Monday, 29 October 2007


1) Mood change e.g. excitement to melancholy, relating to the elements.

2) Death as a common theme/focus.

3) The performers and their personal lives coming through in performance.

4) Bringing new dimensions to inanimate objects, and not relying on traditional set and staging.

5) Accepting 'mistakes' and letting theme become part of the performance.

Posted by Chloe Gosling

1) They use ideas and themes concerning themselves – for example in 70Hill Lane, the story was based on Phelim McDermott.

2) They work as an ensemble; all of Improbable members are equal, there are no hierarchies.

3) They often create the set and decide on design elements before the performance has been fully created. They use set design as a stimulus for the narrative of their piece.

4) They welcome mistakes, as they believe mistakes produce creative decisions and ideas.

5) They use objects in order to tell the story; they believe that the object or puppet is as important as the actor.

Posted by Charlotte Harvey

There are many recurrent elements in the work of Improbable, however, I have decided to draw on the points that have had most impact on me through my studies on the theatre company.

1) Ensemble- working together, having awareness for one another, concentrating on the group as oppose to the individual. Seeing the bigger picture.

2) Spontaneity- Trying new things without pre-conceiving ideas. Not being afraid to jump off a cliff with the hope that the audience is there to catch them. Not worrying if what they are doing is right or wrong by learning from their mistakes. Taking the risk!

3) Creativity- working in an artistic environment with like minded people. Being open-minded to new ideas that can come from anywhere. Developing their work through the use of original materials.

4) Authenticity- (this leads on from the last) creating original pieces of work which are refreshing. Not 'thinking up' new ideas, but instead working through experimentation.

5) Incorporating the audience- producing a unique performance every time by reacting and adapting to the individual audience.

Posted by Faith Brandon-Blatch

1) The use of everyday items such as newspaper or sticky tape

2) Storytelling

3) Puppetry

4) Use of light and sound to help build up scenes where they, maybe, don't have the props to aid the storytelling

5) Responding to the audience and their reactions, leaving room for mistakes. e.g If someone's phone goes off in the audience they are able to incorporate it into their piece as they are not following a specific text (improvisation)

Posted by Louisa Hagan

1) improvisation

2) unconventional use of objects

3) newspaper into puppets

4) unfinished or left open for audience interpretation

5) creating piece around basis of set i.e. creating set first then devising show around what is in the set.

Posted by Emily Cookson

1) Ensemble- ensemble is clearly an important element in performance, but for improbable it is essential. Without the team work of being able to understand one another thoughts through a phase, gesture or movement would create a disjointed and random piece. If they did not 'accept' one another's 'offers' the story would soon end and become illogical, as we discovered through exercise in our classes.

2) Imagination/ using objects- Another element improbable entails is the imagination to use and create a object into something else which is not commonly associated with. For example turning paper into a living person and then turning it into a performance on stage, furthermore treating it as a equal to a human performer on stage.

3) 'Offering'- This element originates from Keith Johnstone's book 'Impro', meaning to give a gesture, movement and sentence that the other actor's on stage can respond and react to.

4) 'Accepting'--Once again, the idea develops from Keith Johnstone, and meaning to retaliate to a gesture, movement or sentence has been given previously.

5) Mistakes do not matter- this element means that unlike other forms of theatre where a mistake such as misinterpreting a fellow actor would be incorrect, Improbable believe it develops in to a new path of a narrative. They believe that a mistake is not wrong but a new creative element to their play.

Posted by Olivia Pointing

1) Improvisation

2) Ensemble

3) Every day items used to make something bigger e.g. newspaper puppets

4) Use of set

5) Open to change

Posted by Emma Berge

1) Ensemble-members: the main members of the ensemble are always the same. Therefore it is some sort of recurrency as they know each other and are then able to repeat (maybe intuitively) things that have been working quite well before.

2) 'Death' as a main-theme

3) Working with simple every day objects such as newspaper or sellotape

4) Naivety: this means that they always try to see the world from a childlike position; They are always open to explore and create new or unexpected things on stage, during rehearsals and during shows.

5) Puppetry: improbable is quite attached to puppets; They come in any shape and size and are used in order to support the 'real' actors, not just as a 'nice accessory'. Of course, one can see the every day objects which I've mentioned before also as puppetry. But here I mean puppets in term of creatures (human or animal like).

Posted by Mirjam Frank

1) Death

2) Being afraid sometimes is a good thing

3) Audience participation in the creation of the story

4) Not having pre-conceived ideas about what they are creating

5) Giving life to ordinary objects

Posted by Fiona Allison

1) The way in which they devise as a company in terms of their philosophy of 'spontaneity' and 'play'. This structure or non-structure is how nearly all of Improbable's performances are created, whether the final product is scripted or not.

2) The use of light is something I also feel Improbable use as an instrumental element in their performances, particularly in 70 Hill Lane, Sticky and Lifegame, even is it just symbolised an ending of a scene, this was very effective particularly in their improvised performances.

3) Puppetry seems to be another strong element in Improbable's work. In 70 Hill Lane they used both sellotape and newspaper to create puppets, and also used the element of light to create a more enhanced visual effect for the audience. This was also done on a larger scale for Sticky.

4) Improbable have also used the element of song in some of their productions, both scripted and unscripted! This requires very close work as an ensemble, which was shown very clearly in Lifegame, where they managed to sing songs together on the spot.

5) In terms of Improbable's philosophy on improvisation, it would seem that one of their other main elements would be the idea of accepting everything, and not thinking. This is considered to Improbable the only way to create a successful improvisation scene by where each actor is accepting the idea without trying to make the scene meet their own pre-conceived ideas. This is also a way to prevent yourself from trying to think of something funny or original rather than just 'doing'.

Posted by Emma Bilton

1) Storytelling- Many of Improbable's pieces encompass storytelling. Lifegame was fundamentally a new life story every night and 70 Hill Lane was a story about Phelim when he was younger. The start of any devised piece must come from our perceived ideas and these only come from our experiences in life; so the element of storytelling seems like one of the most prominent ones to me.

2) Truth - Linked with the first this is also part of what, to me, seems like a good formula for devising as it draws on our own lives to create something. I think this connection must exist in order to create a good piece as it creates a degree of passion and love for the work you are producing which i think is incredibly important and seeing as Improbable create some very original work i hope this applies to them.

3) Emotions - Again this links in with the previous two. Creating an interesting piece means that the truth must somewhere lie in the emotions portrayed and seeing as storytelling is also a big element, the mixture of these could insinuate that some of the emotions in Improbable's work could be seen as quite raw and thus relate to the group, then again they might not...

4) Death - I think this mainly because Improbable say this element keeps recurring in their pieces and i think i agree. I might be tempted to say 'the circle of life' or something less specific would be more accurate than simply 'death'. However, as i believe their pieces concentrate more on life as a whole where death just happens to be a very common end. Sticky is a good example of this whole idea of life; from my vague memory of the piece some sort of angel descends and all the strange bug and clock light show ensue where many 'eggs' are released followed by the exit of the 'angel' (This may be a slightly pretentious way to look at it but i think there is some truth in there).

5) Life - I say this for the reasons above in death but in reference the other way. Life is an important part of death, funnily enough, and it seems blatantly obvious to have them both in here!

Posted by George Calderwood

1) Working as an ensemble- all equal

2) Show deliberately made unfinished

3) Create design elements before the rehearsal/ devising process

4) They welcome mistakes- and often use them in their work

5) Fear should be present in each show- feeling scared helps you perform best

Posted by Fran Smith

1) Puppetry with different materials

2) The theme of Death

3) Changes of space - being experimental and not using the same space twice

4) Uses of different Media - theatre, outdoors, structures

5) Sellotape!

Posted by Emma Fielding

1) The theme of death: Improbable often deal with death in their work; it is a universal theme which obviously applies to us all. They use this theme in a tasteful and sometimes humorous way, which makes it an easier subject to cope with for the audience.

2) An enhanced feeling of ensemble: In improbable’s work, the audience can plainly see that their sense of ensemble is very deeply developed.
This is why they can improvise so easily on the spot, and the reason some people don’t believe they improvise live on-stage, which they actually do.

3) Use of everyday objects: Many people find it strange that Improbable use such common objects as Newspaper and Sellotape within their work.
However in Sticky and 70 Hill Lane Sellotape is used to great effect, they use the qualities which the tape already possesses to create objects and even sets.

