Focus of the month
Every beginning of the month we examine one aspect of the big theme "improv", to insprire both instructors and participants.
Music and Singing on the Improv Stage
written by Barbara Klehr
In October we brought out a new format: an improvised opera in the style of Richard Wagner.
It was great fun to work on something new. And apart from this, it showed once again, that music plays a very important role on the improv stage.
It was great to see, that on two consecutive nights the audience was truly enthusiastic. No wonder, since our musician Felix Raffel did an unbelievable job in bringing fantastic music on stage.
Having talked to several people from the audience (all of them having seen a lot of improv shows), I also found out, that for them singing on the improv stage is always stimulating. Especially, if the singer is taking serious, what the impersonated character is singing about.
And this is exactly what we were looking for in this format. Often times, when we do opera in our improv shows, it is more like a persiflage, in which we are making fun of some opera stereotypes. This time we tried to honestly serve the characters and the story. To enlarge the passion and the suffering and to let all emotions spread out. And all this only with singing.
In teaching, I often see a big longing of people to raise their voice and to express themselves in singing. At the same time there is a lot of shame. Many fear to sing on an improv stage. And those, who are good at it or simply do it, are looked up to.
But you don’t have to be a great singer to bring a good improv song to the stage. You don’t have to have a trained voice either. What it needs is a sense for rhythm, which can rather quickly be activated and taught to almost everyone. Plus the knowledge of how a song is structured.
At this point let me refer to a workshop, that I offer in March ;-)
But now we enter December, a time that invites us to pause and draw back. This is easier said than done. But why don’t you consciously listen to a piece of music again, without reading or working next to it. Sing along loudly to the cheesiest Christmas song that you know. Invite your partner to dance in the living room.
And: come to see »Die Pediküre - keine Oper von Wagner« in January. This is truly „something else“ on an improv stage!
Barbara is teaching the weekend-class »Impro Songs - The Basics« on March 2 and 3, 2024, together with the musician Peter Huber. And she can be seen and heard in the music focused improv-show »Die Pediküre - keine Oper von Wagner« on Jan 27.
What happens if people engage in creative activities – like Impov - during leisure time? Does this creative activity increase well-being and what are the underlying processes? These were the research questions for a study at the University of Münster.
We asked 84 employees to fill out two times daily a questionnaire for a week. Directly after work and before going to bed, we asked them for their well-being and how many minutes they spent on creative activity during leisure time. Instead of comparing people with each other, we compared different days of one person with each other. This allows us to find out if on days where people are more engaged in creative leisure activities, they feel different than on days where they are less or not creative at all. The focus is not on the difference between people, but within people on different days.
We could find out, that on days, where people spent more time on creative leisure activities they had a higher positive affect, less fatigue, and more serenity – so altogether higher well-being. Additionally, we measured, that these relationships can be explained because the people have the feeling of self-expression during the creative activity. Therefore, they can be themselves and do not need to self-regulated themselves like at work. Another process that happens during the creative activity is absorption. Absorption refers to a state of complete concentration where people are totally taken by their task.
Therefore, we could find out, that creative activities during leisure time – like playing improv, has a positive relationship with well-being, self-expression, and absorption.
Like Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” So, this study encourages people to still use their creative side to express themselves, be absorbed, and improv their well-being. And what it is best for that? Improv during leisure time!
The biographical knowledge of a character reveals itself to the improvisors only by and by. All improvisors involved are constantly working on the biography of their own character as well as the ones of the others. This is a steady development and never static. Nothing is set or thought ahead, only elements, that might have been taken from the audience, such as a character trait, a profession, etc. have to be respected.
In the course of the improvisation, all that counts is the emotional offer and the spoken word, and even in this we have broad space for interpretation. The fact, that we may draw different conclusions from the offers of our colleagues on stage, or that our own offers for the development may provoke misunderstandable situations, is in the nature of the game and indispensable.
Misunderstandings are part of our life and thus part of improvisation. We just have to find a good way to deal with the disappointments, that may result from them. And when we discuss a scene or a show afterwards, we have to be able to name them, without letting it result in a conflict.
After a rather ropy warm-up, the first scene started in bright neon-light. Two people improvised a dialogue: „Hello, how are you?“ „Fine, and you?“ . Some of the other participants were looking outside the window, others quickly checked their phones again, and I caught myself thinking about the recipe of the Lasagna I made the other day. What was going on? No characters, no emotions, and any action seemed to be far away.
Suddenly I had an insight: nothing was going on. There was no energy, and thus everything else lacked. I did another, more energetic warm-up (also for myself) and we started all over. Suddenly things were running smoothly: the participants made choices to bring something to the stage. A character, an emotion, an experience. They started to act. And all of this a bit BIGGER THAN LIFE. (The second warm-up was „Samurai“ and „Whiskymixer“)
How good it felt to have overcome the inner longing for a sofa! After a few exciting scenes and a closing ritual (we were counting in turns til 12), all tension fell off and we happily walked out into the autumn night (even the rain had stopped).
To round it up, here’s a nice energy-exercise for the stage: ON/OFF. 4-6 participants stand on either side of the stage (OFF). As soon as one person enters the stage, that person is ON and must bring „something“ to the stage - a character, an emotion, an activity. Immeadiately, all others must decide, if they go along and also be ON, or if they stay OFF. In the scene that evolves, each character must keep his/her „theme“ , trying to increase the energy level of it. As soon as one character’s energy is decreasing, he/she must leave the stage, and so must all the others. Then it starts again.
Today´s episode concludes our little series on improv-wisdoms. Last time we were talking about the importance of sensing what the Story needs, instead of just generating ideas. But what if I sense something but don't have any idea to support the story´s present need? In fact, not only beginners know this feeling. It is even worse when it happens while you are in a scene. You can actually see, how the improvisor gets into the brain, desperately looking for an idea. The physicality of the character is gone, all you can see is the improviser being in search. And as he or she comes back, it is all too often with a “standard solution”: I fall in love with the other one, I kill the other one or I find some reason to leave the scene. That always works somehow, but often it is not the action that this particular moment really needed. If you are not in the scene, but in the wings, the audience doesn´t see you searching for ideas, but that doesn´t make things much better. In any case, today´s wisdom can be of help:
»I do not search, I discover.«
or: »Everything I need for the scene is already there.«
This might sound a little esoteric to you, but it actually is of very practical use. Here is an example: In Episode 2, I mentioned the »Batovia«-Project from this year´s festival and how we working with the idea of »units«. We focused on discovering these potential units we were part of, also in relationship to the audience. Am I with a group of five in the back of the stage, while two others are in front? Then we might be some kind of commenting chorus. Maybe we provide images and atmosphere or find a little action. All without making a scene out of it or stealing the focus from what is going on at the front of the stage. Am I part of a 2-person-realtionship in the front? Then a scene could emerge from this. Do we have a certain gesture or movement? This could tell us something about the situation we are in. How is my body position towards the other character, how close or far away do I stand? This can tell me more about my inner relationship to that person and about my status. How is my own body posture? How do I feel? This can give me clues about the character I am about to play.
So I never really need to think and search for ideas, only by connecting I get the first impulse. Which I then simply expand. I don´t like the other charakter? I find reasons to justify this feeling. As an improv player, I presently feel insecure and anxious? I let my character adopt this feeling, dive into it and find a reason for it. Maybe now, out of all this, the first line of the scene comes to me and I let my character say it. Maybe the other one was faster and said the first line. Then I let go of my sentence and listen carefully. WHAT was said and HOW was it said? All of this could be the seed, the nucleus of the scene we are about to play. So I already discovered it and all I need to do is to help letting it unfold and emerge (see Episode 3)
As you might have noticed, all of these wisdoms are connected, like threads that are woven together. Good improvising should actually always feel easy: I do not need to desperately go into my brain and search for ideas. I just have to be connected, watch and listen. discover what´s already there, and then help the story to unfold and emerge. In all of this, I don´t have to be afraid of making mistakes, cause there are none. :)
In this sense, I encourage you to embrace these wisdoms and work with them the next time you are in an improv-class or on an improv-stage. Have fun!
In Episode 2 I mentioned, how our ego often stands in the way of truly being connected with the moment. One way of trying to stay in the moment is to ask yourself these questions: Which story wants to be told right now? What does this moment need?
When you start practicing improv, you often get excited about all those ideas that suddenly pop up in your brain. And since you have learned, that there are no mistakes, only offers (see Episode 1), you often can´t wait to bring your idea into the scene or story. But especially if there are more than two players on stage, this can quickly make things overloaded, complicated and strenuous. In »Batovia« (the project of this year´s festival) we were seven players on stage, so this episode´s wisdom was important for us. Its essence is the idea, to treat a story as a living being, which wants to emerge on this specific evening. And my job is simply to help unfolding it. In order to do so, I don´t think about what I would want to happen and look for ideas. Instead I listen intensely and try to get a sense of what is needed at this very moment. What is it, that this independent creature »The Story« really wants? And all too often that is not me or the great idea I just had. In that case I stay humbly at the side, let go of my great idea and keep on listening.
It might happen, that I am in a scene and suddenly notice, that my partner´s character is more interesting and with more potential than my own. Then, instead of fighting for my character, I humbly do my best to now support the other character. So it´s always about letting go of my own personal ambitions and feelings, in other words: my ego. And this I achieve best by being connected (see Episode 2).
Having talked about humbleness: the German word for it is »Demut«, which includes the word »Mut«, meaning »courage«. And it often does involve courage to take back the ego and serve!
But be careful: The courage to be humble should not be confused with shyness or even fear of taking responsibility. For it might also be the other way around: I am in a scene to support another character, but suddenly my own character becomes more interesting and important than the other. Then I must accept to be the main character, even though I might feel overstrained with that. I might also sense, that after a strong emotional moment of depth, the story now needs some lightness and humour. Or vice versa! Then I enter the stage and try to establish a new scene in this manner, even if I have no concrete idea yet. But I trust that someone else has had the same insight, will come to join me and together we will find something.
Although in these situations you are still serving the story and not your personal ego, you need no humbleness but rather quite some courage. This is connected with trust. And with an improv-wisdom, which will conclude this little series next month...
In improvisation we always strive to be connected, and there are various ways of this: Connecting with myself: How does my body feel right now? And how my mind? Connecting with my fellow players: How do I feel about them? What do I know about their present condition? Into this category fit some other classics: »Make your partner look good on stage!« and »Everything I need is in my partner!« Both of these »improv-mantras« aim at a strong and positive connection between the players on stage. Connecting with the audience: What do I know about them? What can I learn about them during warm-up? How do they react to what's happening on stage? Connecting with the character I am playing: What kind of character am I playing ? What is it aiming for? What are its strengths and weaknesses? How does my character feel in the present situation? And how does it feel towards the other characters on stage? Plus: Connecting to what momentarily happens in the scene or the story, connecting this to what has previously happened, keeping the connection to the main topic, and probably some other connections, that I can´t think of right now. So many possible connections to be made!!!
In improvisation, the approach is to be so connected with everything around you, so in the end your ego fades away by itself. So maybe practising improv can also lead to enlightenment, in a more fun way than meditation? I leave that to you. But I am sure, that after a good show or workshop, many of you have made the experience of feeling connected – with yourself, with your partners, with the audience. And you don´t have to take a spiritual perspective in order to simply enjoy this. I wish you many of these blissful moments this month.
written by Thomas Chemnitz
Episode 1: “There are no mistakes – just different possibilities!”
At this year´s international festival, I was with Randy Dixon from Seattle again. He has been sort of a mentor for us Gorillas and I have collected many “wisdoms” from him about our art. We were rehearsing the festival-show “Batovia”, which aimed to play in the style of Shakespeare. But we also dealt a lot with general topics of improv, especially when being in a larger group (“Batovia” had a cast of 7). In this context, Randy brought forward some of his “wisdoms” again. And though they haven´t been new for me (and might not be for you, either), I experienced their truth and their power. So I decided to write a “focus of the month” on them. Having sent my first, rather long draft to Ramona, she meant this was like having four focus-texts in one. Thus we decided to create a Mini-Series, with one episode for each wisdom. This is something new and brings us nicely to Episode 1, which is about a wisdom that I love, but that often is a challenge for me to believe in:
»There are no mistakes, only different possibilities.«
In the “normal world”, most of us strive for perfection. Sure, we know, that “nobody is perfect”. But we have experienced what can happen, if we make mistakes: they can make us look foolish, they make us vulnerable and can bring about embarrassment. That´s why we try to avoid them, usually by making all sorts of conscious or subconscious plans. Of which all too many fail sooner or later....
