary. So you get to know yourself better and better. Very interesting, by the way, to look at yourself in a loving way while you have the saddest of times: not evaluating it and wanting to get rid of it right away. This can be an uncomfortable but in a way also entertaining moment...and often the misery won`t stay for very long. I am not my feelings but the one who is aware of what the feeling is.
By the way: there is an interesting research on contemplative practices by the neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson in his book „Buddha's Brain" in which he relates the newest neuroscientific research to the concept of buddhism. Basically he says that through meditation you train your brain.
And where is the connection to improv?
I believe that improv is just as well a training for the brain, for your mindfulness, with many parallels to the basic axioms of buddhist practices, in a playful and joyful manner: be in the moment, say yes, listen, don`t evaluate, be in contact with yourself, your partner, your character, don`t know what will come next, don`t identify, don`t get so involved into your fantasy that you miss the next offer, don`t get so much into an emotion that you block you prefrontal cortex (the „decision maker“), otherwise there would be a lot of accidents on stage, don`t take too much time evaluating an idea or an impulse, otherwise you might miss the moment to put it into action. I am not my character, I am leading it. I conciously decide on my next action, the next move for the story.
Mindfulness is very well practiced by the steady state of split attentiveness: In order to see and hear the thousand things that happen on stage, I HAVE TO BE AWAKE. What was the offer of my partner? What does the room look like that we are in? What is my status? Should my character be happy or sad? Does the audience see me? Do I speak loud enough? What does the story need now? Didn´t I just have an impulse? And so on...
That`s what you do in meditation, but internally. Your anchor is the breathing, you always bring your attentiveness back to it and then realize: ah, a sound, ah, a thought, ah, my right toe itches, ah, dinner wants to be planned, ah yesterday-I-was-an-asshole-thought , ah there is a smell of.. I don`t know what. Conciously I let everything pass what comes up, all thoughts, feelings, sounds, smells, etc., I always return to my breath, stay in the moment.
So come on, guys, it`s summer, school is out! And even when you are not in an improv workshop right now, you can do daily pratice for your brain. Simply try to be aware of what is going on in the moment. Wherever you are. Once a day. Maybe close your eyes, sit and listen inside to what is coming.
What is thinking in me right now?
What is feeling in me right now?
Warmth, pressure, how does my jaw feel?
What do I hear?
How does my belly feel?
Can I feel my breath without changing it?
Do I drift away in thoughts?
I always return to my breath and thus return to the state of being in the moment.
Enjoy conciously licking your ice-cream, wiggling your toe in the train or the sand, breating in, breathing out.
The main thing in a sieve are the holes.
PAUSE FOR BREATH
Konstanze Kromer is a passionate improviser, she performs at Atze-Musikthetaer, is a singer and records audio books. From September 6th to October 25th she teaches the Evening Beginner Class with Lutz Albrecht.
written by Thomas
There is a nice improv-mantra, called „Follow the follower!“
There is an exercise for it that I often do in workshops: everybody walks around the space, closely watching everyone else. Then simply copy something, that you see someone else do (a little movement or the way he walks). After a while let go of it, return to „neutral“ and look for something else to copy. Never make up a movement yourself – simply copy and take everything from the others. After a while the room is filled with different movements, although no one made a distinctive offer, no one was leading, everyone just followed!
This exercise demonstrates: if you concentrate on your partner(s) and on the moment, the impulse for doing something comes all by itself.
If an actor really digs into a character he is playing, it often happens that this character „tells“ him, what he should do, how he should act and react. It's the character then, who is leading, not the actor anymore.
If you really dig into a story, being aware of the present moment and of everything which happened so far, you often will know from your intuition, what should happen next and which would be a good offer for the story. It's the story then, which is leading, not the storyteller anymore.
We often say:
„Give the story, what the story needs at this moment.“
„Give the character, what the character needs at this moment.“
„Everything that happens is meant to happen.“
And indeed it is one of the most thrilling experiences in improv, when all improvisors are surprised by what is happening, surprised by their own offers even, but feeling that this is just right and that it's really a cool story, which they are helping to give birth to.
Who was leading then? The story? The intuition? The Universe? God?
For me, this is indeed something like the „Holy Grail“ in Improv, which unfortunately we only rarely touch, but should always aim at.
Improv can really teach us to be led by something else than our ego.
This is also an aspect of a good leader out in the business or political world: the ability to see what the market/the company/the nation/the team/the customer/the citizen really needs at this moment and to react to it (and the important part of the word „reaction“ is „action“, take a concrete step)
Then this kind of leader is like a good improvisor, who says „Yes! And...“, and not like so many leaders, who mostly say „No way!“, „Well, but...“ or „But only, if....“.