4) Live Improvisation: Improbable are possibly best known for their use of improvisation live on-stage. They believe the scariness of doing this creates good, lively theatre. This technique also ensures a show is different every night, emphasising the liveness and changeability of theatre.

5) Abstract Notions: Most of Improbable’s shows have an unfinished feel about them. This is intentional, and allows the audience to ’fill the gaps’ with their own imagination, and arguably have a deeper and more formed experience than if they had seen a truly polished show. The audience have an active, rather than passive role within Improbable’s shows.

Posted by Eleanor Rhodes

Obviously this is quite difficult to pin down but so far I have gathered these to be the five main elements of Improbable's work:

1) Ensemble,
Each production I have seen so far clearly lacks either a lead character as some traditional productions, of has any lead writing/directorial of production credits. In productions such as "Sticky" the cast does not even "Act" but prefers to come together to create a work of spectacle.

2) Audience
In all the production's I have seen so far the audience has either a key part to play in "finishing" the production, or, as in Sticky the needs of the actor's involved to display their craft as "performers" is pushed aside for the desire to please and entertain with a display of pure spectacle which is designed I feel, to simply connect them with an Aesthetic engagement.

3) "Unfinished" works:
Each improbable production leaves from for either surprises (Lifegame) or simply development on stage, often Improbable's productions will never be alike and change greatly during a single run, or other many years as in "Shockhead Peter"

4) Play
Each production really seems to suggest that aside from everything else, the performers involved simply enjoy producing theatre. In Lifegame a real sense of playfulness was embodied through the portrayal of childhood events, and in Sticky I could almost imagine the gleefulness with which the actor's simply decided to play with sticky tape and fireworks and simply have some fun.

5) Objects
In key performances Objects are used to great effect and are often the starting point for improvisations, such as the trap door ramp in Spirit, and the amusing horns and table/interview set up of Lifegame.

Posted by Gemma Moran

1) spontaneity for authenticity

2) lack of structure and freedom in performance

3) acceptance of all offers, even accidents

4) taking everyday objects, eg selotape/newspapers, and giving them anew use and voice

5) Telling personal stories and anicdotes without having to resort to a naturalistic style, but constantly involving the audience and using props, puppets, lighting, sound to make the storytelling come to life.

Posted by Helen Hudson

1) The involvement of the audience- the audience always play an important part in the development of Improbable's work.

2) The use of improvisation.

3) Death seems to be a recurring theme in Improbable's work suggesting that the element of the 'shock factor' is recurrent, e.g. The Hanging Man.

4) Storytelling is a major recurring element in Improbable's work.

5) The use of props and objects/making props and objects- newspaper, selotape.

Posted by Hazel Darlington

1) Issues surrounding life and death.

2) Storytelling- throughout their performances they usually tell a story. Any story from fairytale to a real life story.

3) Narrative- within the storytelling they often use a narrator.

4) Music - Although the music that Improbable use during their performances may be chosen late on it nevertheless plays a role in creating mood.

5) Comedy- Comedy is used in many different ways. It is never forced and is often experienced alongside more serious issues such as death.

Posted by Sylvie Barlow


(1) Weekly Blog (this blog was sent 15 minutes after class!)
Today was a great day for me, as you know I was initially very dubious and sceptical as to a lot of the concepts and exercises of 'Improbable', however since attending [Improbable] workshop I have a much better understanding of the concepts particularly in relation to performance, which is why I am so excited for our devised pieces when we will have a chance to put them into practice. I also found today I was for the first time truly involved in the exercises (newspaper/objects), and my energy levels rocketed!
So happy to have gotten over my initial reservations!

Posted by Chloe Gosling

(2) "Awareness"
I found that this lesson was much more useful than the previous lesson. This lesson wasn't as repetitive as the previous one. I found that watching the newspaper exercise being undertaken once was enough, as the object created out of the newspaper was original and wasn't forced. In the previous lesson we all undertook the exercise, which was useful as we were all able to try it out. However, in doing so, ideas were repeated in the fear that the individual's object wouldn't be original or creative enough. This relates to the idea of awareness. You feel aware of the audience and therefore want to create something new and exciting, therefore you focus on dominating the object and making it what you want it to be.
Watching people undertake the same exercise with the baskets was extremely interesting. At first, I didn't think the exercise would work as well as using newspapers, as newspapers can take on any shape, whereas baskets already have a fixed shape. However, the fact that baskets already have a fixed shape worked a lot better; it was so intriguing watching the baskets come to life.

Posted by Charlotte Harvey

(3) Weeks 4 & 5 Blog
Being introduced to puppets in week 4 was something that i really enjoyed. although i thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was! At first i struggled with the idea of not "controlling the paper" as I was eager to create a strange looking puppets that i could walk around with! But i soon realised that the puppets had so much more life if you stopped "controlling" them and let them be what they wanted to be. Likewise, in week 5 i was really glad to continue with the puppetry and I thought that the concept worked even better with the wicker baskets! this is something i would love to work with in my final piece. It was also good to watch the other groups devised pieces and how we all explored the four qualities from nearly completely different perspectives. I am also looking forward to looking into our theme of 'fear' and to get stuck into our devising pieces!

Posted by Emma Bilton

(4) Changing Objects
After last week's lesson I was left feeling a little confused as to the idea of exploring the newspapers. However, this lesson I found it much easier to understand the process and purpose of the newspapers. Using the baskets really helped to clarify the point of the exercise and I found it very interesting to see how the exercise changed due to the definitive shape of the baskets. I particularly enjoyed the group newspaper exercise. I found it much easier to work in ensemble in exploring the newspaper as you didn't feel like any one person was dominating or controlling it. This week's lesson really helped to clarify Improbable use of puppets in their performances and it has left me eager to begin our devised pieces next week.

Posted by Fran Smith

(5) Our Prepared Performance
When we presented our performances at the start of the lesson it was interesting to see the various outcomes of the different groups. Everything from a scene on a bus to a therapy session emerged as a result of the same exercises. Most groups seemed to have used the different qualities as their main inspiration. Our group had started by allocating different qualities to different characters and then simply choosing a location. Originally we chose a broken down lift as our starting point. From this we developed a storyline but the location we had chosen limited our movement and made the performance extremely static. For this reason we moved the location to a kitchen (the night after a busy night out). However our final performance actually used limited movement. We found that early on we were tempted to create a lot of movement, when in fact there was no real need for movement. The performance was just as if not more interesting when we internalised the different qualities. Another thing I noticed was that our performance seemed to change dramatically once we were performing to an audience. In rehearsals we had used far more dialogue whereas in the final performance this seemed un-natural and we left pauses, which brought out more tension than we had been experiencing in the rehearsals. I noticed in the feedback that the audience had seemed to enjoy the fact that we left a lot open for interpretation. There was one comment following another group’s performance that struck me. The group said that each rehearsal of their performance had been unique, i.e. they had found different comic moments emerging from each rehearsal. This interested me because of the way that our piece had changed in the actual performance. In their group one person had always acted as the audience for the group during rehearsals. In future this is something I would be interested in experimenting with. Having seen the freshness of their performance I would like to try rehearsing a performance with at least one person (perhaps who has a creative role) taking on the role of the audience.

Posted by Sylvie Barlow

(6) Blog
The newspaper task definitely go easier with practise, but I still found it hard to acknowledge the audience. At one point I'd spent 10 minutes forming my puppet before I realised I didn't know what it looked like from the front, only from my direction. I also preferred the newspapers to the baskets.

Posted by Emma Berge

(7) Baskets
This week I was incredibly interested in my own response to the different exercises, and the variations on already attempted ones. It was particularly evident for me when I took part in the basket exercise, expecting to find it as difficult as I had the newspaper one the week before. However, this was far from what actually happened. Suddenly, the initial fear and reservations I had about having to make the newspaper into something else was gone, because the object was in front of me fully formed - all that had to happen was for it to gain a character. I found that this exercise was much more reassuring because you could relax into the exercise and enjoy it - there was less pressure to create something new and original. I have gotten a new surge of confidence from this exercise, and am consequently less scared about the final piece! If you can create something great out of four baskets, surely a piece around these themes cant be impossible!

Posted by Emma Fielding

(8) Blog
Last week's class was quite strange to me. As I have been ill the week before that, working with newspaper was a completely new experience to me. To be honest, I find it hard to accept the idea that an object 'decides' how to move and that I am the one that 'only has to follow the material'. When I think of 'not dominating' an object there is no other way for me than to just drop it. Because HOW can I not dominate it?! An object is dead material, therefore it is me who has to do something with it. So I will always be dominating it just by touching or lifting it.