In business contexts “dealing with mistakes” has become quite a double-faced topic. Most companies agree, that making mistakes is an essential part of learning and growing and getting better, especially when dealing with new ventures or organizational structures. But instead of celebrating each mistake as another development-step, all too often they convey towards their employees, that they should at best “make no mistakes”.
So what a relief it can be, when you hear in your first improv class, that there are no mistakes, that the world of improv only knows “options” and “possibilities”. What a wonderful, positive, parallel universe this improv world is! So you take more classes, get more advanced and learn, what makes a good scene and a good story. And suddenly you realize that your beloved improv world is also full of possible mistakes! You notice them at others and others notice them at you: saying the wrong name, neglecting status, pushing the story into the wrong direction, using the wrong style element of a chosen genre, to only name a few. This can sometimes lead to nasty discussions after a show or workshop.
And when improvising in a foreign language (which most festival participants did), your own insecurity adds up to that: I used the wrong word, I lack vocabulary, I feel limited and just not good enough (the feeling of being a mistake).
But even native English speakers had high respect of improvising in the style of Shakespeare. So what a relief it was to hear Randy remind us, that there are no mistakes. My partners offer seems wrong and unfitting to me? How exciting! Another option, that I could have never thought of myself and that I will follow with curiosity, even though I may not fully understand it right now. This attitude, by the way, will also help me outside of the improv-universe to get into the famous “thinking outside of the box” mode. In this sense we should also accept our felt limitations as an offer: if I feel limited with language, I use the opportunity to finally work more with the body or emotional sounds, for example. Or I make the feeling of being limited a part ot the character I am playing. So limitations can actually give me the chance to discover new possibilities and develop as an improv-player.
Thus I am wishing you many new options and possibilities, be it in the improv-universe or in the real world. And when you catch yourself noticing “mistakes” again (as I regularly do), be mild with yourself and remember: Nobody is perfect!
Coming up in Episode 2: Is there a connection between improv and enlightenment?
written by Gilly Alfeo
When I studied Jazz as a young man, I loved to attend jazz-sessions. For a promising session (because of the good musicians that would join it), there was no way too long for me to go there and jam along on the piano. At that time I noticed two different ways of approaching improvisation, two different kinds of jazz-musicians, so to speak: the »Lego-Type« and the »Play-Doh-Type« (remember that funny smelling modeling stuff from our childhood?). I can see both of these types in improv theatre as well, and it can be useful to find out, to which type you belong. For all of those, who have never been to a jazz-session, here´s a short excursion: musicians, who often meet for the first time, come together and play well-known tunes, so-called »standards«(a bit like playing our worldwide known improv games). One after another, each musician gets the opportunity to play a solo over the chords of the specific standard. In my view, it´s especially the way that these soloists approach their improvisation, which makes me put them into one of the two mentioned categories.
There are those, who have obviously practised a lot at home and who can now show their skills in an impressing manner. I call them Lego-Type, because they improvise in a kind of modular construction system. On every chord they put - with virtuosity - certain tone sequences, which musicians also call »licks«, which they know will fit well. This doesn´t mean, that they always play the same stuff, but in listening you can hear the little building blocks, that make up the whole nice solo.
The Play-Doh-Type has also practised at home, otherwise he/she couldn´t master his/her instrument, but in improvising he/she is more in the moment. With this type, you can follow, how something develops from an inspiration, how a small idea, some musical motive is explored from all sides and more and more builds up to an impressing entity.
Usually, in those jazz-sessions the audience gave applause after each solo. From »roaring thunder« to »out of politeness« everything was possible. On average, the »Lego-fraction« received more applause from the audience. But the low- and high-peaks were usually reserved for the »Play-Dohs«. Leaving aside, if an evaluation is necessary at all, I believe that both ways have their advantages and disadvantages. With the Lego-Type as an audience or colleague you usually know easier, what you´ve got. There are clear and comprehensible offers and it`s easy to get into it. The Play-Doh-Type takes a higher risk, as he/she is more dependant upon true inspiration. But he/she can truly be »in the moment«, is more receptive as a colleague, and if things fructify, the surprise and fascination in the end is much larger. I think, that in the end, the true art is – as so often - to take the best from both worlds.
Are you already able to put yourself into one of these two categories? Now I will leave the transfer to improv theatre to yourself, that would be going beyond the scope. But let´s talk about it at the festival with a cold drink and gripe about the »Playmobil-Type«.
written by Josefine Heidt
The place, where all actresses and actors meet before they enter the stage, where stage-fright is cooking, until the curtain goes up.
You could say, it´s a place like anywhere else, but actually the backstage area has an important role and influence on what we will get to see on stage.
When I enter the theatre in the evening, I usually have my routines and rituals: I set up my place in the wardrobe, look for a spot, where I can warm up my body and voice, check my costume, my make-up, my props. In my head I go through my text or have an imaginary run-through of a certain scene.
Often at this time you meet the first colleagues. But it can also happen, that you see each other for the first time shortly before showtime in the stage wings. Until then everyone has made their individual rituals. And why not? You know what you´re going to play. For weeks in rehearsals, the cast has come together, creating the production that is now being presented every (other) night. Backstage time thus is an individual time, where everyone can prepare in whatever way seems fitting.
But an improv show is different. We don´t know the characters and scenes we are going to play. In contrast to »regular« theatre, there is no set content that we can prepare for mentally. Even the cast can be different every night. With some colleagues you play regularly, others you only see once in a while, and sometimes you get to know somebody just an hour before entering the stage together.
Thus, for an improv show it doesn´t matter so much, how focused and prepared everyone is individually. Instead we need a different kind of preparation, we need to come together as a group.
Lately I have become more aware of how important backstage time is for me. And how it can help me to start the show with a good feeling. We are dependent upon moods in a room. They influence our emotions and our behaviour. A certain atmosphere can mold us together or could make us want to leave the room. And since on the improv stage we need to collaborate and to be attentive and sensitive with our partners, I find it a great help to create this atmosphere already in the backstage.
You might say: »Well, don´t we have these warm-up exercises for this?« And yes, they may indeed help, but they are not the universal tool. What good is a clapping-circle or 5 minutes of »I am a tree...« bring, when in the 40 minutes before everyone has been busy with their smartphone, or, even worse, when there is a bad atmosphere, because you started to discuss a delicate and controverse subject?
Thus I propose: dare more togetherness!
Lately I read, that being listened to is one of the most important emotional needs of human beings. When people listen to us, we feel seen, noticed, appreciated. You might know this: someone is asking you a question and you feel, that you are getting space. A space, that is kept open for you, because the other one is really interested in what you have to say. That feels great, doesn´t it?
I think these moments really make a difference in the quality of togetherness, because we feel connected with the other person. And this form of appreciation works both ways, for human beings can mirror each other. The one who listens will be listened to.
In this way, conversations develop, in which we learn new things about each other. Even colleagues, that we have known for years, can surprise us in these conversations: »Really? You have done this? I didn`t know yet!« If we are curious and open-minded for each other, we can set the tone for the evening, give each other a good feeling, devote our time and attention to each other, we laugh, we relax, we open up. You could call it »quality time with colleagues«, making us more curious for each other and letting our anticipation to jump on stage grow.
And what´s best: you can apply this idea to other areas as well. In your improv class you are with other improv students – temporary colleagues, so to speak. So why don´t you focus a bit on the time before a class starts? Or the breaks in between? Or the time afterwards? These times are great for becoming curious and getting to know each other better. It will lead you to feel being seen and appreciated, for opening up and for gaining trust. Thus you can become bold and might take risks on stage, with every risk having the potential of outgrowing yourself.
Another advantage: before you even jump on stage, you will already be equipped with fine-tuned and well-adjusted ears!
written by Stefanie Winny
For twenty years I have been playing and I teaching improv theatre. I have worked with autistic persons and PTSD-patients. I thought I knew everything about the »YES...AND«-principle.
Then, early this year quite surprisingly the most feared improv colleague of the universe came and I had to say »Yes« to this sucking offer: »You only have a few more weeks to live. Metastases in your bones, an aggressive tumor.«
In an improv story we want to see the emotional reaction of the character. Is she out for revenge? Is she conciliating? Is she going to change the world?
But in this game I am character and player at the same time. And this changes your attitude. What is left to do? Give up? Or clean up and enjoy life? It had got me full stroke. I collapsed. Couldn’t eat anymore, couldn’t think anymore. I had the stunning image of my family sitting in summer at the kitchen table with my chair being empty.
After a few days of being paralyzed, I went to an anniversary of my school class and noticed, how this change of scene enabled me to chow down the buffet and laugh out loud. And then I realized: If my life were an improv scene, I should accept this nasty offer: »I have cancer with a very uncertain chance of surviving.« YES.
So now I had to add my AND, this is the active part. Get informed. Do research. Ask around. I regarded chemotherapy not as a poison but as an appreciated help to clean up inside and to start over. And my body tolerated it just fine.
Then, in November, the victorious news: the metastases are stopped and even significantly drew back! But it was a sham victory. So on to the next level: rescue center, epilepsy, loss of language. And I heard: »Oh no, at least 13 metastases in your brain. We can’t use radiation on them, we can only do palliative treatment.« And while listening to this, I thought: »Until this morning I felt great, I went to the gym, I was active and happy.«
And then: instead of desperation and fear there was an inner certainty that everything will be fine.
This offer brought another change of scene. New research and consultation. And so I continued with a new treatment possibility and with an excellent patient-centered care. Full-brain-radiation. A word that sounds gross to many people. But for me these fifteen appointments were a win of energy.
Being able to live the YES…AND-principle has given me an immense power, because I can really feel it in these moments. There is not the one reaction to an offer. Bad offers can pull you down and paralyze you. Perceive them. But stay cool in your mind and look for new possibilities.
Today I can feel the YES…AND so much, that I wake up at nights, looking forward to the next day, to my family and friends. I have developed an energy like never before for new projects and for linking the energies of my friends and colleagues. Old problems and conflicts have vanished. Any grudge about the small miseries of everyday life seem ridiculous. These past months I have linked people with each other, renewed old friendships, motivated ill people.
My wish for you is, that you may be armed against such strokes of destiny. They will come. But they can make you extremely powerful. Even the toughest catastrophe can, like a trampoline, generate an immense energy.
As improv players, we strive to create something together, to link with each other and inspire us. And to let the audience be part of this joy.
I wish you an energetic, positive and happy new year! Make it the best one of your life!
From us Gorillas, there is nothing left to say than YES to this wish. From our hearts we thank Stefanie for writing this focus of the month and for having done this daring trampoline jump. For a long time Steffi has been one of our improv students and is now playing improv with Foxy Freestyle. We hope she will soon do so again!
My personal answer is: I am having fun, it makes me feel more awake and more aware of others, I can better deal with making mistakes and thus feel more relaxed. Here I could add many more personal answers of all the people, who practice improv and feel that it does something with them.
To give a scientific answer is much more complex and elaborate. Practicing improv effects many dimensions of your psychic health. During the past years, more and more research has been done concerning improv in therapy, in coaching, and in other health-related areas. We are getting more and more inquiries from students, who would like to do scientific research on this. It´s great to know, that people, who know improv from their own practice, now get ready to do research on its effects. There are already some quite significant studies on this topic. One of the first dates back to 2016 and was done by Sheesly, Pfeffer and Barish in collaboration with Second City of Chicago, one of the oldest improv groups in the world. For many years, Second City has offered special classes for people with social fears. In their study dealing with social fears, the authors state, that by using techniques from improvisation an improvement concerning team spirit, playfulness, humor, and expressivity of the patients could be noticed. Another study, that looked at an improv training during a clinical psychiatric treatment of children and adolescents, found first proof, that the patients subjectively noticed a positive change concerning their emotional mood, spontaneity, fears and social cohesion (Baving et al., 2013). Further studies as well as Bachelor and Master theses also indicate a decrease in symptoms of social fear and depression as well as an improvement concerning self-esteem and areas like »forgetting problems« and »being in the moment«.
Improv can also support therapists in their attitude and actions. Assael Romanelli, who led a workshop for therapists this November as part of our improv school, has published some own studies on this subject.
I am convinced, that improv does have positive effects on the promotion of health and psychic resources. And it´s good to know, that more and more people in health-related jobs practice improv and explore its effects with studies.
When we had a workshop presentation a few weeks ago, one of the participants, after having hardly once bowed, started to applaud herself. I realize that this wasn’t out of arrogance and that it was quite a different situation, yet I had to think of my experience years ago. For something was wrong with that applause. Some displaced activity, which she couldn’t really explain, when I asked her about it after the show. For me it seemed that she wasn’t able to cope with the sudden gratitude of the audience, which had been focused on her. A second participant, who had been joining her in applauding, later explained that he wanted to thank the audience for »holding out so long«. Truly an exorbitant modesty. Even if the presentation had been terrible (which it hadn’t, quite on the contrary): when non-professionals have the courage to go on stage and improvise in front of an audience, then applause is the least that this audience can give back in return, and they want to do this!