I found out that there tend to be two types of improvisors:
There are those who quickly tend to make a „strong“ offer, making important decisions for a scene and pushing the story forward.
These types of players usually also feel more comfortable in playing high-status-characters.
Sometimes these players also have the tendency to „fight“ for their idea and even block the ideas of others. They represent the classic „leader type“ and their aim should be to pass on responsibility and to „serve the moment / the story“
On the other hand there are quite a few improvisors, especially amongst beginners, who don't like to take responsibility, usually because they are afraid of not having a good (or right) idea. They rather add more details to the status quo but prefer to let someone else take the next step in the scene or story. Not surprisingly, these players often feel more comfortable with playing low-status-characters. They never block, they always say YES, but sometimes the AND is missing. They should work on not to be afraid of making a (strong) offer.
Good improv – like good teamwork – needs both elements: advancing and expanding, giving and taking responsibility, YES and AND.
You can see this quite clearly in the „word-at-a-time-story“. Due to the rules of grammar, some words in a sentence are more important than others, those are the nouns and the verbs. I sometimes hear a sentence like this: The-big-old-round-yellow-and... Well, what, for God's sake? The noun is important in order to know who or what the story is about, so please give us a noun and not another adjective!
So next time you see such a grammatical „key word“ coming to you, take responsibility. And at best: say something, that the story is asking for!
So, why don't you focus this month on this subject – in improv and in real life – and ask yourself the following questions:
Do I prefer to take responsibility or rather pass it on to someone else?
Do I prefer to play high status or low status?
In which situations do I prefer the one or the other?
And finally and most important:
Do I give to the story and to my partners (on stage and in life), what they need at this moment?
Have fun with this!
Thomas guides you through the Taster Weekend on September 24th+25th and through the beginner class from October 10th to December 19th with Leon. And he (like most of our teachers) is going to be on stage with you at the Summer Open Stage on July 17th. Follow the follower…
written by Michael
When we go on stage, we are in the public, we are not part of an anonymous crowd any more, we don`t go there without a reason. We dont`t step in front of an audience for therapeutical reasons. If we have those, we can use the workshop space during training for that. No, we step out there, because we have a message, because we have a stance on something. This is what the stage and the audience expects from us!
Take the following example:
An actor is playing an anti-Fascist, who is hiding an illegal African refugee in his apartment. Now it wouldn`t be enough for the fellow improvisors to step on stage and make clear that we are all politically correct and agree with him. No, what the situation needs is an antagonist, a counterpart, who at best has a convincing charismatic character. It is our job to play this kind of character, and to play this Nazi in such a way, that he is not a dumb comedy character but a real human being. That`s where the threat really becomes threatening.
We have the tools to play such a counterpart. We have all the information, since we read the newspaper, watch the news, have discussions with friends and relatives. And we need all this information in order to have a stance on any topic. Even speechlessness can be a message, but there has to be a reason for this speechlessness. And it only means that the character that I play is speechless or helpless, not me as the actor.
Anyone, who has nothing to say, who as a human being is speechless, has nothing to say on stage either and should leave it.
Michael Wolf works as actor, writer and director. He is founding member of Die Gorillas. Michael is going to teach the Weekend Course on October 29th+30th and the Advansters Monday Evening Class starting on October 31st. Have fun!
written by Leon
As we all know, improvisation has certain guidelines: be aware of your partner, accept, give and take focus, make offers, don`t ask questions, make invisible objects visible, start positive...
And then there are the rules of certain improv-games and formats: one-word-at-a-time-story, two-way-dubbing-scene, three-line-scene, four walls, count to five to start, just to name a few.
Sounds like a paradox: After all, improvisation is about dealing with the unknown and uncertain, it`s about relaxing, being in the moment and NOT thinking about and trying to fulfill any rules.
But obviously that is not the whole truth. Well, good for us Gorillas, otherwise we wouldn`t have anything to teach to you and the whole improv school wouldn`t exist.
So why are there so many rules in improv? Good question, here are three possible answers:
to distract the player from his insecurity of being on stage and not knowing what to do by focusing on the rules of an improv game (this is what Keith Johnstone did in the 60s at the Royal Court Theatre)
to find artistic freedom by using limitation of your artistic means (as done in many arts like opera and ballet)
to find out in story-telling, what a good story is about (this is in any case important)
Last but not least: to use rules in order to make a playful interaction between two or more persons easier. This is true for the stage and for real life. The so-called „soft skills“. I guess this explains the phenomenon, that a lot of people enroll in our improv-school without really aiming to be on stage sooner or later (thank you for that!)