Posted by Mirjam Frank

(9) Blog for Week 5
This week’s lesson proved quite interesting for me, as we developed our work on puppetry into different varieties of mundane objects, as opposed to the use of just newspaper. On using the straw baskets instead, I found it much easier to work with the object and see it come to life. In the group’s post task discussion, I discovered this may be due to the fact that the basket already had a formed shape, therefore eliminating perhaps the most difficult part of the task in its transformation from object to being. Using the basket also felt as though the object was much more willing to cooperate with me as it was not vulnerable to a change in shape, therefore when joining together as one it was simply movement that required concentration while the baskets seemed to fit easily together.However, although this meant that a tendency to dominate the object became less likely, as it appeared more cooperative, a consideration of the elements seemed slightly sacrificed. This was, I felt, because as the object’s shape had been pre-determined, moving with the quality of moulding, for example, was much more difficult as the object wasn’t so malleable. It was, therefore, very important to compensate for this when dealing with the other elements, for example when dealing with the element of floating to consider both gravity and the polarities to maintain the object’s reality.In the lesson, we also experimented with size as the group attempted to make a puppet out of one giant piece of newspaper. This was intriguing as it appeared only to gain life when the number of puppeteers began to decrease, and its peak of life occurring when only three of the original ten puppeteers were left guiding the it.All in all, we learnt some very valuable concepts and ones which I personally am looking forward to taking into our group piece revolving around the stimulating theme of fear.

Posted by Laurence Brasted

(10) Blog for Week 5
(apologies for its lateness!)
In previous classes I had found working with newspaper to make puppets quite hard as I struggled to view the newspaper as an 'equal' on stage, and as an object or performer in its own right. Revisiting the work with newspaper on Monday's lesson at first seemed to me no different, and I still was very sceptical about it. However, as we began developing what we had learnt form the previous classes by using baskets and then a giant piece of newspaper I started to change my mind. Watching other class members use the baskets I was able to really see the puppets, or 'equal' performers, take shape and not focus on those behind the puppets making them move. I think not seeing the process that led up to the creation of the puppets helped as the baskets were already fully formed objects and so it was easier to accept their shape and use the imagination to view them as something other than baskets. I enjoyed the improvisation with baskets as it reminded me of children's TV shows when I was younger that often required imagination to turn everyday objects, such as newspapers or baskets, into performers or characters to tell a story. This brought to me the thought that having a 'childlike' mind and attitude towards this work is helpful as children constantly accept ideas and have an open mind towards offers, and this showed me that my skeptical mind was completely the wrong attitude to have in the class, so hopefully from now on as we begin to work on our final pieces this new attitude will help in the creation and development of the ideas we have as an ensemble.

Posted by Helen Hudson

(11) Creating a final piece
I have found that coming up with ideas for our group piece has been quite a difficult process. Because we have been studying Improbable it's hard not to completely copy all of their ideas and to try and make our piece original whilst sticking to the ideologies of Improbable. Although hard, it has also been quite fun working with my set group.

Posted by Louisa Hagan


Genuinely funny improvisations, each actor trusts his mistakes and abuses them delightfully, really funny, enjoy.

Posted by Gemma Moran

Comment: This is very useful! A very good example of effective improvisation (offering and accepting). Thank you Gemma.

Monday, 22 October 2007


This week we were introduced to the object for the first time, trying to see its significance as a performing entity and as a devising tool within the context of Improbable practice. I'm aware that this concept may not be very familiar to some of you, but which you will hopefully begin to grasp after some practice and experimentation.

(1) "We Got it Wrong? Great!"
In the article 'we've got it wrong, great!' Brain Logon successfully articulates how original, collaborative and reflective Improbable really is. This article particularly concentrates on how difficult it is to improvise and how many actors would dislike and not be able to perform if the play was only 'half formed.' This observation was certainly reassuring as even professionals found spontaneity to be nervous-racking and difficult and to do so should be recognised and applauded. It is also interesting to find that Logon recognised how objects such as their tape made such a unique and interesting concept to the productions. This article helps one is understand how simple materials such as a rough storyline and bland objects can become a challenge to a western actor/ess due to perhaps being in such a consumerist society where such vivid imagination is not always encouraged, and a lot of things are literally told i.e. in most films.

Posted by Olivia Pointing.

(2) Improbable Influence & Short Scene
After working on our short scene in smaller groups, I feel I am beginning to understand why Improbable use certain exercises and games by selected practitioners. Various influences from a range of artists have created many levels to their work making it unique. By experimenting with a mixture of practitioners such as Keith Johnstone, who encompasses a more modern approach to theatre making, in comparison to say Michael Chekhov, you can see how their individual style has been formed. I particularly liked the work we did on atmospheres and qualities which was in the Michael Chekhov reading. We experimented with this in our short scene by each adopting a different quality for our characters. We transformed an ordinary script into something that is more than just 2 dimensional. I feel that this is something to bear in mind with Improbable. There work is not just about one plot or subject, but a whole range of issues which are explored through different mediums. This therefore, leaves an opening (a gap) for the audience to create their own interpretation and meaning.

Posted by Faith Brandon-Blatch

Comment: One of the important things to notice, and which is evident from your post here, is that the best way to understand the work of Improbable is through practice. Which you have experienced yourself through your work on your own piece with your small groups, on which you have applied the concepts you read about and explored in class.

(3) Week Four Blog
Having read the articles for our week 4 reading, I found them all very interesting. The first article – 'Objects in performance' had some very interesting views on what a puppet actually was as well as how in theatre, objects are now just as important as puppets. It mentions how we have to be able to transform the object in order for it to become characterised. You also have to be able to 'feel' the object and understand it, whilst working with it instead of dominating it. In class, it was interesting using newspaper to form our objects. At first it was difficult not to dominate the object and force it into a shape or structure that you wanted it to be. Improbable believe that you need to trust the creative process between yourself and the puppet and not rush it. They also yet again believe that the mistakes that come out of the process of making the object/puppet are the most useful and help them to progress. In class, many of us found it difficult not to copy ideas that we had seen from previous groups. However, in my group I found it very satisfactory working as an ensemble and creating our puppet together. In future lessons I would like to cover the idea of objects in the theatre in more depth as well as work on animating objects and not dominating them.

Posted by Charlotte Harvey

Comment: In order to discover the potential of an object as an expressive, theatrical tool... in order for it to come to life and become transformed on stage, we should try and see it as equal to a human performer. IT IS a puppet AS important as a performer.

(4) Improbable and Puppets
The first visual image I get whenever I think of puppetry is a ‘Punch and Judy’ performance. This may be because this is the form of puppetry I have had the most exposure to and it may also be because I first experienced a ‘Punch and Judy’ performance at a young age. I can see how the approach to puppetry that we explored during last lesson has evolved from the more traditional approaches. But this didn’t prevent me from struggling to achieve the kind of results I was hoping for (practically). I felt as though I was battling against my most natural instincts. For instance I found it difficult to see the newspaper (that I was making a puppet from) as though it had a certain quality. I felt as though I was being asked to see the newspaper as having a will of its own. In the article with Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch the idea of asking your puppet for help when you are stuck with what to do alarmed me slightly for this reason. I am not saying that I do not think it is possible to create puppets in this way or that it would not achieve results that were fascinating to an audience. I am very curious to the way ‘Improbable’ use puppets. However I found it very difficult to adapt to this approach in one lesson. Overall I feel as though I achieved far better results in the first half of the lesson than the second. I experimented more and didn’t try to mould the newspaper into any pre-conceived shapes. Once I was asked to repeat the exercise and was in front of an audience I was more aware of how the newspaper looked and I fell into the habit of trying to create something that looked interesting. I gained a lot from watching others during the second half of the lesson. Often there would be moments where a puppet would seem to have life. There were a few comic moments where puppets would meet each other for the first time and react in an unexpected way. The exercise was clearly challenging and managing to create moments of life was a success in itself. I think another reason I struggled was that I was trying to re-create other moments of successful performance. I have not formed any strong opinions as to whether or not I like this form of theatre. I would like to re-try some of the exercises we did in class before I form an opinion. The reason is that I haven’t had enough experience of it yet.