I never used to see that kind of behavior, but lately I do so more often. In fact, it seems to happen regularly, even in a workshop situation, that the ones who have been playing applaud those who have been watching. Why that is so, I can’t say, but it has an uncomfortable taste for me, because it looks self-centered, although I know that this isn’t the case. I always want to shout out: »No, this is wrong, it’s the audience giving applause, YOU have been playing!«
That’s why I wish for some more awareness to the fact, that the audience wants to thank the performers by giving applause. For they have been playing and the others were allowed to watch them. And this role allocation needs no improvements, I believe.
Movement on stage starts with the movement of the actors. This is also called the »kinetic dance«. Are two characters coming closer to each other or do they enlarge their distance?
It is all about rejection or attraction, sympathy or antipathy. Who is moving towards whom? What alliances develop? All of this can be told without words, just by movement.
When improvising, we want both levels: the verbal AND the physical. Words are okay, but they get their real meaning only through the HOW: is he going to the ground with that sentence? Is she fondling his hair while she speaks? Does he get all tense, when answering?
My best improv shows are almost always those, where I have been physically challenged, because I haven’t just talked but actually acted.
So instead of backing off, overreacting or saving myself with a gag, I try to hold out the situation. This isn’t easy, for how can I distinguish one impulse from another? How do I know, if in a scene my action or my line of dialogue is based on the story or on my wish to get rid of a personal feeling? How do I know, if a gesture, a movement comes from the character or derives from the wish to leave my embarrassing situation? Hard to measure. That is, why I avoid to rush. What I try instead is: to pause, to further explore my character, to stay connected with my partner, to bring emotions into the scene, and to be boring. And not to back out. When I am successful with this, I usually loosen up and all by itself an offer for a next move in the story comes up. Hopefully one, that is justified by the story. Or by my character. Hopefully, for at least I have tried.
Pausing is never a wrong thing to do, for all too often we run danger of overloading a scene with offers.
I sometimes have a hard time with that. And although I know that I am not supposed to show my dislike to the audience, I sometimes can’t help doing so. It’s a constant struggle that I have to deal with.
What we really need is a good culture of criticism. It must be possible to talk about offers that we disliked after the show. Only by doing so we can come to an understanding for our partners on stage and develop a common ground when improvising with each other.
In improvisation we can learn, how wonderfully wise and productive it can be to let go of responsibility. To trust, that your partner will do things at least as good as you. And it´s so simple: all it needs is to listen, to accept your partner’s imagination (even if it doesn’t cope with your expectations) and, instead of always having to act, to react for once.
And right away we are flying together through an exciting story, that hasn´t been expected by any of you.
And we are not stressed!
When do the improv tools that I´ve learned help me in my everyday life? How can I take with me the things that I experienced, practised and learned in 2 ½ hours? Why do we feel so awake after the class and how can I establish this feeling in my everyday life?
In my classes I like to explain the purpose of an exercise and ask my students to keep up with what they have gained from the exercise, even if they »only« watch inbetween. So, when we are doing one of the so-called »warm-up-games«, the purpose of them usually is to create a state of alertness, readiness and inner fun. We create a challenging situation, often using excessive demands and high tempo, coupled with the invitation to make »mistakes«, as long as the flow is kept up. The effect of this: shining eyes, a higher body tension, people are more awake, attentive, participating and joyful.
So what does it mean to »keep this up«? The positive tension and readiness of body and mind are THE basic tool for playing scenes, of course. If your tension is low and you are more in a private state, so will be the scenes. If you don´t have a joyful »Yes« for your partner´s offer, your characters on stage will also have fussy arguments – booooring!
The reason why we are doing the warm-up-games over and over again is to let your body realize the positive effects, up to the point that it remembers this state and can get into it more quickly, so that we can take this positive tension into the scenes. This is an active decision, over and over again. How do I go on stage and into a scene?
We can think this further, expanding it to your whole time in class. Observe yourself and notice in which state you are, when you are not »on«. Is my tension getting low, when I watch others do a scene? Do I still feel my inner impulses and couldn´t I possibly follow them? How do I sit and watch? Open, or with crossed arms and twisted legs? In an active upright or in a passive leaned-back position? Do I watch with a benevolent or with a sceptical mind? Do I jump up and say »Me!« when the teacher asks who wants to do the next scene, even if I am afraid that I won´t be good? Or do I let my fears and doubts and laziness win again?
If you think even further, you can bring the tools of improv to your everyday life. Here are some examples:
How do I listen in private conversations? Could I use the »draw-by-draw-rule« in a private conversation? Do I ask questions in a conversation or am I more or less having a monologue? Or is the other one having a monologue and do I dare to take the focus and make the next draw? This is, I admit, very challenging. Usually I change a situation like that by simply leaving it – yet. For I will make it my personal goal after writing this text to use different tools!!
Do I say »YES!« to a task, to which I usually say »Please don‘t«? And then try to make this task interesting and fun? I could for example clean my room pretending to be a squirrel. Or put on my favourite music and make a dance performance out of it.
Do I make an offer to my partner, that I believe he or she will like? Like giving a massage or taking him or her out for dinner or bringing some flowers. Or am I the passive one, waiting for the other one to make a draw and then nothing is happening?
Or, when meeting an unfriendly policeman or neighbour, how about secretly playing a low-status-character, feeding his or her ego a bit and thus turning an annoying situation into a playful one?
Generally: how playfully can I take certain situations? Can I throw the focus-ball to the others? Can I strengthen them in a positive way? Can I notice all those great and interesting offers, stories and inspirations, that are lurking everywhere, and take them to my next improv-class?
What professions do I meet througout my day and how exactly are they doing their job? What could be the story of that elderly lady at the bus-stop? How is my colleague moving around the office? And what secret hobby could my boss have?
The list is endless ...
It is an active decision to be alert, open and curious, and we can practise it every day in our lives.
Maybe for the rest of the current workshop season, you take one weekly aspect with you from class and examine it for a week in your everyday life.
YES, great idea, Konstanze. And to Mr./Mrs. Notorious-Skeptic: You´ll be quiet now!
Konstanze teaches the Evening Class Beginners Tuesday from 30 Aug to 11 Oct.
And now? Go further from this? I would like to encourage you to step out of this safety-zone by ignoring rules on purpose. By consciously bringing in a bit of chaos and thus challenging yourself and the others. By having a closer look at your destructive impulses.
There are differences, of course. There is the child, that runs around, destroying the sandcastles of the others and getting a kick out of that. I am not talking about this kind of destructive impulse.
I am talking about the joker, the rascal, the cheater, the Harlequin, who wants to enlarge the field of the game, to move borders, shift limits, bring in new rules. Who works with tricks and surprises. But who always has the mindfulness not to destroy the game, but to enrich it.
When playing the »ABC« game, simply use 10 letters directly one after another. When playing »One move at a time«, after having made your move, make directly another one, if it feels right to do so. When in a clapping circle, change the clap to something else.
Have the heart to do this. It´s quite surprising to see, how much new stuff can come up, when you start thinking outside of the rules.
Because I am currently mostly in Germany, I have noticed a German impro phenomena. I call it »Vernünftigkeit«!
There are quite a lot of German improvisers out there who are playing reasonable characters in reasonable situations with reasonable solutions to reasonable problems. This might result in a lot of unnecessary details in the scene, negotiation, problem solving and generally lack of joy. As a friend once told me: »If two German improvisers have a car crash in a scene they will probably exchange insurances.« There are many ways of playing a scene of insurance exchange that will be hilarious, absurd, satiric or just silly, but by »vernünftig« I mean that the improvisers will perform the actual realistic act with all the reasonable details that exchanging insurance really needs.
So where does it come from? And what does it mean being less reasonable?
I believe it comes from the notion of »doing things right«, »not making mistakes« and also of »not taking unnecessary risks« and »not exaggerating by staying believable«.
Now would be a good time to mention that in my opinion (and mine only) the opposite of being reasonable is not going crazy, say whatever you want, create weirdness and chaos on the stage and lead the scene to a clusterfuck. No. There is a way in the middle.
Being less reasonable for me comes from the notion that we are going to the theater to see things that are a bit bigger than life, characters who go through something we can’t and might not even want to. To experience the life of others with all its pain, beauty, absurdity and so on. So, let's leave the reasonability for our normal life and let’s be a little more daring on stage. Let’s not focus on finding solutions but rather on getting our characters into trouble, but in an honest, committed way so that the audience can care, identify and relate to.
Let’s not »do the right thing« as a character, let's do the wrong thing. Not just for the sake of craziness but because our character is trying to do her best, it's just that her best is a mess and we, as an audience, identify or sympathize or are surprised by the way she’s handling the situation.
Let's not duplicate our normal everyday lives on stage but use our lives as a familiar base for something different or bigger to happen.
Let’s enjoy the vast options of storytelling that we have, to create wonderful stories, not reasonable stories.
You can pursue and practice this idea. By being clear with your suggestions and by fully listening and using the suggestions of your partners you could create less reasonable scenes. And if you do, you will see that your partner's eyes light with the joy of playfulness
and this is what it’s all about, isn't it?
These are my observations and mine only. If you think differently that’s OK.
It’s good to have different perspectives.
That time we have there is precious, let’s use it effectively.
An improviser goes on stage and takes the suggestion of »kitchen«.
They spend the next minute miming pots and pans. Spoons. Knives. Drawers. Ovens, stoves, blenders, cupboards, and always a refrigerator in the back ten steps away from the stove.
Why is that? Is it because we want the audience to believe we are in a kitchen? They know we are in the kitchen. They said that before the scene started.
What is the audience wanting in the first minute of the scene?
Simple. They want to know who! Who is in this scene? Who are they?
Never do they ask where the refrigerator is.
We spend too much time in our head thinking about what to say, when often the audience is wanting to know who’s talking. We run into scenes creating a story before we even think about who is in the story. A character's strengths and weaknesses are more important than miming soup.
The truth is, if you can figure out who is in the scene, the story will write itself.
Stop wasting time on useless mime and creating the reason to be in the kitchen and start with who is in that kitchen.
written by Thomas Chemnitz
Once in a while during their lifetime, most everyone experiences the wish to be someone else. In February many celebrate carnival, a festivity that features exactly this basic human desire. I never liked carnival, but I certainly know the urge to say and do things that I usually don´t do and – as for many actors and actresses – it has been an important reason for choosing my profession. After all, the stage offers a secure space to follow this desire.
Now, to our improv-school usually people come who don´t look for an acting career, they simply want to train their spontaneity and creativity. Especially in our beginners classes most exercises deal with the basic skills we need for improvisation, to which »learning to be someone else« doesn´t belong. However, we use improv-THEATRE to learn improvisation, so acting does become a topic. There are students who enjoy going into a character and do so with various talent and success. Others are not so much into this and rather focus on the improvisational development of a scene, taking the perspective of an author while playing.
But even a good author has to be able to think from the inside of his character, so sooner or later, all students of improv theatre have to deal with the question: how can I best manage to be someone else? Especially, since in improv classes an important aid from professional acting cannot be used: costumes and masks. Of course, by changing our posture and voice we can use »outer means« to turn into someone else, and by all means I think you should play around with this. But still this outer shell has to be filled from the inside. Which means: from our own self. For conciously or subconciously you always use material from your inner self in order to be someone else. This could – in the sense of the famous »method acting« – mean, that you use personal experiences (your »emotional memory«) that fit to the situation that your character is in. However, in improv we usually don´t have enough time to do so.
What I instead find helpful and practically usable for improv is working with archetypes or »subpersonalities«. I like the idea, that our self is a specific mixture of different archetypical personalities, who, so to speak, all live inside of us. And depending on the situation, one or the other of them becomes dominant and shows on the outside. In psychology, C.G. Jung first shaped this concept, using 12 archetypes (such as »the ruler«, »the lover« or »the wise man«). Others work with even more archetypes, giving them names such as »the dreamful princess« or »the angry rebel«.
Whereas psychology uses this concept for subconcious processes, it can be quite helpful for an actor to become concious of the inner subpersonalities and use them to become someone else. For example, I could use my »cold-blooded destroyer« to authentically play a murderer, whithout having had (hopefully) a similar experience in my life. Picking a certain subpersonality brings about a strong instant image, so use it onstage when starting or joining a scene and it will instantly be more vivid and authentic.