But now to my actual subject: mistakes can be friends, have fun in failing, or: why do I announce three possible answers to my question and then give four?
By teaching improv, I have learned that, if someone gets a rule, he wants to fulfill it. And if he fails in doing so, he is dissapointed and gets angry at himself. This leads to self-destruction. Again and again I have to tell my students: „The rules are there to learn them and then to fail fulfilling them. You are here to learn and not to be able do to everything right away.“ Of course, if a student is still not able to fulfill the rules after a certain time, he has to quit the course. No, only joking, mistake.
Mistakes can be friends, because they surprise us. Because they take away the pressure from us to be perfect. Because they show us a new path, that couldn`t have been planned. And this is the essence of improvisation: Do something, of which you don`t know how it will come out in the end.
So, which mistakes can I make on the improv-stage? Here are a few popular examples:
I run through a table, that has been established by my partner.
I am not loud enough.
I forgot the name of a character.
I`m not authentic enough.
I messed up the story by making a complicated offer. Everything is possible.
But mistakes can only be friends when they don`t hit us out of the story or make us completely insecure. When they happen, you shouldn`t ignore them, because everybody has seen or heard them. Here are a few hints of how my partner could verbally react:
„I could have sworn that was a table a minute ago.“
„I know that you talk so quiet on purpose, so that I can`t understand what you`re saying.“
„Say my name or I will leave you!“
„I don`t believe what you`re saying.“
„Now could you explain to me how this whole thing can go on?“
All of these moments have the potential to bring the story into a new direction. And that is why in the best case there will be no more mistakes in the end, because all so-called mistakes can improve the story and bring more fun and energy to the scene. Or, as we like to say, everything that happens is meant to happen!
There is an exception to this new rule: when it gets too complicated, you are allowed to step out of the scene. But this shouldn`t be done as a gag, but only for means of clarification, in order to be able to still be part of the scene. After all, we should always serve the story and see what the situation needs.
To sum it up: It`s fine, if you want to learn all the improv rules and guidelines, you really should do so. YES! But once you play you shouldn´t think about them, for it`s the „mistakes“ that make you spontaneous again. So you shouldn`t get insecure when they happen, because you know that mistakes do happen and then they are no mistakes any more. And: mistakes can be friends!
Dear improv students: find the mistake in this text and send a mail to me with an explanation of why it is a mistake: firstname.lastname@example.org
All answers, also the mistaken ones, will be in the pot, from which on May31st we draw 3x1 free ticket for our show at the Grüner Salon of the Volksbühne. Winners will be notified by mail. Good luck!
written by Regina
The heart of (improv) theatre are the stories, that we tell on stage - stories of changing relationships.
In improv theatre we not only have relationships on stage - there are also encounters among the audience and between the audience and the actors. Most relationships have been seen before, we cannot invent anything new. Yet we attempt to make the improvised relationships look fresh and alive.
How do we manage to create interesting relationships after having done improv theatre for almost 20 years (yes, next year...)?
Sure, the first encounter, flirting with someone, is electrifying, no matter what happens. An air of excitement, a fresh breeze, spring fever.
Playing in front of an audience for the first time, having a new kind of encounter with them - at the improv sessions of our improv school you can always sense that there is this special excitement.
But how can we create this flirt and these relationships on stage every time for the first time and always different? How do we develop this curiosity for each other?
In his book "Improvisation and theatre" Keith Johnstone describes how he got the impuls for creating his first improvisation exercises. He was working with actors at the Royal Court Theatre in London and he was missing exactly this kind of curiosity for each other. By making them improvise he wanted to open them up again for the moment of encounter, to get into a real and authentic relationship and to see their characters and the written text as a chance to do just that.
At the "Meta-Impro" Show during this year`s festival, Rama Nicholas from Australia made clear what really is the beginning of each relationship: the eye contact. To really look at each other, to perceive one hundred percent, and to be open for anything that evokes from this. What is my partner actually doing there? How does he look, move, what is his tone of voice?
Often there is a sudden tension between two players on stage, because of a look or an unexpected change in behaviour. And often we don`t take this moment serious and return all too quick to our comfort zone. But holding this tension, being ready for the unknown of a relationship - this should be the first step and it should be a big one.
The just mentioned "Metaimpro" show invited the audience to witness personal monologues of the actors on stage. This created an intimate atmosphere. I could almost grab the curiosity that was suddenly in the room - as well by the fellow actors as by the audience. I felt that at this moment the actors made a big step towards us in the audience. They showed themselves and made it possible for us to really look at them closely. They took at risk, and it was not only Rama, who started the flirt with the audience.