Posted by Sylvie Barlow

(5) Puppets and Properties
This week I was really struck by Improbable's belief that all objects on stage are puppets rather than props. On reflection, it seems to be almost obvious that in many plays, the main character is effectively an object, with the main themes of the play being portrayed to the audience through the object. However, I had never really thought about the role of props in plays other than to assist the actors. After this lesson I realised how short-sighted I had been in this respect. I really like the way Improbable use objects in their performances as puppets rather than props, allowing the real significance of these objects to be communicated to the audience. This concept helped us work on our group improvisations, as we were able to use the newspaper puppets to help portray our movement qualities and develop our characters in general, with the newspapers becoming an element of our characters rather than just objects. I haven't had a chance to watch the video yet but I look forward to seeing how Improbable awaken their puppets and use them in performance.

Posted by Fran Smith

(6) The Difficulty of Puppets
I am still unsure about the use of puppets with Improbable. Even though I can see that the end product is clear, and I agree with and understand their idea that every object on stage is a puppet rather than a prop, I find it difficult to understand the process involved. Because I find the spontaneity idea difficult in itself, I think that the idea of doing this with newspaper is something that I haven't grasped properly yet. I am finding it interesting to read about and watch Improbable working with puppets though - I think it is easier to understand when you see their end product, even though so much of the emphasis is on the process. I think that I will find this idea easier to understand and do when I have seen this idea develop more, and seen how it connects into performance, which I have glimpsed within the smaller groups. This is something that I still find very new and challenging, but I am sure that with time and experience I will begin to see the bigger picture, and understand the process more.

Posted by Emma Fielding

(7) Blog
I found this week's lesson quite difficult. Although I try to keep an open mind, I found it really difficult to give a mind to an inanimate object. With the newspaper, I tried to find which folds appeared naturally as I moved it and used those, but otherwise couldn't see how the paper was telling me how it wanted to move. Every time I tried to stop myself imposing my own will upon the paper, I found myself thinking, 'it's only paper. It has no will other than the will I impose'.

Posted by Emma Berge

Comment (for all): Seeing the object as something other than itself, respecting and listening to the material, giving it life without imposing your own will, are all very difficult levels of perception to achieve when working with objects/puppets, and I'm aware that they are new to you. It takes time and a lot of practice to get a real sense of an object and allowing its character and presence to materialize in front of an audience. So don't rush the result and just think of your process of learning and experimenting. Try not to think of the end product or the final image and enjoy it as a 'game'. Improbable believe that playfulness is a great attitude to have when creating... it's actually the 'essence' of creation! Trying out the newspaper exercise for once is far from enough!
Now you find yourself dominating the newspaper, which is a very natural first reaction, but the more you do it, still with an 'open mind', the more the connection between you and the newspaper will happen, and the more the paper's own will will show itself to you. Right now it's not ready to talk yet!

(8) Week Four Blog
Week four's lesson was based around working with objects, specifically newspaper, and creating things with it. I noticed during this lesson, whilst people were working with the newspaper to create something, there was a lot of focus on creating a puppet that had a complete character. Improbable themselves said that when working like this, they may create sections of puppets; arms, legs, torsos, heads etc, rather than creating a full, complete puppet.
I found that people in our class were more concentrating on their puppet becoming a full character, ‘dominating it’ so to speak. Many people created creatures, as if they were animals, and forced animalistic characters on them, rather than letting the newspaper fully evolve into its own life.
This may be due to the fact that we have never done this before, and as human instinct, we like things that are complete and have a nature and purpose, therefore creating half a puppet or something without a complete character would not be satisfying for us. However, during the process in this lesson, many interesting creatures and puppets did evolve.

Posted by Emily Cookson

Comment: You are right. You should try to let go of your own pre-conceptions of things when working with objects. Don't presume a shape for the newspaper before developing a connection with it, or before developing a real sense of its nature and quality as a material. Improbable sometimes uses this exercise with designers and businessmen for that very reason: to help them let go of preconceptions and of predetermining things.
And yes, you all did great trying out the exercise for the first time, and some good images did started to appear.

(9) Puppetry
During Monday's lesson I found creating puppets from newspaper quite hard. Watching the other members of the class creating objects out of newspaper I thought that they made it look quite easy. I did notice that some of the objects different people made were very similar which would suggest a lot of awareness and control in the improvisation. I however found it quite hard to let the newspaper naturally take a form as I didn't want to force the newspaper into an object. I think with more practise the task would become easier.

Posted by Louisa Hagan

(10) Puppets
I found the lesson we just had on puppet making interesting as at firs I was a bit sceptical but ended up quite enjoying it. I found it easier to do at the beginning i think because i had no pre-concieved ideas about what i was doing so it came naturally. But once we started doing it many times and watching everyone i felt that it began to feel a bit forced and therefore less successful. It was also a very draining exercise and i found it hard to focus fully on it for 3 hours.

Posted by Fiona Allison

(11) Blog
Puppetry using stereotypically inanimate objects can always be fun (to a degree). But I'd never thought of using something so ordinary and from everyday like newspaper until '70 Hill Lane'. It is really interesting to see what different things people come up with as many puppets came to life very quickly and many others far more slowly. Our personalities probably define a large amount of what we're going to create in front of us and thus I'm curious to what degree can we see ourselves in what we created in class. The section on puppet interaction i thought was really interesting, the movement and life we had given to our puppets from within ourselves really came through there.

Posted by George Calderwood

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Comedy Store Players

For those of you who are interested, Lee Simpson is performing at the Comedy Store Players every Sunday and Wednesday in October and December. And Phelim McDermott will be performing there on November 11th.

Tickets are £10 concessions and performances start at 8pm.
But you have to be over 18!

Here's the website for more details:

Week Three Image Gallery

Photos by Nick Read, 2001 and Richard Haughton, 2003
Illustrations by Julian Crouch

Friday, 19 October 2007


Below are your posts after week three's class that focused on Chekhov's Atmospheres and Movement Qualities. You are also supposed to be working in small groups on devising a short piece based on what we have explored in the previous weeks so far (so some comment on that is expected). Some of you attended and commented on Improbable workshop that took place last Wednesday, which might be useful for those of you who didn't have the chance to do so.
I hope some of the concepts I introduced last Monday (which were not very accessible at that point) are becoming a bit clearer by now. If not, then you shouldn’t worry. As it takes time for clarity and understanding to happen in the case of such devising tools as the Quality Exercises. So don't rush results and take your time. Everything will make more sense as you go on with your practice... so DON'T LOOSE FAITH IN YOURSELVES!

(1) Blog
Has anyone else found this week's reading (Michael Chekhov) almost entirely derivative? I can't help but feel that it is an entirely simplified version of Stanislavsky and not an entirely good one at that. His "realm of qualities and actions" constantly reminded me of the method of physical actions, and his views on stage space and the emotions one can draw from it simply emotion memory provoked from outside the actor's own heart and recall. The only difference seems to be a call to gain inspiration from empty space, which does have merit, otherwise his methods seem to offer nothing new.

Posted by Gemma Moran

(2) Qualities/Atmospheres
This week's class was primarily based on different movement qualities and atmospheres (introduced by Michael Chekhov). To be quite honest, I'm not too convinced that these exercises will help me being spontaneous and original. The movements (to me) seemed to be pretended and forced. I felt like doing eurythmy or some esoterical stuff. Until this point, I don't see any connection to the actor's profession and skills. Anyway: I might be wrong and will be happy to change my opinion, if someone can convince me otherwise.
I also think that atmospheres are always 100% related to the person feeling/experiencing them. An "empty" room, with no person inside can hardly have any atmosphere, because there is nobody there who could possibly sense it. But if someone enters a room, he/she will always be reminded of something (probably on some unconscious level). That "something" can be a certain smell or light or sound,… . So, the atmosphere is always related to previous experiences. True: there is an atmosphere to everything, as long as there's somebody to perceive it. And this atmosphere is unique to every single person. We create it on our own. I believe that there are never two people in one room who share exactly the same feelings or thoughts about it.