This way of »being someone else« I can also use on the stage of life, by the way. Shakespeare already wrote »All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players«, and much later the American sociologist Erving Goffman should extemporate on this in his famous work »The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life«. Everybody has a range of different roles, which one uses – conciously or unconciously – when interacting with others. The more concious I am of my different roles in different everyday situations, the more I can dare to play with them, in order to act differently in certain situations (which can sometimes be helpful). For example, I can use my »interested explorer« when I am with a client or my »loving mother« when dealing with a policeman. This idea, by the way, also relates to working with status (a common topic in our classes).
So maybe this month you focus on exploring your archetypical subpersonalities and everyday roles. Make a list and play around with them. And most of all: have fun with it!
Thomas teaches the ONLINE-Taster-Day on 13 February, 2022.
written by Karin Werner
Another thing you can learn and intensify by improvising. These moments you can’t plan ahead when playing. It’s not self-evident that you are able to realize: I feel comfortable to be on stage, my energy and creativity are flowing, I can let go and enjoy.
In the end it’s the same in your everyday life, especially in challenging times like these. In this sense, I wish you all a lot of enjoyable moments in this new year, be it on stage or wherever. Hit it!
Karin teaches the Taster Weekend in Potsdam (19.+20.2.) and the class for Beginners/Advanced on Wednesday evenings in Potsdam (12.1. to 2.3.). Her Long Stage Class with a final show is from 11.1. to 12.4. at the ETI in Berlin.
written by Leon Düvel
Can I have a location, please? A profession? An emotion? Okay, we take sauna, butcher and anger. Scene: a butcher comes into the sauna and gets furious, because it´s too hot.
Do we actually need suggestions from the audience in order to improvise?
Good question. We don’t really. We could simply start to play, just like the Crumbs (historic improv duo from Winnipeg, Canada) did many years ago. We can inspire ourselves, we could also have a look at a newspaper.
So why do we do it? Often because we were taught to do so. Sometimes in order to prove that we really do improvise (although, if we do a really good job, many in the audience still don’t believe it, it could have been planned). Rarely in order to have an experience.
In order to find out, what kind of experience we could or should make, here is a list of what the audience is experiencing when watching improv-theatre:
1. They witness the process of creation, with all its ups and downs, up to the final product.
2. They experience the stage-people in their work as actors.
3. They experience interesting characters in good stories.
4. They experience current topics on stage.
The audience can connect to a story, that might happen to them as well. Or in the fear of failing, if an actor faces a challenging improv game. Or in a topic that is of interest to them.
Thus we can ask for a suggestion that might promise a touching or funny story. Or for a character trait that can lead to an interesting character and inspires ourselves. We could ask for an improv challenge or for a topic that someone in the audience deals with. And: it should be a surprise to us, otherwise we wouldn’t need to ask.
In order to get good suggestions, we need to create an atmosphere, in which the audience feels safe and capable of getting personal. Which isn’t easy, for the audience comes to be entertained and to laugh. The moment of getting suggestions should be put apart from this, otherwise we only get what people think will be funny. And nobody wants to make a fool of oneself, we need to be aware of that.
Do I accept the first suggestion or do I wait for something better? Good question. Find a middle ground. Don’t wait too long. If possible, take the first thing, unless you find it was based too much on the wish to be funny and original. If necessary, do reject a suggestion, to show the audience which kind of inspiration we are looking for.
Conclusion: create an appreciating atmosphere. Ask for as much as necessary, for as little as possible, and aim for the personal. And then take the first best suggestion. For actually, we can make something from anything. It´s our decision, how to use a suggestion for a scene. Or if we start without any input at all. Then the butcher can relax in the sauna.
written by Beate Fischer
There are wonderful books on improv, descriptions of games, basic rules, structures, tips and tricks, etc. We teach and study by understanding words and putting them into practice: patterns, repetition, reincorporation, accepting, listening, what to do, what not to do, reacting, advancing, spreading out, and so on. If you want to keep up with all of this, you should at least be an acceptable improv player. Once in a while I meet students, whose improv knowledge seems to be generated more from books than from practical experience. Sometimes the brain is so parted from heart and guts, that it feels more like an essay in theoretical physics than a game.
It can help a lot to know the above mentioned tips and tricks and to use them. But it’s just as good to forget about them and simply play. For if these »rules« tighten us, if you are afraid to make mistakes, strive to do it all right and in the worst case to look for mistakes that others make in order to criticize them, all the fun ends and this has nothing to do with improvising.
Miles Davis once said on improvising: »When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next one that makes it good or bad.« So actually there is nothing like a wrong note, it always opens up the chance to put it right with the next one. That’s the point! That is improvising: to make something out of the unexpected, the seemingly wrong, the irritating, the annoying. And this is what we are telling the whole world on how improv can have an impact on your daily life.
So let us surprise each other again. Try to use the last sentence or move from your partner and make something out of it. Without suspicion, simply with fun. Freestyle! Forget your routines, let yourself be challenged and thrown out of the path by unexpected moves and situations. Use them as offers instead of trying to ignore them. Away with the phrase »I need you to stick to the rules when improvising with me.«
Let the games begin!
Beate is an actress and improv teacher. Currently she can be seen in the award winning production »#BerlinBerlin« at Theater Strahl. Next dates: Nov 9, 10, 23 and Dec 21.
written by Thomas Chemnitz
Oops, my turn writing the focus, I forgot. Luckily I got a friendly reminder from our office.
I thought a while about a possible topic and found one, that wonderfully fits to the season with all the ripening fruit: maturity. At what point for instance is a scene ready - or „ripe“ - for a change? The audience usually feels it right away: when nothing new happens, when the energy has either been on one level for too long or has been brought to the maximum level.
And when has a scene reached its full maturity, so that it could and should be brought to an end?
Again the audience often knows it before the players do: when the essential question of the story (the „promise“) has been answered. Is the evil guy defeated? Did the neighbor fall in love with our heroine? In longform, several questions may evolve, but one of them is the essential one, the one which indicates the „state of maturity“, so to speak. Which doesn´t mean that the answers to the non-essential questions should be forgotten.
I could also philosophize about the maturity of the player, touching topics like „experience“, „serenity“ or „personal development“. But wait a moment – didn´t I once write about this already? Hmm, I can´t really remember. Luckily we have all the old focus-texts on our website. I have to scroll down a bit, but there it is: October 2016 - „On maturity“.
So what now? I could write a variation of this topic. Nobody reads the old texts anyway or they are long forgotten. But what if somone does notice and tells me? Embarassing.
So I better choose another subject. But which? Luckily I remember a sentence I often say in my classes: „Take what`s already there!“ Didn´t Konstanze write a focus text on this once? Oh yes, August 2020 - „Everything´s there“ (it is worthwile looking at our archive...). What seems to be there with me at this moment is the topic of forgetfulness. So I check our archive – thank goodness, nobody wrote on this so far – and I have my new topic!
Every improv player has experienced this: what was the name of this character again? I forgot. The exact title of the song I am to sing? I forgot. Or I walk through the imaginary table, that I established just a minute ago myself. I forgot.
The audience usually notices immediately. My partners on stage sometimes do, sometimes don´t (probably because they forgot themselves). If they do, they do good to make my mistake public. Or to put it in a nicer way: to remind me of what has been established already. Usually the audience reacts with a laugh, many take it as proof, that all is really improvised. And nobody will make a big deal out of it, people have a general respect of people who dare to improvise. Most importantly, any ambiguity that might have evolved, is cleared up now: my name is Stefan and not Michael (Michael could be my second name, of course – guaranteed laughter!) and I am your uncle and not your big brother.
Concerning the forgetting of names and objects: it is helpful to repeat the established names a couple of times early in the dialogue or to use the established objects, so that it can settle in our minds. Repetition, a simple memorizing technique.
More problematic is to forget established information that could be important for the story. Because the audience always remembers. And they do want to know, what happened to the planned treasure hunt. Or why doesn´t it seem to matter any more that the story takes place on an island. The reason for this is: the players forgot. Although I think that the actual reason rather is: they didn´t catch up that information. For all too often, improvisors are not „in the moment“, completely with their partner and the new offer. Instead they are in their head: looking for a great offer to give a story a new twist. Or they are backstage, looking for a costume piece that the planned character could wear.
My advice for this kind of forgetfulness: Mindfulness! The present moment and your partner is really all that matters. Take, what´s already there! Make it important! Have the true „Yes, and“-attitude by using the offer of your partner and by building up on it with your new offer. Instead of giving it to forgetfulness by making a different, possibly stronger offer. If a „mistake“ happens, make it public and look for a way to legitimize it, giving it sense. For actually there are no mistakes, only offers...
And whoever is able to improvise in such a way, truly improvises with maturity!
Currently Thomas is teaching the Advansters Class on Thursday.
written by Konstanze Kromer
Corona did something to us.
Corona did something to me.
What happens to an actress, who isn’t allowed to act anymore?
Where to go with all that intensity? The wish to be LOUD, to play, to be radiant?
I became strange during the time of Corona. Like the panther in Rilke’s poem, but in my small city apartment.
My neighbours had to endure a lot, so had my friends.
I often went into the forest and there I romped around, I yodeled, I cried - poor wild boars :)
We need spaces of ecstasy.
We need spaces of deployment.
The stage has always been a space of protection for me. A paradox, I know.
But here I can strip off this small and tight person of mine and can be anything: monster, angel, pufferfish.
Telling stories, dancing, singing, it's a primal urge of human beings.
It is starting again. My heart is crawling out of a dark pit.
I am so looking forward to you, who come to the theatres, who come to the classes.
We will create a space, in which anything is possible, where our everyday life can stay outside, where we listen to stories, laugh, cry, or even can be a panther in the jungle again for two hours.
written by Lee White
So many times when I watch two improvisers start a scene the beginning of the scene is like a ship without a sail. Directionless.
I see two players being nice and gentle. Often lacking emotion or definition. Being cautious with each other and not wanting to make any decisions. Sometimes out of some misguided kindness - or worse - fear. They wander around waiting for something to happen. Suddenly when someone gives a bigger reaction or starts to define what kind of scene it will be, the scene seems to kick start itself and the fun begins. So why are we wasting two minutes of the audiences attention while we try to discover something that sometimes never gets found? So how can we start with the fun?
Have an intention.
Pick a direction.
Tell yourself you want to do a romantic scene. Tell yourself you want to do something scary. Start your scene angry. Give yourself a hope for the scene. Choose something you feel the show needs, or your partner likes. You can think of it as giving yourself a suggestion.
It might be that your partner has another idea or maybe they don’t pick up on what your trying to start. So always be ready to adapt and let go of your direction. As long as there is a choice being made who’s choice it is doesn’t matter much. Its a conversation that every group should have. What are the kinds of scenes you want to do and be known for. Moods and energy. Style and feeling. The bigger variety you have the better. This makes it easier to choose direction at the beginning of scenes.
Think about those shows where every scene feels the same. They start the same. They end the same.
We need variety. The audience wants to see you using all your skills. They want to laugh, cry, scream and have their hearts touched. No matter if it’s long form or short form. A genre show or an improvised movement piece exploring the meaning of life. Variation keeps the audience interested and curious as to what will happen next, and brings them back to the next show. The best way we can get that variety is starting with intentions. A great improviser will see what’s been done already in a show and find something new to bring in. Don’t be afraid to start with a goal.
We all want our stage time in front of the audience. So lets not waste time. Get a compass, hoist the sail and journey forward with intention. The audience will thank you for it.
Lee teaches at Summer Academy Trebnitz »Slow Ride«: August 12th to 15th. More information
written by Christoph Jungmann
Maybe you know this: sometimes certain fashion trends evolve from zeitgeist, suddenly they are there, up to the point that you feel a reluctance towards their key words, although idea and content of these words actually don´t deserve reluctance.
For me this happens with the word »mindfulness«. About 15 years ago I walked on Esmarchstraße in Prenzlauer Berg and noticed a shingle, saying »Practice for Mindfulness«. I had to laugh, I thought this was a satire in the style of the »Office for Unusual Measures« (a nice institution of the 80s, which by the way was located at the »Kerngehäuse« in Kreuzberg, home of the Ratibor theatre). It felt almost bizarre to make mindfulness a matter that could be dealt with in a practice.
Nowadays mindfulness-workshops are familiar and HR managers of multinational companies use it as a standard tool in their development programs. And as it happens with many good ideas, I am sure that in the case of »mindfulness« there are people who jump on the zeitgeist, take advantage of other people's unthoughtfulness and make a lot of money. And it´s this inflationary trend, which brings up reluctant feelings.