My motto for this spring thus is: Throw yourself towards any encounter and flirt as much as possible!
Regina is starting to teach the Beginners Class on Tuesday evenings on May 25th. Her lived knowledge of relationships she and her Gorilla-husband Christoph like to share during the summer camp (August 26 to 28) to Berlin hinterland.
written by Christoph
As in many other aspects, improv also is limitless concerning content. It is the nature of improv that we never know beforehand, what a scene will be about. I like it, when the actors dare to be up-to-date, for in my opinion a big strength of improv is its ability to deal with current events. There is a higher level to the action on stage when I notice, that the actors are aware of what`s going on in the world, that they have informed themselves about political, social and cultural events and tendencies. When you play a heart surgeon, I don`t expect you to know all relevant medical terms. But when you are in a scene that takes place at the „Lageso“, I will be more interested in your character, when I see that you know the name of the Berlin Senator for Social matters and the name of the chairwoman of the AfD. Because I notice that you are aware of what is going on around you, and that will bring more authenticity to your character (in fact, even if you play an ignorant character, who doesn`t know these names, I can tell if the actor behind it knows them).
This year`s festival is based on these thoughts, for a main theme of the festival will be „borders and freedom“. So the major political discussion of our times will have arrived at the IMPRO, and it will be a challenge as well as an opportunity for us to deal with this and put it on stage in one way or another. And yes, it is well possible that you will see more „serious stuff“ than usual and that one or the other scene will fail to meet the demand of the topic. As a matter of fact, we even hope for this to happen. For only if we are willing to take risks, we are able to make new experiences and to develop our art form „improv theatre“ further.
Christoph is the director of the IMPROV festival, that will take place from March 11-20. This years title is „Borders. Limits. Liberty", www.improfestival.de
In the improv school he will teach an advanced-class, starting May 23, and at the end of August, together with his wife Regina, the Impro-Summer-Camp entitled „Love & Relationship“.
written by Inbal Lori
So here’s what I have learned from watching great improvisers playing: it’s not all about them. In fact what makes their impro personal, real, flowing, funny and touching, is the amount of care and focus they give to their partners and their characters.
The audience might enjoy seeing us fighting, but I can promise you, they will care for us more if we actually like each other. The show may be amazing with this cool, extraordinary character you just found. but it will be more enjoyable and can go much further if you help us know what’s up with your partner as well.
So how much do we really see our partners when we are up there? What gifts are we giving them by asking their characters questions like: “How are you since the divorce?” or “Looking good, is that a new hair cut? “(Tim Orr, BATS)
How much focus do we give them when they have a monologue that can truly affect us and them?
Unless you're having a one woman show, impro is never all about you. be it failures or success, it’s always team work. And that means that a lot of our focus should go towards our partners and their characters, to see who they are and then understand what they need.
written by Urban
Welcome to 2016. Most of you probably have saluted the new year with one or another drink.
We are doing this, because we trust and hope that a new year will bring new opportunities for us and that our wishes may come true.
The new year lies ahead of us like a vast plain, covered with freh snow. Everything seems possible.
It`s the same on the Impro stage:
At first there is the empty stage, then there is a suggestion from the audience, then the first character appears on stage, the first lines of dialogue are spoken, the story develops.
Later we reflect on the scene to see which traces we left on the stage.
Just as one looks back on the snow plain, once you`ve walked through.
Improv players can only start on this journey when they have trust in each other.
When the fear of failure becomes too big, I won`t even dare to make the first step.
As an improvisor we know that a scene might become difficult. But we always trust, that a colleague will come to help move the scene forward.
And even if that doesn`t work, well, then we all fail together! Let`s shake off and get ready for another journey, on to a new scene, to undiscovered shores...
To spend lifetime in such an atmosphere of trust is something special. Whom do we really trust in our lives? Our partner? Doctors? Politicians? Our teachers? Our parents? The BIO-label on organic food? The future? Ourselves?
No matter if in real life or on the impro stage – trust can only develop when you get into contact.
„Meet somebodys eyes“ is a nice Impro-Mantra. When did we last have such a real, almost intimate contact with our partner on stage? When did we really look into his eyes? You need courage to do this. And the trust, that the other one is also looking for these real moments. How wonderful, when you are able to experience them on an impro stage!