Posted by Mirjam Frank

(3) Wednesday's Workshop
I have just returned from the workshop with Lee Simpson, and now having spent some time seeing how he works, and seeing how Improbable work, I now understand the topic a lot more! It was interesting that as we spent two hours on the same exercise, the principles we have been exploring became much clearer. Going from it just being a game where you held your partners' hands and led them around the room, it suddenly became about what you went through whilst you were in this position. He kept telling us to notice what we were feeling, and what we were doing, and what the experience reminded us of. This in itself gave a completely new level to theatre games. Playing a game, and making what you wanted of it, without it being under any pressure and without there being any problem if it went wrong, made the experience much more relaxing. It also was insightful being in a situation where people were making mistakes, and things were occasionally going wrong - and the worst thing that happened was that people laughed. Being partnered up for such a long time also gave you confidence - you were working in such a tight pair and going through any problems with this other person, so it took away much of the pressure. I realise now that as different stages of the exercise were added, he was adding levels of spontaneity to what we were doing - this should have been so scary! But I didn't even realise what was going on, and this is exactly the same for the word at a time game. This was a very interesting experience, and has now changed the way that I see improvisation - it can be incredibly simple and easy!

Posted by Emma Fielding

(4) Progress through Practice with Trust
At first I found Monday's lesson fairly confusing, although I had read the Michael Chekhov reading for week three, I was unsure the aims and purpose of the movement qualities exercise, when we tried it out in class. However, after watching the short extract clip of Phelim using the exercises with others, I was able to familiarise myself with the exercise and understand the benefits of doing it. As Phelim stated, this exercise is another way of saying yes to something and being able to explore your bodies, as well as being aware of what the audience can see. I found it interesting watching other people undertake the exercise, as I was able to have a better understanding of it, as well as how Improbable use the four movement qualities within their work.

I found the Improbable workshop extremely useful and was able to get a better understanding of the company itself. Firstly we undertook a key trust exercise, whereby one partner had their eyes closed and the other partner lead the 'blind' person around the room. As this exercise progressed we added in different elements such as letting the 'blind' person walk alone and swapping partners, trying to do it so the person with their eyes closed was unaware of the transition. Lee Simpson stated that in Improbable's work they use this exercise as it helps to progress your practice when you are on stage. He mentioned how you have to be able to trust others that you are working with. Although you will never trust everyone fully, you need to have some sort of trust relationship, or you won't be able to work with this person.
We also undertook the 'word at a time game' that we have been looking at in class. We focused on the tenses that we use when playing this game and tried to stick to the present tense. We then discussed how difficult (or in some people's minds easy) this was. Lee mentioned how making mistakes was all part of the progress and that in order to progress and form new ideas you had to 'fuck up' (in his words)!
I feel that I am more comfortable with the exercise and I feel that spontaneity is easier than I first thought.

Posted by Charlotte Harvey

(5) Chekhov's Exercises
Personally, I enjoyed the Chekhov exercises that we practised on the four elements. At times I felt overcome with different atmospheres especially when we were told to radiate- I felt strangely powerful! Although it seemed a lot of people found it hard to focus, but this may have been because many of us had never done anything like it before!
I think that it is important to go into things with an open mind and work hard as an ensemble, however often this is more easily said than done. I feel that it is important to explore different ways of portraying characters through mood, setting & emotion rather than just 'acting a part'.
I felt that it might even be possible, with enough practise, to build up a bank of various atmospheres which an actor could inhabit when playing various parts that coincide.

Posted by Faith Brandon-Blatch

(6) Authenticity and Michael Chekhov
This week's lesson was very challenging and highly thought provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed discussing the concept of Authenticity. Is the work of any company or artist ever truly authentic? Or has all their work been influenced by other people?
I believe that most of our work, and the work of Improbable, has had some sort of influence on them. Whether it be other practitioners or simply past life experiences. Improbable's work often reflects this. 70 Hill Lane portrays some events of Phelim's life and Improbable use many of Keith Johnstone and Michael Chekhov’s techniques to formulate new ideas and plots for their shows.
I also enjoyed learning about Michael Chekhov, and his influence on the work of Improbable. Although his writing is hard to grasp at times, as he is dealing with some highly abstract concepts, his words do hold some truth. The idea that every place on Earth has its own unique atmosphere, which can affect us as people, and also affect our work in a dramatic sense, rings very true with me.
It was very enjoyable participating in some of Chekhov’s exercises. Although it was scary, venturing into the unknown, I believe techniques such as those can really help improvisers to develop characters quickly on stage, which obviously is a very necessary talent.

The Improbable workshop, with Lee Simpson on Wednesday was brilliant! At first I though that concentrating on 2 exercises for the whole of the workshop may become laborious or even boring, however, I was very much mistaken. Although only 2 exercises were involved in the workshop, concentrating on them for so long, gave them a new depth and meaning, and demonstrated how very useful they can be for actors and improvisers alike.

Posted by Ella Rhodes

(7) Workshop with Lee Simpson
I found the Improbable workshop with Lee Simpson both enjoyable and informative. It really helped me to understand Improbable's key ideas, particularly being able to observe our reactions and understand why these occur. Lee kept drawing our attention to our responses to each exercise, prompting us to observe our emotions and thoughts and use these in performance. For example, in the 'word at a time' exercise in pairs, I noticed that I was consistently using an exaggerated tone of voice as I spoke each word in an attempt to indicate to my partner were I wanted the story to go. This observation allowed me to understand that our brains are constantly wanting to predict the future by knowing where the story is going, thus I was trying to lead my partner to follow my brain's idea of the story.

Similarly, we did an exercise in which we held hands in pairs, one person with their eyes closed being led around the space by the other. When it was safe to do so, the leading person would let go of the person being led and let them 'coast' until it was necessary to begin leading them again. From Lee's instruction to be conscious of our own responses I was able to note how I felt more scared as the person being led when my partner re-took my hand as I knew that there was a potential danger in front of me which I needed to be led away from. By noticing how my brain was reacting to certain experiences I feel I gained a greater understanding of how to achieve spontaneity and how to use my responses in Improvisation.

Posted by Fran Smith

(8) Week 3 Blog
I have just got back from watching Improbables performance of 'Sticky'. If I'm honest, I was a little disappointed... even though the pyro-technics were amazing and the structure of the insect to a clock tower was phenomenal, I found myself thinking that even though this is amazing to watch, there was nothing to do with improvisation or any of the things we have learnt that improbable stand for. I do suspect that I'm just looking at the video in the wrong perspective, but if you could explain their intentions I would greatly appreciate it.

As for our week 3 seminar, I struggled at the beginning of the lesson with the understanding and reason for exploring these 4 'qualities'. However, after participating in the exercise where we used those qualities to create characters, I began to understand that those qualities evoke different emotions in the actor which is linked to the way you move depending on the element you are in. I can see how this would be useful in terms of improvisation as a way of categorising certain stereotypes, and just in the different postures that are developed by each quality, helps you to instantly be able to think of locations and situations that that particular character would be in. At least that was my interpretation of it!
I'm meeting up with my group on Sunday to rehearse the devised piece. But I have already been brain storming some ideas to work with.

Posted by Emma Bilton

(9) Blog
I just watched Sticky. For the first 5 minutes i was quite intrigued as to what was going to happen. Although the visual effects created were quite astonishing, sadly that's all the piece seemed to be to me; A visual spectacle. There wasn't really a story that seemed obvious to me, granted a piece of theatre doesn't necessarily need a straight story, but i feel the aim or point of the piece was lost in the visual aesthetics. This lack of aim to me, made the play quite uninteresting, as after ten minutes of looking at fascinating sculptures made of sellotape and more, I wanted something new to grasp my attention. Due to the slow moving nature of the piece as a whole my concentration lapsed from this point on. Although i stress i did love the idea of the piece, and the work and effort that Improbable put into sticky must have been immense, i still felt it lacked a key ingredient somewhere along the lines.

Posted by George Islay Calderwood

(10) Sticky
I watched Sticky today and I was quite confused. Maybe I completely missed the point but i could not see how it related to Improbable's ideologies. It seemed to me that it was aiming at being more of a spectacle than anything else. It was a shame because so far i have really enjoyed Improbable's productions but i just couldn't get into this one. If anyone can tell me what I'm missing it would be most appreciated.

Posted by Fiona Allison

(11) Blog
I found using quality of movements in a scene quite difficult. In our scene I'm 'radiating' and I'm angry at Gemma. Being angry, my natural instinct is to cross my arms, but that doesn't fit in with the 'radiating'. It was easy to begin with, but it got harder throughout the scene.