Without having taken part in such a workshop, I have a basic idea of what is being taught there. Probably such a workshop would be good for me, yet I tend to visit other workshops. Oh well, let’s be honest: I tend to sit in the sun and read.
And yet it´s true, dear zeitgeist: it can’t hurt to look a little less at your smartphone and pay a little more attention to others and to yourself.
Now, when finally our improv classes and workshops will take place in person again, it´s more important than ever to be mindful with each other. And in an area, where we come close to each other, in a symbolic but also very literal way, to pay attention to the other and sense or simply ask, how he or she feels concerning closeness or distance. Maybe also ask: how does the other, how do I feel concerning improvising again, which insecurities are still there due to this damned virus. And which things in playing with each other possibly cannot (yet) be taken for granted, as they could before Corona.
So in this sense: let’s be mindful with each other!
On 4 July we will have an Open Stage again, hosted by Christoph. Jump onstage and see how it feels to play again after this long time of masking. We are looking forward to you! Tickets here
written by Michael Wolf
Slowly, a period that forced us to abstain from many things, comes to an end. Many of us will surely be very happy about this. But by and by I can see what this period was good for.
Buddha's teaching of renunciation and self-restraint was a good field of practice during these days.
The wisdom of Buddha can be transferred to improv.
For many years, reduction in improvisation has become a major concern for me.
In my classes »Enduring silence« I take an intense look at speechless moments.
This reduction to the essential creates silence.
Silence creates time for thinking.
Thinking creates content.
And content is what stays.
written by Karin Werner
I've been sitting here for quite a while already, trying to get focussed.
No chance. Taking a walk didn't help, neither did cooking, nor the phone call.
My thoughts are getting bogged down. The only thing that I constantly feel while sitting here, is my longing.
I want to go on stage, I want to play, I want to deal with others in direct and close contact, I want to have back all those easy and difficult and magical moments.
I am not so very creative all by myself, I need a counterpart.
How egocentric, so much »I«. But that's how it is at times, there is no distraction and I simply melt into my longing.
I miss you, colleagues, students, audience!
And yes, this is how I learned it - I focus again on the »light at the end of the tunnel« and look forward to seeing you all.
written by Inbal Lori
One of the more popular things to do nowadays in the political and social climate we’re in, is to calculate who’s with me and who’s against me. I do it all the time, in fact, if I had a national sport - that would be it.
However, when I teach something else happens. The natural hate and despise that I usually feel for the human race, changes into the excitement of seeing people being playful. Playful people is my favorite state of humans. In this state I am mostly assuming that they have the best intentions and that they are not there to hurt or humiliate or insult anyone. I assume that they are doing their best in being spontaneously playful.
Why am I telling you all of this: because I think that especially now, when we’re all improvising from home, it’s sometimes easier to feel triggered by something that someone said or did. And being mostly at home we think about it over and over again, not much is distracting us and our understandable edginess is putting more fuel into the fire. In our head somebody did something totally inappropriate and unacceptable! They are monsters!!
But are they?
Sometimes people say or do inappropriate things and those things should be called out and we must mark a clear border. In other times, if you are triggered or confused from something that happened in class, encourage a conversation. Talk to your teacher, talk to that person if you feel comfortable, encourage a discussion in class that everybody can benefit and learn from. The discussion on your opinion only should come from a place of curiosity and wanting to understand, rather than accusing one another.
But sometimes that person was just doing their best to participate and we interpret a suggestion they made or something they said or a gesture they had as offensive towards me and everything I stand for, and we judge. We categorise. We might even start to hate.
So, if you feel triggered in class that is totally ok and I’m sure all the teachers here are willing to hear you out and offer help if needed. If you feel a border was crossed encourage a conversation and if needed ask for measures and actions to be taken. But otherwise assume good intentions. Assume that the person didn't mean anything by it. They were just doing their best as participants.
written by Barbara Klehr
»How are you?« More often than usual people ask me this question. And they really mean it, show interest in how I am doing as an artist at these times. After all, we are maximally affected by the lockdown. Yet my spontaneous and honest answer usually is: »Fine!«
Sometimes this irritates me, because I could truly feel bad. After all, I haven’t really worked since March 2020… (somehow, in my perception, the summer doesn’t count, although we were able to play and teach for a few months. But since this wasn’t very much related to the usual amount of work, my brain doesn’t count it as »I have worked«.)
But I don’t feel bad! And I am sure that this is due to my daily yoga practice, which I have been doing for years.
Actually, I am not always doing so great. I often have doubts, if we’ll ever be able to have our theatre running like we used to. It gets to me, that I am not allowed to do, what I love to do, and that singing is considered to be especially risky. Singing - which can give so much joy when doing it with others! Which connects us to our heart and our emotions! I am deeply sad about this.
And I will not even talk about the money I haven’t been able to earn.
But when I’m on the yoga mat, all of this doesn’t count any more. I concentrate on the movement, on the breathing, on the »I am here«. It doesn’t improve the circumstances, but it improves my mood. Practicing yoga affects the whole human being, not just muscles and joints, but also inner organs, breathing, thinking, behavior. I can recognize the body as an instrument, a present, enabling us to make experiences in this world as a human being. And it´s our responsibility to take good care of this instrument, no matter what the circumstances are.
And where is the connection to improv?
An important lesson that we have to learn in improv is taking responsibility. Practicing this lesson pays off in real life to 100%. By practicing yoga, eating healthy, having times of inner reflection I take responsibility for my well-being and my health.
So what are you doing in order to feel good?
written by Regina Fabian
I am experienced: online workshops, webinars, Zoom meetings, video calls, it's an everyday routine by now. Without thinking I organize my workspace, position various lights, heighten my desk, clean up the space behind me (at least this paper of pile has to go), check with my family that I don’t want to be disturbed and that no one else is using the internet, if possible. All these things I do as if I hadn’t communicated differently in years, as if this would be my normal work situation.
But in between a thought pops up: this cannot be real, where am I? I am dancing with people on my screen, I let students connect to a statue, although they are in totally different places, I hand presents into the camera and I talk with people as easily and intimately as if we were sitting next to each other in a nice café with a cup of latte macchiato. A part of me is resisting this new reality. A defiance bubbles up to the surface of my thoughts: I am fed up with this, enough of the pandemic, I have made new experiences, had new thoughts, but now: enough! It feels, as if the scene has already had at least 7 endings, but it still goes on. If this happens in improv, I take responsibility as a player and bring the scene to an end. But I guess that is the difference between fiction and reality.
In reality I accept this seemingly never-ending scene called pandemic and try to play along online as good as possible. And I keep noticing, that I miss something essential: physicality! Feeling the physical closeness of another person is simply irreplaceable! My love of theatre is strongly connected to this. I want to have a direct experience with others, watch them with all my senses, feel the variety of encounters.
Sure, every situation has its opportunities, alright, we improv people are trained in accepting everything, yes and I am doing just that. And yes, it's true: I keep on being surprised. How unexpectedly fast we connect with each other improvising online, how we laugh together, how a kind of closeness actually evolves. And yes, the stories and scenes are different online, sometimes more structured, more concentrated, also more personal. Unexpected and yet unimagined offers and stories are lurking in the private space. And yes, that is fascinating and that’s why I keep on improvising online.
And I keep on looking forward to the fireworks of encounters, hopefully in spring or summer:
in presence, with all senses!
written by Robert Munzinger
Wikipedia writes: Dolce Far Niente is the title of a painting by John William Waterhouse from 1880. It shows a woman doing exactly that: nothing.
Except for watching the pigeons, that have settled on the chaise longue on which she is lying as if she had been poured away.
And except for pondering over this sight.
And except for remaining completely still, so not to arouse the birds.
And except for having her peacock-feathered fan ready, in case the heat is getting too much for her.
And except for... Well, you could continue with this list, for actually it’s not possible to do nothing. Unless you are dead.
I sometimes feel the same way these days: I’m laying on the sofa, doing nothing. At least not the things I would usually do in this busy and productive period of time: getting ready for a show or a rehearsal, writing texts, etc.
No, I’m simply laying on the sofa. And instead of doing all these things I would usually do, I am reflecting, pondering over things, letting thoughts cross my mind, watching the dog or the naked branches of the tree outside of my window.
The sweet idleness is something I haven’t known to this extent for a long time, and in the beginning it rather depressed me. But meanwhile I have learned to regard it as a source of inspiration. It’s all a matter of attitude: if you open yourself up with curiosity to dolce far niente, it often leads to ideas that were sleeping inside of you, only waiting to be discovered.
Currently I am writing on scenes and songs for a comedy program, and the best ideas actually come in these moments of so-called doing nothing, even if I didn’t plan to think about the program. You can’t force inspirations to come, they do as they please. But in a way you can get a bed ready for them. And if they want to, they come to you like the pigeons are coming to the young woman on the painting entitled »Dolce Far Niente«.
written by Christoph Jungmann
(Note: the German term »Alter Schwede« literally translates »old Swede«, but is used in the sense of »son of a gun«)
When we as founders of the Gorillas started improvising, we were still, well, rather young - you might also say we were the quarter of a century younger than now (sounds more dramatic than 23 years). So now we are not quite as young any more and in reflecting on what we do on stage, more and more often the question arises: aren’t we maybe getting a bit too - and here’s the ugly word - OLD for this?
Well, what is old, and when should you be called this? One of us (I won’t say who, of course) firmly announced in our early days: »When I'm 50 I'll stop doing this!« 50 - that sounds so far away when you’re in your mid thirties. So at that time we smiled about the statement, rather because we found it strange to imagine, that we would still be doing this until the age of fifty. By now the vast majority of us has celebrated this magical birthday, and since all of us are still aboard, at least one of us was wrong.
So, how long will we, will I still be doing this?
But why should age actually matter? The more normal it becomes that our art form is played professionally regardless of the age, the more it becomes a »normal« cultural form. After all, it would seem bizarre to make age-restriction a subject in the established film or theatre business. Thus the fact, that improv theatre still is widely considered as something more for the younger generations, should actually stimulate us to stick with it.
The decisive questions of course are, what topics we bring on stage and how. And to what extend we will accept our age and even »play« with it. Certain things used to feel more natural, such as playing dogs, cats, and cows, although I personally never felt so much an ease with it. This is getting more and more uncomfortable for me - although the attitude should be »oh well, I'll just play old dogs then«.
Our age also offers the opportunity to be more divers in terms of generations. What we have long seen and experienced at festivals, that actors in their late 50s improvise with actors in their early 20s, might also become normal with us Gorillas.
And on stage it is the same as in life, of course: to be young of age doesn’t automatically mean to be fresh, innovative and on the pulse of time. Just as it doesn’t necessarily mean that older people act more conservative and old-fashioned. What matters is our attitude, our ability to self-reflect, to walk through life consciously and open-minded, and to use the topics of the current time in our work.
written by Jana Kozewa
We are living in unusual, difficult times. Not only because of this virus, but also because suddenly we are confronted with relatives, acquaintances and even friends, who loudly proclaim an opinion that dissents our own. Hadn't we always had the same opinion? At least with our friends? Wasn't that what held us together? How on earth are we to react to this sudden difference? Turn away? Split apart? Ridicule the other and his/her opinion? All of this is experienced by many of us right now. What we rarely experience is, that people of different opinion really listen to each other. That they pause for a moment and think about the arguments of the other. That they don't react immediately but first reflect.
And this is where we get to improv. For this is exactly what we need for a good scene: that we perceive our partner with all our senses. Listen to them, watch them, be empathetic and always ready to get into their game, their idea, their »truth«.
Now don't get me wrong: that doesn't mean, that we always have to be of the same opinion. It just means that as good improv players (just as good human beings) we should respectfully reflect the others perspective.
An interesting improv scene will not evolve if two characters always want the same from the beginning. Such a scene evolves, if two different characters find a way to master the situation that they are in.
Let us find those ways. Together. As improv players and as humans!
written by Thomas Chemnitz
The mystic practices aim at clearing the inner mind and being in the moment. For only by connecting to each present moment, without thoughts and judgements, it is possible to connect to something, which actually cannot be put into words (for words narrow down), yet is often referred to as »the Eternal«, »the Universe«, »the Godly« or »God«.
The most important mystic exercise is meditation, of course (which, by the way, is not only practiced in Buddhism or Hinduism).
»Being in the moment«. »Clearing the inner mind«. This is also what we aim for in improvising. Only that in an improv class we use playful activity instead of meditation. As a matter of fact, many exercises use extra speed or complicated rules, in order to leave the rational and judging mind behind and allow us to act and react spontaneously and »from the bottom of our soul«. If this happens, workshop participants experience it as a liberating moment, usually accompanied by laughter. Sometimes they are also quite astonished to see what has come out of them, in this very moment.
