I tried, I really tried. I tried to find an image that would facilitate this analogy poetically. I looked up Kenosis. I typed in pitchers and refilling and replenishing and so on… but hey, what works- works.
Creativity is like a toilet.
Water goes in as it goes out. The apparatus doesn’t work if it is dry or overflowing. There is equilibrium to a crapper.
We are like that: information, inspiration, experience, teaching, and watching all go in. Creation comes out. If you don’t re-fill yourself you can’t improvise, or create any thought-product of value. However, try to take in too much too quickly and you’ll overflow all over the floor (messy).
I suppose the other analogy that works for this is that of being fed and evacuating; gross! Though I do (and I believe I am not alone in this) often think to myself “I am improv constipated” or “I would like to go dookie all these thoughts or emotions out on stage.” Sorry.
New Movementers, I have been on a journey and my pitcher is overflowing. I had the wonderful opportunity to take an intensive, all day everyday, improv class this past week and I am brimming with ideas right now. Please pardon the mess, and I will at least do you the courtesy of avoiding bullet points.
Messy thought cluster number one is about dancing with yourself. Fred Astaire dances with a coat rack in the movie “Royal Wedding.” It is like similar moments in certain Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies where they are accompanied in a dance by the invisible or inanimate; the point of these sequences is to illustrate the virtuosity of the dancer. If Astaire can dance with a coat rack, and make the rack look elegant and graceful, then his art is put in full relief. You see, a male dancer traditionally has the job of making his partner look stunning; all the flourishes, most of the sequins, and the majority of the visual attention belong to the woman dancing. Astaire and Kelly, therefore, show off most effectively when they dance without a woman sharing focus.
So, what does it mean when something that is done traditionally with a partner, something that is almost inexorably about the fact that one does it with a partner, like dance, is separated from the roles of support and collaboration that normally dictate its shape? Well, I think about that and improv all the time.
There have been times when I have looked at one of my improv heroes and thought “she could be improvising with a coat rack and I’d still watch her all night.” There have been periods where all I wanted for myself was to be able to handle a scene, with absolutely anyone, and trust myself to make them look like Ginger Rodgers even if they behaved more like a wooden poll.
Then, there are times where that idea is silly to me. I want to dance, not appear to dance. I want to collaborate, not perform by myself – with someone else – on stage.
The word for the night is equilibrium. Balance.
A talented improviser is not co-dependant on stage. But he is also never unaffected, pursuing his own joke at the expense of the scene, or lacking in emotional commitment to what is happening in the moment. A good improviser handles her own perspective while being absolutely paranoid and moved by offers of her scene partner.
Joe Bill is an astonishing teacher. When you get a chance, learn from him.
I have taken two workshops and now an intensive from the dude. He always reminds me to, like a mother on an air plane puts on her oxygen mask first and then assists her daughter, cover my own ass first. Just like in a relationship, you best care for your fellow improvisers by first caring for yourself, so that you have strength left over to give and don’t become depleted.
The practical application is at least two fold. One, Joe had us work on “solo-starts.” That process was complex, but for myself I’ve boiled down the lesson (for now) to “don’t worry about your scene partner’s response before they get there.” I can’t tell you how many choices I haven’t made out of the fear that I couldn’t communicate my ideal path for a scene. “If I start this scene in a café in Paris in 1874 and I’m scandalized by the Impressionism exhibit I’ve just visited then my scene partner will be lost… I’d better have another scene in an office.” That is the mind killer.
If I start this scene with strength — Bewildered and overwhelmed (those are the emotions I would “get” from the idea of the exhibit) — With a character shape and a voice that is informed by what delighted me about the original idea – Well, I am going to have a good scene. It couldn’t matter less if that scene takes place in 1874. My scene partner will delight in my strength and my ability to interact with them through a character; she will not spend the whole scene trying to parse my initiating line. I can trust her and I can trust me. Mechanically, that choice looks like me attacking the stage, sitting down, and talking before anyone even gets there. I don’t have to wait quietly for a scene partner to arrive before the scene starts. She will get there, and when she does the scene will take off from where it already is.
Two, Tami always praises people for giving themselves gifts. You will come on licking your arm because you love the taste of blood and are gross and Tami will give the note “you gave yourself this wonderful gift with the gross-out blood liking- Sweet!” Somehow I always feel guilty giving myself gifts though. I end up feeling like “Oh, well shouldn’t I have given my scene partner a gift?” Guess what everybody! Giving your scene partner the opportunity to do a scene with a gross-out blood/puss/booger licker is a giant gift for them! I want to do that scene right now! I don’t want to be in the scene where we look at each other for twenty seconds, while we try to figure out if either of us likes anything in the scene. Nope, I want to watch you lick your arm and I want to freak out (with joy, disgust, or arousal? I don’t know yet!?)
The most selfish thing I could do in a scene is come on as a silly Victorian girl, or an insecure dictator, or horny – but, I am also realizing that this is probably the most generous thing I could do as well. So don’t dance with yourself, but do give yourself a big present, of emotion and perspective, every time you get on stage! /advice
( Spoiler: Part Two is about Timing)