Posted by Emma Berge

(12) 'Word At A Time' Workshop With Lee Simpson
Overall the ‘Word At A Time’ workshop with Lee Simpson increased my curiosity regarding ‘Improbable’ and their methods of work. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about the prospect of four hours structured around one or two exercises upon arrival but now am grateful that I had this time to really experiment. During lessons we have a limited number of hours to get through the necessary number of exercises so have less time to get a sense of your reactions to individual exercises. The first exercise we did was one I have done many times but there are many variations of it. I shall name it the ‘Blind Trust’ exercise as it involves one person closing their eyes whilst their partner leads them round the room holding their hand. This variant of the game involved the steering being subtle. The person with their eyes open held their partners hand gently (never gripping or steering through just the hands). This meant that a relationship formed between the two people. If both partners trusted one another then the relationship was often similar to that of a parent/ child relationship. However where there were cases of mistrust people voiced feelings of anger towards their partner. We evolved the exercise so that we had periods where the blind person walked unaided but this only happened if the chance turned up (i.e. there was space ahead). Then we played a version where the leaders could switch partners during the exercise and the final version encompassed all previous ways of playing the game but had the additional rule that whenever Lee shouted ‘change’ the person with their eyes open closed their eyes and vice versa. I noticed that I would be thinking of quite mundane thoughts whenever I had my partner holding my hand but whenever I walked unaided my thoughts were dreamy and I felt free. I also noticed that whenever I switched partner I would have a sudden rush of panic. Worrying about things such as ‘who is it holding my hand now’, ‘can I trust them’ and ‘I hope they don’t think that my hand is sweaty’. I can see how these feelings could be used to make a piece of theatre that interests an audience. All the feelings we experienced were real and the fact that they were fresh and alive could bring a performance to life. The second part of the workshop focused on the ‘Word At A Time’ exercise. This was exactly the same as the exercise we did in class but involved re-trying the exercise with different people to see what different kind of narratives could be created. We also experimented with different tenses to see how our experience varied when doing this. I remember one point where I became so engrossed in a bizarre story that I felt angry towards Lee Simpson when he halted the exercise. The reason I became so engrossed was that my partner seemed to accept and enjoy whatever bizarre twists I added to the story. We ended the workshop by creating performances out of this exercise. It required two people to put their arms around one another and perform the exercise whilst acting out what they were saying in whatever ways possible. It became clear that the audience loved the more vulnerable moments. It caused far more laughs for a pair to say a sentence such as ‘I think this exercise is a bad idea’ than for the pair to create a story that could be award winning. There was no way to do the exercise correctly and it was ok to be honest or to screw up. By the end of the workshop I found myself aching with laughter and can see how an audience is interested in theatre that feels real and raw. I feel more confident in using the kinds of exercises we have been learning and would feel more comfortable in using them during a rehearsal process now. I am unsure whether it would be possible to make a performance purely from this type of exercise. I also still wonder whether it is better or as good as making theatre from texts. I love reading and watching scripted theatre and I have been exposed to this kind of theatre for much longer so I want to put this newer approach to the test.

Posted by Sylvie Barlow

(13) Week Three Blog
I found the discussion in this week's lesson on spontaneity interesting. Spontaneity is a key point in improvisation and if you’re not used to the quick-fire nature of being spontaneous, it takes a while to become accustomed. I find that a big factor in letting yourself become spontaneous is loosing all inhibitions. People are less likely to do or say the first thing that comes to them if they have a lot of inhibitions. Feeling silly or fear of being judged is a big factor in people being unable to be spontaneous and it takes a lot of time and work to train your self and your mind not to think but simply act, do or say. Once inhibitions are lost, people become more comfortable with being spontaneous and doing the first thing that comes to their mind. It become almost as ifyou do not care and are no longer restrained by social ‘norms’.
Training yourself to be spontaneous can take months, if not years and needs a lot of practice. I have been doing ‘Comedy Sportz” for 7 years and this is a kind of improvisation similar to ‘Theatre Sports’ and is linked to the comedy store players. Doing ‘Comedy Sportz’ takes a lot of spontaneity as you get on stage and improvise a scene, there and then and even after 7 years of training, there are times when I still struggle with complete spontaneity and my mind still has a part in the thinking of what I am going to do next.

Posted by Emily Cookson

(14) Blog
On doing the workshop with Improbable we found that trust was a key issue because as Lee Simpson said, "in improvising you have to learn towork with people you like, hate, sleep with and sleep with badly." In other words a complete release of inhibitions is necessary to produce the most authentic sponteneity. One exersize to emphasise this, and help develop an ensemble within the group, was a trust exersize where you had to lead your 'blind' partner around the space whilst holding their hand. Different variations of this consisted of a subtle swapping of partners and letting go of their hand for a brief time to encourage independence and develop an invisible bond between the two participants. On stage this is important when improvising as an understanding between performers is vital.
Simpson also expressed the need for an ability to "notice things" that happen when performing and establish a perifieral vision. For example, when reacting to being lead round the room 'blind' he encouraged us tonotice our responses, as they create a strong basis to work from when developing a narrative in an improvisation. In effect it was almost as if we were developing our own personal outside eye, analysing the things we were doing. This made us think of working on Chekhov's movement qualities which we worked on in Monday's lesson and how through this a character or narrative can emerge. As a small group we worked on this during the week and devised a short scene with each character evolving from a certain movement quality, i.e. moulding, floating, radiating and flying. On watching Improbable's 'Sticky' we were both impressed yet intrigued to find out how this may link to our own work.

Posted by Laurence Brasted and Helen Hudson

(15) Workshop
After attending the workshop on Wednesday I feel that I have more understanding into the work of Improbable. When I first heard that we would be spending the whole workshop working on word at a time I didn't think this was possible, however once we had done a few exercises I started to understand why. We explored the idea of working with a partner and how trust is developed with that partner. We also explored the fears that we have of the unknown in theatre. This was achieved through us walking around in pairs with one half of the pair with their eyes shut having to trust their partner to guide them. This links with improvisations of having to trust the people that you are working with to achieve the best results.

Posted by Louisa Hagan

Friday, 12 October 2007


Lee Simpson kindly offered some explanation about the workshop's content that will take place on Wednesday the 17th:

"The workshop I will be doing is focused on and around one particular impro exercise that we have used a lot in Improbable. The reason why I am focusing on just one exercise is a combination of our tendency to spend a long time on each exercise and there being a limited amount of time available for the workshop because of difficulties in finding a space.

The exercise is an old and much used one. It's a Keith Johnstone exercise called "Word at a time". Basically 2 people put their arms around each other and speak as if they were one person, each person speaking in turn, taking alternate words.

Person A: "I..."
Person B: ""
A: "...on..."
B: "...a..."
A: "...train..."

... and so on.

Like all great exercises, all of impro is contained within its deceptively simple parameters. Which is why we are still doing it after all these years."

Week Two Image Gallery

Photos by Keith Pattison, 2004

Monday, 8 October 2007


You may be interested to read the other Contemporary Theatremaking groups’ blogs. They are:

An Interesting Note

I mentioned to Julian Crouch our Group "Principles" listed below. He commented on "we will always be on time" principle, saying that they might be more inclined to say "when it starts, it starts," and "when it's over, it's over"!

So, think about this one!



Here they are, already starting to come few hours after class!
But also remember that you need to document your work process this week on the exercises I have assigned to you in your own groups (daily documentation for each group if possible!).
That is of course in addition to any general comments, ideas or questions you have. Keep checking the blog for my comments on your postings. And please remember when you write to "BE AUTHENTIC!" as Phelim McDermott would say. Do what you need to do, and say what you need to say, without being destructive!

(1) From Weeks 1 and 2
I have really enjoyed the sessions we have had so far and have found them incredibly enlightening. The exercises we undertook today in particular were challenging (in a good way!) and I really gained an insight into what it must be like to work with Improbable or any similar group.

When reading about Phelim McDermott and his influences, particularly Chekhov and Johnstone, I am reminded of something I read about the Comedy Store players and their methods when improvising. Something I remember in particular is ALWAYS SAY YES! I think personally this is much more easily applied to comedy and would really like to see how it would work when applied to a more serious type of theatre.

I am waiting for my copy of Impro in the post and cannot wait to get stuck into it! From all of your comments it sounds really interesting!

Posted by Hazel Darlington

This week's session was primarily focused on "spontaneity". Until yesterday, I always thought that it is a "given thing," whether a person is spontaneous or not. That you can actually learn how to (re)act spontaneously, was a completely new discovery to me. However, it's quite hard to get there. I clearly experienced that when I was asked to think about words and promptly speak them out. All of a sudden, my mind totally blocked! I was too tense. I also realized how much our brain is connected to the language we use. There might have been pictures in my mind. But as they were supposed to come out really quickly and spontaneously, my knowledge of the English language seemed to have disappeared completely. I was very surprised by that fact, but also a bit scared. Because that showed me that the next step, improvising through language and interacting with others, will be even harder.