And here is where we come to »the ego« or rather »liberation from the ego«. In the mystic practices, whether in meditation or in the rotating dance of the Sufis, the goal is to stop the constant inner chatter of the ego and let it dissolve, like a wave into the ocean. This is very hard work, for naturally the ego fights hard against this, it's a bit like dying after all. Although: dissolving doesn't mean extinction, for – to stay within the image – the ocean needs the wave to express itself.
Dealing with the ego is also quite a topic in improv. Two years ago I wrote a focus on this and don't want to enlarge on it again (so if you want to read more, go to June 2018). Only this much: if you want to make the experience of truly and successfully »improvising together«, the ego is all too often in the way.
In some partner exercises (i.e. the »mirror exercise«) there is the phenomenon, that at a certain point none of the partners can tell who is leading and who is following at this very moment. We also have the improv-saying »follow the follower«. But who or what are we actually following then?
And then there are these improv scenes, where afterwards it's hard to tell, how that brilliant idea actually came into the scene, where none of the players could claim it to be his or hers. The idea was »simply there«, it »just happened«. Interestingly enough, these kind of scenes usually seem to be the most rewarding ones, where you have improvised with this special easy flow, and where everyone felt happy afterwards. And whereas most improv scenes vanish quickly from memory, these stay in your mind and you mention them, when after 20 years of improvising you are asked for your »most special improv experience on stage«.
Now I would go as far as to claim that these improv moments are also a form of »mystic experience«: a bit mysterious maybe, but rewarding and fulfilling, as we have managed to liberate ourself from our ego and truly connect with the present moment.
And no matter if any form of spirituality means anything to you or not, I do wish you many of these moments when improvising!
written by Lee White
Normally I would be here to tell you to react. How I love reactions. Every moment you should be reacting to your partner. Not only does it help the story, it helps the audience enjoy what they are watching. It helps your partner be inspired instead of having to invent the next moment. It keeps the energy up and keeps you out of your head. The benefits are plentiful.
The best acting advice I ever got was when I was maybe 16. A director/teacher asked me: »What is acting?«
I naively and foolishly replied: »Being someone else?«
He said: »No. Acting is reacting.«
I never lost that in my mind. Every time I perform.
Today I am here to tell you about another favourite choice of mine. Nothing.
Doing nothing is an option. Like nothing nothing. Don’t move at all. Breathe if you have to, but otherwise don’t move. Many times in life you just don’t know what to say. You may not know how to process the information you got. I think about a parent saying to their child: »Why did you put the harmonica in the toilet?« The child doesn’t reply. They stare with empty eyes trying to figure out some answer that will calm the angry parent. Which in turn makes the parent even more mad.
And that is the key.
If your partner reacts to your no reaction then it was worth it and valuable to the scene.
A misguided improviser may say you were blocking. I won’t get into the over use and misunderstanding of this term »blocking« but generally I think it’s an excuse from a player who thinks their partner should have done what they wanted vs. what they were inspired to do. A good improviser should never (maybe rarely) blame their partner. You can look at the choices you made and wonder how you could have supported them better. But that’s another blog post.
Your choice of nothing is very different than just not doing something. Don't confuse character choice and lazy acting. Improvisers prefer to talk instead of showing emotions. This to me is lazy acting. Show me your emotion before you tell me your emotion. Choosing to be a quiet parent behind a newspaper while the child tells the story of their day is choice. The wise quiet parent character will need »nothing« so they can show their patience and wisdom.
If it is a choice you make, to not react or move then it's your responsibility to make sure your partner is safe and feeling you are together. If I was working with a player for the first time, I may not use this if I am unsure of their abilities. If I am working with someone I know to be a strong player. Then absolutely yes.
I was in Italy, doing a scene with the amazing Antonio Vulpio . I was a bird. He was a person who wanted me to get off his fence. I just sat there. I didn’t move. I didn’t act like a bird. No flapping or head movement. I didn’t try to fly around. I didn’t chirp or squawk. I just stood on the stage watching Antonio. His character just got madder and madder and kept his reactions growing. The audience loved watching this growth. I know Antonio. He was fine. He didn’t need me to do anything. I checked in with him after this to make sure and yes, he was happy. He loved the scene. I’ll also add that the audience was stunned. Many hadn’t seen a good scene with someone doing nothing. People were more impressed at the choice I made vs. how amazing Antonio handled the scene. He deserves the accolades more than I. I just saw a great improviser having a fun time so I let him be and just enjoyed it.
Which brings me to another powerful time we can use Nothing.
Thinking of general scene work, many improvisers' instinct is to jump in, match or mirror. Sadly it often steals the focus. I often prefer to leave them be. If they are on a roll, if they are commanding the stage and capturing the audience's attention, I just watch and enjoy. I have no idea how many times I’ve watched someone start a great monologue the audience was getting into and their partner comes in and says: »Who are you talking to?« Taking all the wind from the sails. A classic case where doing nothing would have been a stronger choice. Stand off to the side. Look for clues of your partner's comfort. Do they seem to be struggling, rambling or losing focus? Then get in there and save them. But if whatever is happening on stage is working. Leave it be. Maybe we don’t need a waiter. Oh please people! We don’t need a waiter, maitre d', busboy and a funny cook in EVERY restaurant scene. Just let the couple have their dinner in peace. Please stop thinking the audience wouldn’t believe it's a restaurant if the waiter doesn’t say the daily specials. Please.
The best improvisers can do a scene alone with a chair and make you cry, laugh or scream.
So. Take a chance. Make the bold choice of no choice. If you got the right partner reacting and engaging the audience, you might not need to do anything else. If a scene is good maybe it doesn’t need you. Maybe that zoo scene doesn’t need 17 monkeys in one cage.
Nothing. It’s another tool in our kit, use it wisely my friends. Drink in its power.
»Acting is reacting.«
The right tool for the right job.
Lee teaches the English Online Class: Impro4ever »Getting emotional« (1 Sep to 13 Oct) and the Taster Weekend (26+27 Sep).
written by Konstanze Kromer
When I ask students at the beginning of a class about their wishes, goals and fears, I often hear that they'd like to be more spontaneous and to better and faster come to great ideas.
»Better and faster – oh no, please not« I then (lovingly) think, remembering all those scenes where no creative flow is happening, due to all those offers and ideas. »Stop! Don't be so creative! Use what you have and get more into it«, is what I have to shout at these moments.
And that's what I want to deal with in this focus. I'd like to release you from the pressure of having one idea after the other and quickly, quickly having to think of the greatest offers. I'd like to encourage you to step back from the hose, let it pour out by itself, and to rather generate your ability to notice what you already have. To breathe in (lat.: inspirare) and perceive all the things that are already there. Understand?
Take the word idea, for example. It derives from the Greek word »idein«, which means »look, notice, search for experience«. So having an idea may not just mean to make up somthing in your head and thrust it onstage, but just to see something that's already there as well and pick it up!
There is a difference between an idea (which often comes randomly) and a perception. And then there is also the »thinking it up«. Which is something we usually can't need at all. For then it happens that the one, who is thinking something up, is starting to look for something in himself. You can physically see that: he (or she) is going into his/her own head (the view turns inside) and away from the situation, cutting himself off from his/her partners on stage and everything that is just happening.
In improv we need both: having an inspiring idea and noticing the great things that are already there.
Making an offer and thus throwing something out is important to keep a scene going. But noticing what is already on the table – or what is already inside of you in terms of thoughts and emotions is just as important, and - in my point of view - even the higher art. The offer, that came to you as a natural impulse is always right - organic, as actors call it.
To see the wonderful offer that your partner has just given you – may it be ever so small and unconcious – and also to perceive all the offers that your own body has been giving you all the time – organically – is not so easy with all this pressure to be funny and good. It demands alertness, openness, porousness.
What is the emotional state of your partner or his/her character? Is it fear, joy, love, insecurity? What does this do to your own character? What exactly did he/she just say? How did he/she say it? Can you also hear your own impulse? Alright, that's enough, and I say »Go for it!«
Do you feel just a tiny impulse of anger? Go for it and enlarge it! Don't look for a funny line, simply take what is there and enlarge it, turn it into a silent shout of anger, without even using words (which is stronger anyway). Listen to your partner, let everything that he/she has to offer fall into you. That is all the inspiration that you need.
And the audience loves it, when you reincorporate things that have already been said and done. When these things are not carelessly thrown away, but if they come back, may it only be a little chuckle that your body had offered to you just a minute ago and that now your character is conciously repeating. Or if we are bringing back that rusty old bicycle, which was mentioned at the beginning of the scene. If you give meaning to the things that are already there, enlarging the offers of your partner, it can be more joyful to the audience than watching a firework of brilliant ideas that have no connection.
Keep it simple. Stop being creative. Listen. Watch. Everything's there and if we are perceiving it and giving it some meaning, it becomes meaningful and could truly and truthfully be great!
Konstanze teaches the Summer Academy at Schloss Trebnitz: »Volle Pulle« together with Christoph from August 6th to 9th.
written by Leon Düvel
What are we doing on stage next to playing theater with each other? And how does our playing differ from a regular play? It`s the fact that we „write“ and perform our play at the same time. At this special place with exact these fellow players and exact these people in the audience.
Thus it is not enough to concentrate merely on what the characters exchange with each other. At the same time, we also communicate with our fellow players and with the audience. I have tried to figure this out a bit in detail, and here are the 3 levels of communication:
Character to character: they are in the scene and develop the story. Their communication corresponds to their part and should bring the play forward. On this level, everything is allowed and you should try out different things: verbal and non-verbal. With hands and feet. Let the body talk or let the character speak with a dialect. Let the communication correspond with the genre, the theatrical style, the character´s archetype. Use of rhythm can be of help and lots of emotion, of course. Important is to stick to the step-by-step-principle, by giving and taking offers in turn.
Player to player: while the characters have their scene and their communicative exchange, the actors behind them should also communicate with each other. This is needed, for they invent (by the means of their characters) a story, they develop a product. And at best, all involved players should feel happy with it. To assure this, you need a feedback-system. It must be possible to have internal exchange and alignment: do you feel happy with what we are presenting to the audience? Am I doing too much or too little for the story? Have we found a message, that we both feel good with? To ask and answer these questions or to state doubts on what’s momentarily happening can be considered the high art of improvisation, for it usually happens between the lines of your character. Yet it also can be stated by your character or directly by you as the actor. At best, the players know each other so well, that they can read their partners momentary thoughts and feelings from their way of playing.
Player to audience: communication between the players and the audience should happen at all times. This is important, in order to realize what’s happening on a higher level. Do we just make the audience laugh or are we dealing with a serious subject? Are we confronting the audience with themselves, like a mirror? Are we touching slippery ground? Is this still funny or have we crossed the border to sexism/chauvinism/racism? On this level of communication it is about knowing or sensing the expectations of the audience and balancing them with your own wishes. About connecting with the audience and creating the show together with them. Part of this is asking for audience suggestion and responding to laughs or exaggerated reactions. Needless to say that on this level you also need good player-to-player-communication, in order to be on common ground amongst each other.
Concluding it: Since all of these levels happen basically at the same time, it is hard to always be aware of every communication. And this doesn’t have to be. But it helps to be aware of the different levels before you start a show. Maybe you suggest a wish to yourself and your teammates, like „Let`s try to listen more with the character“ or „Today I`ll try to find a mutual statement with you concerning this or that subject“. Or something about dealing with the audience. Being this conscious with each other also helps to talk about the show afterwards and analyze what happened.
For one thing is sure: improv is always communication, on all levels.
Leon teaches »Spätsommer-Reise in die Märkische Schweiz: Theater & Impro & Spaß« from 4th to 6th September.
written by Felix Raffel
My last regular show was on March 12 with the Gorillas at the Ratibor. The audience was already thinned out, as we played a „Gute Wahl“ show, already dominated by Corona. At that time, hoarding was a big topic and I specifically remember the lonely Barilla-wholemeal-spelt-pasta-package (wonderfully impersonated by Luise), which nobody wanted. One day later we had to cancel our festival and since then many things have changed: homeoffice and Zoom-Meetings were the daily routine now, you hardly meet anybody, hardly leave the house. As a film composer I am used to working at home, but what happens, if suddenly no new film-projects are being produced? And, even worse, if no more gigs take place, something that has been part of my musical DNA since I can remember.