When you play impro theater, you almost get this kind of trust as a gift. It develops by itself. Sure – there are trust-building-exercises in the workshops, such as „blind follower“. But when I am in an impro group, I have blind trust in my colleagues, because I have experienced that they accept my offers, that I am happy about their offers, that always someone jumped in when there was a critical moment on stage, that we accepted failure together and celebrated success together. We don`t work on „trust“ - we work on saying „Yes“, on being in the moment, on giving and taking responsibility, on trusting and following our impulses.
All of this leads to trust. Trust in others and trust in oneself.
We can use many of these tools in the new year.
When the glasses meet to salute the New Year, it is also important to look into each others eyes.
They say, if you don´t have eye contact, you have 7 years of bad sex.
Well, if you miss eye contact on the improv stage, you will have 7 minutes of a bad scene. At least.
Happy New Year!
written by Robert
A basic rule of improvisation says that each offer of your partner is a gift. However, I have noticed that at times I find it very hard to accept certain offers. I don`t understand them. Or I do understand them, but think they are bullshit. Maybe they are just not clear or strong enough. In any case: the gift goes straight into the waste basket. What now?
I believe there is only one solution: more humility, less ego. Don`t judge, accept! Sounds simple, but it`s only possible, if you are really able to open yourself up for the moment and turn off your inner censor.
Sometimes my personal taste is in the way. I simply don`t like the offer. But it`s not about liking or disliking, it`s about trusting the path that was taken and being ready to be surprised. This enables me to really play along with my partner, whereas, if I block, we are no longer together and stand still for that moment. It might be that my partner realizes how hard it is for me to go along with his offer and then does the same in return to me, when I make an unclear or clumsy offer.
I might also think of myself as being smarter than my partner and feel the urge to correct him. But improv is not about being correct, it`s much more about embracing mistakes. Let`s see, where they lead us. Shifting the French Revolution a few decades backward or forward: pourquoi pas?
Each improviser has his own inner obstacles that hinder him to always and fully accept the offer of his partner. Even an experienced improvisor must always remember to be less smart and more in the flow of the scene, to do less judging and more developing.
If this works, chances are good that a good scene evolves, that you may discover something, that you may give and receive presents!
written by Michael
Slowly the year is coming to its end and we are decreasing speed. The trees throw off their leaves, the first snowflakes fall, the whole world seems to become more quiet. It is the time of reflection and we are leaving the surface to dive into our personal depths.
In improvised theatre I often miss these depths. An improv actor always seems to be under pressure, always on the test bench of spontaneity.
Hurry, hurry, I´ve got another idea - we stay on speed, on the passing lane, no chance to really see what`s happening around you. No chance to notice the more subtle offers, they are perished by the raging airstream of our race.
This way of playing is unfortunately positively judged by the audience: "My Goodness, they are so fast, so spontaneous!"
And shallowness has received its legitimation.
But should we be content with this? Isn`t there more? Don`t we want to tell stories, that are worth being told?
Naturally, in improv this doesn`t always work, we may fail. But whoever has received an audience feedback like "This scene or this character has really touched me or made me remember something or has made me thoughtful", will always want to go further into these depths.
A good story needs time, time for thoughts. It is these quiet moments between action and reaction, these intermissions for thoughts, that make our action on stage valuable.
Let us not sacrifice our time any more to the wasteful exchange of blows.
In this sense, I wish you courage for silence, on stage as in life.
written by Billa
Once a wise woman told me „ Accepting things means letting them go.“ But at that time I couldn`t understand her wisdom. I thought, if something is important, I can`t just let go of it and forget about it, I need to keep it and stick to it.
Well, good thing that I write about this topic now and have to think about what it really means, expecially related towards improvisation.
I found out, that I don`t really have the power to change certain situations in life. They just happen, and if I am able to accept them, it will be easier on me and I don`t have to think and rethink about why this or that has happened to ME! I accept what happened, trusting that there is a meaning to it and that new things are about to happen, based on this event.
In this sense, letting go truly is the same as accepting. Things happen to me. I trust that there is a meaning in it, I accept the development of a scene and I let go: I let go of my idea, of how the story should have developed, I let go of my typical behaviour, I am able to jump into the new situation and might even discover new skills.
I might not like it, but improv always means interaction: with my partner, with the audience, with myself. I cannot have control. Trusting that I am able to create a mutual fantasy means letting go. Don`t stick to the thought that your beliefs are really right. In improv I often see that students want to stay in control, although the idea is that of „letting things go“. But if I let go, I have no more control, and then what?
But once I let go, I can jump into free falling, trust in everything coming together, see the attraction of the new and unknown, celebrate my curiosity – towards my partner, towards my imagination. Then I will truly be free and my imagination will soar on new grown wings.
Billa will be the teacher of the Impro4ever class "The format", beginning in January 2016.