Posted by Mirjam Frank

(3) "Go into Improvisation with an Open Mind"
The lesson was very interesting, as we were able to 'try out' a number of Keith Johnstone's exercises from his book Impro. It was enjoyable to see how everyone tackled each task in their on way. For example the box game appears very simple on the page, however when you play it, it is very hard not to 'think' and to go with you first thought. I mentioned in the lesson how Emma (sorry Emma!) was about to say 'blue', but then changed this to 'green'. Maybe she sub-consciously believed the colour blue would reveal something about her that she didn't want anyone else to know. It was very intriguing watching the video of Phelim McDermott holding a workshop with professional actors focusing on the game 'yes, and'. It was relieving to know that not all professional actors get it right the first time! Phelim mentioned that the action had to stay within a 'frame'. People need not try to come up with original ideas, for the action will move away from the frame and the improvisation will make no sense. You also need to think about the context in which you have put the story within and try to keep the improvisation fairly focused, this will then unintentionally (eventually) create a narrative. Furthermore I believe that Phelim's line 'Go into improvisation with an open mind' is a very important factor within improvisation. We should be able to begin an improvisation without any preconceived thoughts in our heads. We should begin it without worrying where it will take us and how the audience will respond.

Posted by Charlotte Harvey

(4) Initial Impressions On Improbable‏
I am so glad that I have been given the chance to study such an experimental company as Improbable, simply because their style is so unlike anything I have ever come across in a professional context. However, I admit that I do have to sometimes remind myself to keep an open mind to some of their more modern techniques. Like conceptual art, I sometimes find it a little too self-aware/reflective. I do not wish to criticize (yet!) until i have a deeper knowledge and understanding.

Posted by Chloe Goslings

(5) The Trials of Spontaneity!
During this week's session, and in the smaller group rehearsals we have had, one of the hardest things I have found is how to deal with spontaneity. However, this is obviously one of the most important things to Improbable and similar groups! I found that when asked to think of things on the spot, what I often was thinking of were things that I could see - I found it particularly difficult to think of things that were literally not right in front of me. As Charlotte said above, I probably did change my mind subconsciously during the game on Monday, but this may have been because of the colour of the room! I have always found it difficult to react spontaneously, and this is something I think will be improved with Keith Johnstone's book - once a problem has been pointed out, then it will probably be easier to be improved upon, and will come more naturally.
I found it easier when we were in our smaller group rehearsal. In a smaller, more relaxed setting I found that it was easier to just think of the first thing that came into my head - especially when the 'word at a time' game got going! I am looking forward to our next meeting to see how else the games can be improved.

Posted by Emma Fielding

(6) Improvisation
I found this week's workshop on improvisation interesting because we got to see just how much we restrict ourselves sometimes when performing. This could be seen in particular when trying to list the names of objects that could be in a box. This was difficult because naturally people try to make sense of what they might say but this exercise encouraged such spontaneity that some of the words said seemed quit strange. It was also interesting to see that there were a few words that came up regularly such as certain animals and types of food. I thought the exercise where we just had to say a word was hard because it's difficult to think of something that is a word but not an object so quickly.

Posted by Louisa Hagan

(7) Group Impro Exercises

Today our group practised several of the exercises from Keith Johnstone’s Impro. We started with the ‘Word At A Time’ exercise, below are our observations:

· We found that the group could work together and sense where the story was going, for example we were able to construct sentences without really thinking about them but through relaxing and just saying the first word that we thought of.

· We also found that the stories ended up being nonsensical but we seemed to be able to create the stories without thinking about them.

· Once we had established a fluid story we tried again but with one person deliberately blocking the story. This made it much more difficult to continue with the story and as a group we could feel that the story was forced.

We then tried the ‘Characters’ exercise and afterwards made the following observations:

· Our first character, Susie Biscuit, was developed really easily and we all agreed on the elements of her personality but we found that this might have been due to the stereotypical image cast by the name.

· Our next characters were harder to define as we didn’t agree as easily therefore had to change the characters quite quickly. For example, we chose the names Nigel Peterson, John Morris and Rosie Dawson. These names were less stereotypical and so we each had different images in our minds about what the characters were like.

‘Yes But’:

· We found that in this exercise we improved at being more spontaneous. We tried the method used in the book and also in a more conventional and conversational way.

· We found that the ‘Yes But’ person was able to say exactly what first came into their head but it was harder for the questioner as they had to think of questions to respond to the random answers of the ‘Yes But’s.

See you all on Monday.

Posted by Fran, Emma F, Ella, Louisa, Olivia and Charlotte

(8) Improvisation in Practice
The element of this week's lesson which made the most significant impact on me was how difficult it was to completely detach yourself from your thoughts and just be spontaneous. When reading Impro I was excited to try out Johnstone's exercises, however, I didn't realise how much of an art it is to be able to improvise properly. Although I enjoyed the class exercises, I found them very challenging.
Once we carried out some of the exercises in groups, however, I felt slightly more confident and I believe the group began to work more as a ensemble and relax together, achieving an overall improvement in our 'spontaneity'. Hopefully we can build on this further in our next group meeting!

Posted by Fran Smith

(9) Impro Class
Doing the impro exercises for the first time was quite hard. Could tell that we are all not quite comfortable with each other yet. I didn't really like the "yes and.." game, I found it a little bit repetitive and limiting but I suppose that makes it more of a challenge. My group met up last night to do some impro and I thought it went better in a smaller group, more of a comfortable atmosphere. We also got better once we did an exercise over, we played freeze tag twice and the second time it flowed more and had more variety in it.

Posted by Fiona Allison

(10) 'Word at a Time'
It was really interesting to meet up in smaller groups and practise the exercises that were suggested. It reduced the pressure and we had much more time to get into the flow of the games, we ended up having a lot of fun! I especially enjoyed the 'Word at a Time' game. We got really fast at this and some of the stories we made up could have never been written by one person. It's hard not to plan how you want the story to progress, but once you let your first instinct take control the story that evolves is much more authentic than the one you had in mind!

Posted by Faith Brandon-Blatch

(11) Week Two Reflections
After our seminar on Monday, the first thing that became certainly apparent about these improvisation games is that they are easily read than done!!! I found it especially difficult to stop 'thinking' when improvising, particularly in the word game and ' it's Tuesday'. However, since the seminar, I have got together with my group and we warmed up by playing the 'one word story' to get our minds going which worked well. We also played a lot of 'freeze tag' to try to get ourselves used to situations where we'll have to throw ourselves into the first scenario we thought of! We are yet however to play the 'yes, and' game, which our group have expressed a common dislike for, mainly because we feel there are far more effective improvisation games which allow you to explore more, rather than having to stay along the same lines and are not tied down by a phrase. Next time our group meet we will be experimenting with the 'whats in the box?' game!

Posted by Emma Bilton

(12) Week Two Blog
The second week’s lesson was frustrating for me as I was not able to participate in the improvisation exercises due to illness. However, I found watching the other students in the class insightful. It was obvious in the lesson that some people were scared or anxious about improvisation but as the class progressed, people began to relax slightly and it was interesting to observe how everyone reacts differently in an improvisational situation.

Due to my lack of participation in the lesson, I found the practice with my group out of class constructive. Having done the improvisation exercises previously, I knew their structure and how they work so we got straight into practicing.

We found that doing a warm up before playing ‘yes and…’ helped to focus our minds and understand the positive idea of accepting an offer and building on it. We sat in a circle and pretended we were a production company creating a product. We would go round, with everyone saying one thing about the product but beginning with ‘yes and…’ and no matter how silly the suggestion, everyone had to be very positive and agree. For example “We’re going to create the most amazing musical sponge,” “Yes! And it will sing Christmas songs when you use it!” “Yes, and it will smell like lavender.” Etc.

In doing this warm up, we found that everyone understood more clearly the aim of ‘yes and…’ and when we played it, the exercise flowed better than it did in class. Instead of a conversation occurring where the two actors would comment on a stream of actions or ideas they could do i.e.“Lets eat some cheese,” “yes and then lets go to the park.” Etc, an actual scene started to develop. We also found that beginning with a suggestion for the improvisation helped give the scene some structure to help envelop a narrative, for example a bus stop. After playing ‘yes, and several times with different people and suggestions everyone became more confident in the game and relaxed more, enabling the ideas to flow, instead of choking up through fright.