Light on the horizon was provided by our streaming-shows from the Delphi-Theatre in Weissensee, which we offer on a regular basis (though not weekly anymore). Actually I was able to experiment here a bit with music, which hadn`t been possible in the improv routine before: Next to the keyboard (my safe home base) I have a loop-station, two guitars, and even an old clarinet, that I hadn`t touched in years, and I have been trying some new musical stuff – on a trial-and-error base and aware of risking some loss in quality. However, something essential is missing: you, the audience. I used to be able to physically feel the anticipation of funny, weird, absurd, touching, hilarious moments; the laughter, the comments and remarks, which sometimes were able to give a whole new and surprising turn to the scene, the roaring applause in the end. Much of what makes the magic of an improv show got lost, which is bitter. Yet I have to admit, that we all enjoy playing this Delphi-online-show. For at least we are together in one space, can improvise together, can experiment together, although we have to keep social distance and have no physical audience. And without knowing the effect of your doings on the virtual audience. However, improv still works, even with audience suggestions from facebook or youtube, and the large number of wonderful comments and applause-symbols were really touching and made us happy. We simply hope that in these times we are able to reach out and do some good to the people and our fans out there, as a small substitute for our regular shows!
Playing together on Zoom is a whole different challenge, and I have to say: it`s not so much fun. But who knows, maybe the improv-community will be able to find simple technical innovations to make it possible that we can invent songs with each other and have musically accompanied scenes online in real time. Right now, latency lets these trials sound more like errors.
(and to those, who think: „wait a moment, what about those great zoom-videos of orchestras and bands, where everyone was in their own living-room and yet they played so nicely „Freude schöner Götterfunken“ or „Your can´t always get what you want“ together - wasn`t that recorded live?“ The answer is: no, it wasn`t! It`s all a fake, guys, all of it. Everyone recorded that for himself at home (if it was recorded at all) and some unemployed soundguy had to work hard to puzzle and mix this together. And Lady Gaga had even turned her microphone the wrong way around...)
Well, that`s how it goes with music in Corona-times. And maybe the just winkingly written paragraph can describe to you, how I and most of my colleagues and fellow musicians feel: everything is different from what it was. Lots of streaming, Zoom, and somehow all fake. Many have to reorganize themselves, create new concepts, learn new skills, and by doing so kill some of the suddenly richly gained time. So let`s hope, that the present situation will not last long, and that we can at least partly perform as we did before. For improv-shows or generally making music without fellow players and an audience is like wholemeal-spelt-pasta without a sauce: pretty dull.
Not such a great conclusion for our future and for this text. So I`ll stay optimistic and say: stop whining! Always, the upcoming decline of art has been called out. Always, 90 percent of it was crap. And always, short-term loop-holes like Zoom were later proved by history to be mistakes. And while I have come to this point, thinking about a good conclusion for my text, my wife is playing with her smartphone and I hear „The Show Must Go On“, Freddy Mercury`s bittersweet swansong, before he left this world. Which at the same time sounds so very immortal, a sentence carved in stone, as if he would scream at us the unshakeable truth: No Zoom! No Streaming! We need the show, guys! Keep doing it, somehow! So let`s take this moment as an offer for a conclusion: The show must go on!
written by Thomas Chemnitz
At first it was weird for me to think about doing improv online. After all, this means change and change is connected with fear, even for an experienced improv-player and -teacher...
But I also was curious. Because who if not us improv people is best suited for dealing with what's happening at the moment? Which presently is the shift of our social lives into the internet.
Quite quickly we received the advice that »zoom« is a video-conference-platform best suited for our cause. So we experimented a bit amongst ourselves and then decided: let's offer online-classes at the improv school (for all regular classes had to be suspended). Thus, in March, a few Gorillas teachers started as »online pioneers«.
Here are some insights:
Doing improv »in real« is more fun. That was to be expected. But: quite a few things are possible in an online-class and you can have quite some fun there, too. This was not so expected by me. Total surprise: some exercises work even better online. And: the deliberate use of the medium can also create something new. Consciously using the camera of the laptop as a film camera for example can bring about some really interesting scenes.
Partner exercises can be enabled by using the feature of the »breakout-rooms«, separate virtual rooms, in which the host can send the participants to work with each other. For some extra fun, I as the host can move someone from one breakout-room to another. For the participants this means a surprising new partner, and for the host it feels a bit like being God:)
Meanwhile the second round of online-classes is in session and we are presently preparing the third round. Next to the standard-classes there are also some which contentwise focus on the medium and the present situation.
Last but not least: doing improv online gives people, who don't live in Berlin, the opportunity to take a Gorillas-improv-class. And we can also let renowned teachers from our international improv-network offer a class at our school. Thus we have already decided: we will continue offering online-classes even in »after-Corona-times«!
And so the old improv-wisdom once again proves to be true: everything is an offer and a possible gift! Therefore: »Thank you, Corona!«
Here you find the current online-classes of the Improv School.
written by Stefan Lochau
I just came home from a rehearsal. Oh well, rehearsal, actually we are developing a play. So we can't really rehearse, because there is no play yet, thus I come from a development process.
How are we doing that? Obviously, in developing a play, it is of advantage to know about your subject – or to learn about it by doing research. So you should know what you want to tell, what your story should be about. Almost at the same time you will ask, who the story should be about. At this point, the real big helpers of writing appear: the characters of the story. I believe that characters are always the starting point. They are the engine of the drama, of the play to be created. They are the best writers, they are the experts of their story. The better we know the characters, the better we are able to write the play. And the best method for letting the characters do the writing is improvisation.
In the beginning, it is very helpful to get an idea of how the character is moving. Is he or she stiff or agile, shy or flirtatious, bold or fearful, ... ? The physicalness of the character also determines the way of thinking and acting. Next, we can put the characters into interview-like situations to receive more information and get more depth into them. We may ask about their dreams, their wishes, their fears, their hobbies and so on. If their wish is a desire, we can confront the character with the person that they desire to be with. If it's fear of height, we will put the character right there, on the top of something. The play that we are developing, for instance, is about a group of people doing wild camping in nature. Consequently, one of the characters is attached to good hygiene and afraid of spiders. So there is always need for things to be done. We get more out of our improvisations, if we focus on action, on what the characters do, how they act and react. Taking action in improvisation loosens the knot in your brain. Today, by using improv, we loosened a couple of them and two great scenes evolved: fighting about a camping-chair brought about a laser-sword-battle with plastic-bottles, only to lay in each others arms afterwards, full with exhaustion and affection. It's worth to improvise...
Stefan will be teaching the Impro4ever-class in May and June. His subject: playing with masks.
written by Felix Forsbach (cast member of IMPRO 2020, 16.3.-22.3.)
We live in moving political times. Whoever is on a stage can reach out to people, which brings along a certain responsibility. We can play for people and speak to them, whithout the need of a pulpit (which have become unstable anyway) or anything of that sort.
But some legitimate questions arise: how can I be political in improv theatre as an actor or musician? Aren't chances high that you get too shallow, too simplifying or too agitating? How can I make a difference, if I am only a tiny little wheel in the machinery of society?
Two years ago, the cast of my group »Ernst von Leben« performed in the Bavarian city Seeon. At this place, the heads of the CSU (conservative party, that rules Bavaria) – who sometimes act rather headless - regularly meet. We played a TV-Show parody, called »Brewer searches wife«, in front of an older (+65) and middle-aged (+55) audience. In this format the audience gets to decide, who is going to marry a love-seeking brewer. On this evening we had a female brewer – already quite a political statement in a city like Seeon. The audience had the final choice between a man who tries to rip off the Catholic Church and a homosexual, who wants to lead a ficticious marriage with a woman. Both characters derived from audience suggestions. Looking back, I'm happy that our Bavarian audience was responsible itself for this sort of ending and was actually forced to make a political decision. They decided for …. oh well, I'll come back to this later.
My second little anecdote is about another Bavarian: Horst Seehofer, for a long time the Bavarian Governor, now Federal Minister of the Interior in Berlin. Last year, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall, our group joined a partly improvised theatre project at the legendary »Na zábaradlí« theatre in Prague, together with local artists. In this theatre, by the way, the later Prime Minister Vaclav Havel had worked as a dramaturge and maintenance man. In the opening night's audience we had a lot of people, who were invited by the Bavarian Ambassador – yes, there is a Bavarian Embassy in Prague. I improvised a monologue, in which I got worked up about the Bavarian perspective that Horst Seehofer has on Germany. It ended with my statement on how embarrassing I find the fact, that Seehofer forgot to include money for the 30th anniversary celebration of the 1989-events in planning his annual budget. No wonder, I said, that we still or anew have a divided society in our country. While I was improvising my monologue, an audience member from the first row shouted, that we were in a theatre and should leave politics outside. And I directly answered that I couldn't leave politics outside, exactly because I was on a theatre stage, but that I would be done in a moment. I have no idea if that made an impression on this man, but I still believe that my monologue and my reaction to his remark were right, and that's why I mention it here.
Now let us come back to the questions from the beginning. As my anecdotes show, I believe that you can be political on an improv stage and that you may be able to make a bit of a difference. Actors in improv theatre are always impersonators, in the sense of what Bertolt Brecht had asked for in his ideal of the actor in Epic Theatre. It's quite obvious that improvising actors are getting into character live on stage. Thus they are always themselves and the character at the same time. Everything that the character says and does on stage is also something that the actor does as a person. For instance, if I play a paedophile priest, my character is fed by my experience (luckily I have no personal experiences in this regard) and by my imagination. The audience however always sees Felix Forsbach as a paedophile priest. They might even have witnessed, how the character derived from an audience suggestion and how I got into it. Improvised theatre actually offers a safer frame than a scripted play, for everything that is said and done is happening in the moment and will be gone a moment later. There is no censorship from outside in improvised theatre. The more important it is to develop a kind of inner censorship, for only this enables me to play and act politically on an improv stage. I cannot imagine a worse moment of going to sleep than having to think about the xenophobic or anti-women remarks that my improvised character made on stage and if these might not have been too harsh. Or if the audience thought that the opinions of the paedophile priest represent those of Felix Forsbach. Thus it is important to always be aware of the fact that we are impersonators in terms of Brecht, always being the character and ourselves at the same time.
Improv theatre is Epic Theatre, even if it often is short and humorous. We always reach people, when we are onstage. Thus it's ever so important for actors and actresses to have a clear point of view, no matter if they act in a scripted and rehearsed play or in an improvised show. I believe that this should be part of any actors training. There is little more embarrassing, than an actor getting out of character and declaming a political or social thesis that sounds all memorized. Or improvisors onstage, using do-gooder-phrases, that are meant serious but lack authenticism. Always bring in yourself onto stage, but always be good at it!
Having declaimed this final thesis, I still owe you the answer whom the audience chose as the groom for our female brewer. Actually I do not remember, but both characters would have been a good choice in terms of making a political statement in Seeon/Bavaria, so I can well say that we had a good ending: we showed the audience that it sucks to be against homosexuals and that Catholics can also be corrupt assholes. And in any case we had a happy end, because our brewer found his love!
In case you are interested, here are links to three songs of the group »Ernst von Leben«, which might demonstrate the balancing act between truthful character acting and making political statements:
Darstellende Kunst im öffentlichen Raum / Performing art in public space
chemnitz nach rené
So, what is your opinion on all of this? During our festival we will initiate a panel discussion on »political correctness and censorship in improv«. We are looking forward to interesting disputes, let's be in discussion with each other and our international colleagues about this and possibly broaden our horizon.
Thursday, March 19th, 4:30 p.m., at Ratibor Theater
written by Lutz Albrecht
What associations do I get from an audience input, let's say »forest«?
»fir tree«, »woodpecker«, »Robin Hood« ... OK great, I'll start the scene as Robin Hood, being on the lookout on top of a fir tree, disrupted by a wookpecker.
Or: Hmm, nothing pops up in my brain, no idea on how I could open a scene or make an offer to the player on stage – no object, no character, nothing. So I better stay offstage and hope that my fellow players will improvise a nice scene without me.
Why don't we put our focus on the abstract, using it in order to broaden our range of associations and our possibilities for playing?
When hearing »forest« you possibly get a feeling of »narrowness«. So let your body associate: to what kind of posture does this feeling lead, what degree of tension does it have? What's the speed of movement? Maybe a certain part of the body wants to lead the movement as an energetic center? And if I let my body do all this: what emotion do I get from it? What kind of interdepenencies evolve, if for instance »narrowness« pops up as an abstract association and I decide to simply stay very close to my partner in terms of space?
I might also have no association whatsoever, yet I feel that the scene needs something or someone. Then I could simply decide to copy my partner(s) on stage or go into contrast. I don't need a substantial idea for the story of the scene – I simply make a strong offer or support one that's already there.
There are a couple of techniques, that are simple to learn and can have a strong effect. For example, deciding on whether to stay close to my partner or remain in distance. This does not yet mean that I'm going to be the beloved husband or the angry boss. It could evolve from it, though, as a second or third step. Then, there is more substance to it - because first there was emotion, physicalness, relation to space, instead of only verbally stating »I am your loving husband here in our dining-room« without letting the audience and your partner on stage feel, see and understand the quality of this or get an inspiration from it.
Here is a list of techniques, that can be practised as a »set of tools for improv players« and used in order to give more variety and depth to your improvisations on stage:
- the degree of distance to your partner (in terms of space)
- copy or contrast (be clear in copying, strong in contrast)
- a specific body part as the »energetic center«, leading all movement (what kind of emotion can evolve from this?)
- the »5-second-rule« (allow yourself 5 seconds before making a verbal reply)
- use of subtext (mantras, the power of inner thought; not in the sense of » I am a husband,...« , but rather »I am loving...«)
- use of status (by use of physical elements and/or use of subtext; what is the status of my character related to another character, related to the space I am in; is there a gap between the social status and the personal status of my character?)
- use of speed (fast – normal – slow movements; what does evolve from this?)
- state of physical tension (is your body very tight, does it feel permeable, is it flabby? What happens because of your choice?)
- use of the »4 qualities of movement« (after M. Chekhov: molding, floating, flying and radiating)
- use of »psychological gestures« (after M. Chekhov, these do need a lot of practise, though)
- and many more
So, whoever wants to enlarge the range of his possibilities as an improv player, is invited to learn and practise these techniques in our improv classes. Of course, always do so (as Chekhov said) »with a feeling of ease«!
written by Johanna Dupke
Psychology deals with human thinking, feeling and behavior.
Playing theatre however does something with human thinking, feeling and behaviour.
But what exactly is it doing?
I can very well remember how impressed I was, watching my very first improv show. That was in Würzburg, I was in tenth grade. I could never imagine doing such a thing myself sometime. A few years later I enrolled in an improv class. And although I already had some stage experience as a singer, I still doubted that I would be able to improvise scenes, just like that. By now I know: I can do it. I still have respect of this »fountain of spontaneous ideas« and there is a bit of stage fright before every performance, but I can do it. And I believe, that (with a bit of exercise) everyone can do it.
Improv theatre has shown, what's inside of me. It has helped me to look at situations of uncertainty in daily life with a different perspective. Whenever I don't know what's going to happen, I remember my »improv-super-powers« and tell myself that I am going to master this challenge somehow. And should anything go wrong, then at least the others can have a good laugh.
So my thinking, feeling and behaviour has indeed changed, due to my improv experience. Some scientific interviews also show, that many people benefit from playing improv theatre, at least in their subjective evaluation.
But can this impact be shown with a great number of people? This I would like to examine as part of my bachelor's thesis. I am conceiving a study, in which improv beginners fill out a questionnaire, that deals with a specific psychological construct, before and after their first improv workshop. With the before-after-comparison any changes can specifically be shown. As a comparison group, participants of »normal« sports courses should be interviewed.
In order to get relevant results, it is important that the number of study participants is as large as possible. Thus I am happy about everyone, who would like to support me and participate in the study.
Johanna Dupke is studying Psychology and English at the Bamberg University, as well as Theatre pedagogy at the Bayreuth University. She also works as a musician.
As part of her final thesis, she has conceived a quantitative study, which tries to find out, if an improv workshop can bring about specific changes in thinking and experience. We think it's great, helpful and important for the use of improvisation in different areas, if the results of improvisation methods are scientifically researched. Thus we ask for your help:
In January, Johanna will distribute her questionnaires to all participants of beginners workshops. We would be happy, if many of you will take part and fill them out!
written by Dan Richter
Almost anyone who starts to engage in improv theater, perceives the experience as liberating, joyful, downright therapeutic. It’s like entering a new world, a world where anything is possible. In order to open up this world, we just need to switch or mindset from cautious skepticism to the joyful-accepting »Yes, and!«
However, after about a year, half of the students start to feel some frustration. They believe they have stopped making progress. Some even give up improv altogether, even though it has changed their lives so deeply. So, why is it that with many improvisers, the initial enthusiasm vanishes after a few months?
I think, there are two main reasons for this:
First, learning function is not a linear curve. Rather, we experience great moments of enlightenment, learning explosions in which body and mind change, moments in which many things suddenly become clear to us, moments in which a new world of experience opens up. Then again we experience plateaus. We work hard on a topic, apparently without any real success. The discrepancy between knowledge and ability leads to frustration. It takes a while for us to leave this plateau and pick up the learning curve again. This can sometimes happen in your sleep. Anyone who has ever learned a piece of music on an instrument knows that after intensive practice, it’s sometimes helpful to let the piece rest for two days, and after that suddenly the fingers know what to do all by themselves.
Second, many students believe that learning improv takes place during improv classes alone. That’s a big misconception. The workshop provides the physical experience, the targeted experimentation. But this practical experimentation must be coupled to the mind to give the experience a goal. That is, an important part of learning takes place between workshops.
How can we put these findings into practice?
1. Accept the plateau and the discontinuous learning curve.
Trust that if you just keep working, you will eventually solve the problem you have now. For example, after one year of studying improv many improvisers struggle with storytelling. They try to remember structures and then force those structures into their scenic play. But this »structural playing« looks stiff and bland. So they try to dive even deeper into the topic of storytelling. In such a situation, it is best to focus on other issues, like interaction with your partner, trusting that the knowledge (in this case, storytelling) will gradually settle into our unconscious as sediment, until we are finally free to play with it without thinking about it.
2. Have a notebook.
Does it sometimes happen to you that after a week you don’t know what you did during the last workshop? If you forget what you did, it is almost as if the workshop had not taken place. So, if you want to let the workshop sink into your memory, have a notebook. It is enough to take three, four small notes about the workshop in order to increase the learning effect. Write down what you found remarkable. This can simply be a list of exercises and games, interesting scenes, hints from the teacher that you liked or that you found strange, funny sentences that have been uttered in scenes, and so on. Any written observation makes a mental anchor.
3. Learn between the workshops
As I said before, learning means not only to gain experience, but also to intensify these experiences mentally, sensually and aesthetically.
Take the classic topic »status«. Exercises on status are usually fun and educational. But we can take that experience to a whole new level if we engage with it between workshops: How do husband and wife at the next table use status? How is status handled in classic films? Which status do I assume myself in certain situations? The observing and conscious registration help us to advance. But we can also learn at other levels: There are now dozens of books on the subject of improvisation, which may give you new or different perspectives on the improv world. We can think or daydream about improv and put it in a diary. And finally, we can train improv in mini-exercises (one-minute acting exercises in front of the mirror, one-minute writing exercises, etc.)
4. Go to the workshop with a secret personal challenge.
Maybe in the last few weeks you’ve heard feedback from your improv teacher that you should listen more intensely. Take that as a challenge for the next workshop, even if that specific workshop is about something else, like emotions, genre or singing. Limit yourself to one challenge at a time. From time to time dedicate yourself to the »Focus of the Month«.
5. Train specific individual skills.
Anyone who starts with improv theater brings along a certain set of skills, but also some weaknesses. Some of these weaknesses are hardly tackled during improv classes even though they have an impact on your performance. For example, there are only a few improv teachers who devote themselves to the topic of using the voice. After all, improvising is at the center of the workshops, not professional voice training. If you have a quiet voice, you should seek additional input from a vocal teacher. The same applies to creative writing, pantomime, dance, etc.
6. Try out other teachers.
After a few months, the voice of the teacher sounds too familiar. I am secretly pleased when my students enthusiastically tell me that they have learned this or that from a substitute teacher (and I keep quiet about the fact that I have been trying for weeks to practice just that with them). Apparently, then, it was just this teacher’s slightly different approach that was needed.
Also, if you continue to stand still, you might consider to pick a different school or teacher. Improv-teachers, however awesome they may appear, also have their quirks and blind spots. Try different voices and points of view. There are more than 23 teachers in the »Gorillas Improschule«.
In the course of an improv career, we will reach plateaus again and again. Sometimes it’s easy to accept them as a challenge, and sometimes they seem frustrating. It is decisive that we have the patience and the willingness to understand improv as a project that we will never accomplish completely. We have to realize that no matter on what kind of level we are working, we should always perceive the world of improvisation with a beginner’s eye.
Our improv colleague Dan Richter (from Foxy Freestyle) not only wrote this December Focus for you, he is also writing a 12 (!) volume work about improv theater. The first three books have already been published (in German only): »The Basics« (Vol. 1), »Groups, Money and Management« (Vol. 8) and »Impro-Shows« (Vol.9). Can you buy them all HERE directly from the producer, read yourself or give away ...
written by Robert Munzinger
Often, stories and characters suffer from negativity. You see people who are in a bad mood, there is griping and quarreling, no character states a positive goal for himself. Sure, that may happen, but it’s not good for a whole evening.
Good and strong stories need positive lead characters, who have a goal, who have something to give, who want to make the world a better place. And THEN negativity does make sense - as a counterbalance to our hero.
I think one of the main reasons for negativity at the beginning of a scene is the uncomfortable feeling of having to decide for something. But when a negative character appears on stage, then at the latest you should see this as an offer to bring in a positive force. For sooner or later the most every story needs is a vital center, something that is at stake, someone you can identify with.
James Bond always saves the world, but it’s okay to downsize the goal - as long as it’s larger than the character thinks he can manage. Play someone who tries to finance a heart surgery for his or her mother. Someone who fights the exorbitant rates. Who helps two lovers to come together. Who achieves the impossible and revitalizes the SPD (Social Democratic Party). Or who simply tries to bring together the whole family for one last time at Christmas...
BE POSITIVE !!!
Robert Munzinger sneakes into the basics of improv theater with you: January 11+12, 2020 at the Taster Weekend.
written by Barbara Klehr
In the past weeks a dear musician colleague of mine passed away. On the occasion of his death, his girlfriend invited friends and acquaintances to her place. It was a vivid, friendly and life-affirming gathering of people and we had interesting conversations about temporariness. There were such diverse thoughts on this! Common ground seemed to be, that it is about the things that remain. In Ralf's case we agreed that he was such a friendly and humble man, who somehow was able to make us feel more relaxed and peaceful, when we were in his presence.
Let me use this occacion to invite you to a reflexion concerning improv: what should remain from when I play?
Improv is a very perishable art. Yet you are able to touch people by playing authentic characters and by telling stories that seem relevant to yourself. Also, it is of importance how I am dealing with my colleagues. It can be worthwile to ask yourself (and your colleagues): do they really enjoy to play with me? Do I make my partners on stage look good?
And what about my inner evaluation? Can I really and truthfully accept, what my colleague is doing? And if not, how can I constructively go on playing with that person?
Everone is responsible for the kind of human being he or she wants to be.
In personal life as well as on and behind the improv stage.
written by Björn Harras
Improvised scenes tend to be loaded with action and information. Everyone wants to move the scene forward, in order to make it a good one. Fully understandable, but it easily happens that the focus of the actual scene gets lost. What can often help is a moment of pause. Don't spit out your next thought, don't follow your impulse for action immediately. Instead, be concious of what just happened, let it sink into you, let it affect you. You might have already found, what the scene really is about. In addition, this brief moment of silence helps the audience to come to terms with what they just watched. Sort out yourself and see how the story affects you. You might try to have moments of pause on purpose. Make an agreement with your partners to have a 3-second-moment of silence after each sentence and each action. I am sure you will discover new worlds in your scenes and in yourself.
Björn teaches with Inbal Lori these two workshops: »Improv for Actors on Tuesdays« (8 Oct to 26 Nov) and »Learning from each other: Weekend for professional actors and performing improviser« (2+3 Nov).
written by Karin Werner
Again and again I keep saying how great it is, when the mood and concentration onstage allow you to play with seemingly unimportant details. Suddenly it`s there and "wants to be played": The cup is hot (a classic, I know), the drawer is rough-running, the closet has a specific smell, whatever. Lately it was the huge weight of a wig. You suggest the detail and your partners onstage notice it and play along. It is not about enlarging it or giving it importance. It`s a game on the sideline. You could also say, it just floats and dances along. The story would work without them, but these details are fun and give it that extra something. So in this sense: go get a hot cup!
Karin teaches the Taster Weekend in Potsdam on September 14th+15th. She is the instructor of the Evening Class Mondays Beginners (12.8 bis 30.9.) and in Potsdam of the Evening Class Wednesdays Beginners/Advansters (Aug 14 to Oct 2).
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.