We then looked at some more games/exercises from Keith Johnstone’s Impro book. To work on our spontaneity and narrative skills, we practised the ‘word at a time’ exercise. At first we found this game challenging, finding it hard to let the story flow and evolve. However, after a few turns around the circle, everyone seemed to begin to let the words fall from their mouths, not staying pre-occupied with the ‘story’ in their heads, but keeping their minds open to the story evolving from all of our ideas.

We then developed this game by having one person sit out and point at each person randomly to say a word to add to the story. The unpredictability of the pointing meant that everyone had to concentrate and focus his or her attention. This development helped aid the flow of the story and we found that once a narrative had been set up, certain themes/ideas kept popping up, therefore, keeping the stream of narrative flowing. For example, meeting a rabbi was mentioned and after then, the rabbi kept appearing.

One exercise we had a problem with was ‘characters’. We found that we didn’t really understand the aim of this. We were able to create characters by discussing them but it suggested in the book that when someone disagreed, that character should be scraped and a new character should be created. However, after playing ‘yes and…’ we found that we all seemed to agree on our ideas and simply add to them rather than disagreeing and we began to feel the exercise was a little pointless.

Overall, working together in a group, we were able to become more comfortable with each other and opened our minds more creatively to the spontaneity of improvisation.

Posted by Emily Cookson

(13) Week Two Blog
I enjoyed the lesson on Monday as I was glad to put the spontaneity exercises from Johnstone's book Impro into practice. Saying this, I found the task where you had to say a word without thinking surprisingly and unbelievably difficult because it was hard not to think about the words or to even summon anything to mind when under pressure! I found the task where you were answering questions spontaneously much easier as there was the opportunity to be creative and to picture something in mind to say, even if it was spontaneous and so completely bizarre! When I met with my group outside of class we played the 'word at a time' game and really enjoyed it. At first we played it going around the circle each adding a word at a time to the 'story' we were creating, but then we developed it so one person would point randomly at us to speak so we couldn't even hope to pre-plan what we would say, which worked really well and we managed to do it quite fast and consequently the stories were much more creative and "original" than if we had tried to pre-plan them. In future lessons and improvisations, my new aim is to keep this up and to remember to go with my first thought and not to limit or censor myself.

Posted by Helen Hudson

When I first found out that we would be studying the theatre company Improbable, I wasn't too thrilled because I've never been very comfortable doing improvisation, like McDermott says, it's "scary"!! But after reading the interviews and talking about their ideology in class, I've realised that if you approach improvisation differently, it doesn't have to be scary at all. It seems obvious now that the most effective way of improvising is just to do the first thing that comes into mind. I think it will take practice, but I'm a lot more at ease after the last lesson. I've started to read the book Impro and it definitely brings up a lot of the ideas and attitudes Improbable have, which I found very interesting and helpful. All the things that Johnstone writes about seem so obvious, but I could never have thought of them! I'm looking forward to testing out this new approach in the next few weeks!

Posted by Laura Barclay

(15) Improbable Blog
From reading Keith Johnstone’s book Impro I had gained a curiosity regarding his drama exercises. The detail he gave into explaining why he used these exercises made me want to try them out for myself to see whether or not I could gain much from them. The first exercise we tried in class that comes to mind is ‘exploration of space’. We initially tried it on our own. I felt very comfortable with this, as I felt I was in control of my personal space. But when I worked with partners I felt both threatened by them and also very conscious of my own actions. I was constantly making discrete glances at other pairs around the room, as I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being too intrusive towards my partner.

My partner and I got the opportunity to show the class this exercise and I’m glad we did. Having no one else around me took away most of my inhibitions and at times I even forgot that we were being watched, as I had become so engaged with my partner.

The second exercise that springs to mind was an entirely different experience. The ‘object exercise’, where we were led by being asked to name objects proved to be more difficult than I had expected. At first I alowed myself to be spontaneous and I wasn’t trying to think about the answers I gave. As the exercise progressed I became defensive because I felt as though my answers were somehow a window into my thoughts. I wanted to protect myself so whenever I was asked 'yes' or 'no' questions I responded with 'no', so that I wouldn’t have to progress with the story that was unfolding. From watching other members of the class I noticed similar patterns of behaviour and I realised that when we were being spontaneous we provided narratives that were fascinating and often amusing.

I never once judged anyone else from the answers they gave, so I doubt others were judging me. After having taken part in the ‘object exercise’ I found myself feeling fairly uncomfortable, even though I can’t fully explain why. I didn’t participate as much for the remainder of the class. Although I still learnt a lot from watching others.

The remaining exercises mainly concerned the importance of accepting from other actors on stage. Blocking a fellow performer takes life away from a performance. The ‘yes, and’ exercise was tried with a lot of energy but often didn’t work owing to the fact that the actors would be tempted to try and rush through ideas. This gave me a clear example of how often slowing a performance doesn’t kill it; instead it makes it more accessible to the audience.

In comparison the ‘blocking’ game (where the intention is for one actor to continuously block another) didn’t work because often the actors would unconsciously accept ideas and when it did work the acting didn’t flow well. This once again proved that the most interesting acting happens when you accept a fellow actors' idea, however crazy it may seem.

Overall we had limited time to spend on each exercise during the lesson. Despite this, I am slowly gaining an appreciation for this kind of exploration. I didn’t realise it would feel so intrusive but I aim to be more open in future.

Posted by Sylvie Barlow

(16) Blog
First of all, To back track to my comment last week; I found the acting slightly patronising in 70 Hill Lane as the way in which Phelim spoke, to me, seemed as if he was addressing a child. Although I imagine this was purposeful due to the content of the story he was telling (perhaps to try to give it a more magical feel, or to try to remind us of our own childhood), but I found the voice and attitude annoying towards the end. This isn't to say I didn't enjoy the performance, for I did! I just feel that too much of one thing, especially the way in which the actors speak, can be detrimental to any play, on the whole.

In terms of the work this week, we played a strange game were Nesreen kept throwing questions at us not giving us time to think. (anyone knows the name? anyone?). I really felt this was the kind of game that can improve not only your understanding of Improvisation but your ability at it as well. It taught us to just say whatever came into our heads and to simply stop trying to find an answer as this will inevitably not work.
This exercise really illustrates the process in which a successful improvisation can be obtained. It seemed that the more believable much of the improvisation was in our class the more ridiculous the stories or subject matter seemed, which for me basically implies the more ridiculous it was the more we enjoyed ourselves and the more we let go of trying to do well.

Posted by George Calderwood

(17) Spontaneity
I found Monday's lesson on spontaneity very educational and thought-provoking. Exercises, such as when asked individually spontaneous questions, were very challenging and almost surreal because sometimes the first thoughts you speak out are very random, which made one feel exposed and vulnerable. When I worked later in a smaller group I found myself and the others more relaxed when doing exercises on spontaneity, because we began to understand and accept that everyone's first thoughts were often odd and unexpected and we began to understand the more we delved further into Keith Jonhstone's exercises, exploring more about spontaneity and each other's responses. I found the concept of spontaneity, although challenging and frightening at times, a very interesting and thrilling one of self-awareness.

Posted by Olivia Pointing

(18) 'Word at a Time'
Having done the 'word at a time game' it's interesting to see that the theme of death isn't just a theme that crops up for people in Improbable. Our story was basically:

- There was a chicken called Fred
- It went to a bar
- The bar man was suprised to see it
- The bar man stabbed it to death
- The bar man killed himself because he felt guilty

The game definitely got easier the more we practised it, but was often not particularly interesting. I know that Keith Johnstone wrote that the obvious can be really funny, but sometimes it's just bland!

Posted by Emma Berge

(19) Improvisations
After many in my group had gone to watch the 'improvisation' night at crosslands, we were all rearing to go, and try out some of the improvisation that they did and to see whether it would work with us. One that really stuck in my mind was the exercise 'Freeze Tag' which is when two people create a scenario, and one person can interject, kick one of the two off stage and change the entire storyline. At first, we found it difficult to continuously, drastically change what the scene was about, as we are used to making connections between actions and scenarios. We then reflected on this and established why it wasn't 'working' and the second time round, it was great! We were able to make each other laugh yet still hold a certain amount of concentration in order to keep the improvisation going. After viewing the Improbable videos and seeing how talented some people are at improvisation, I have really been inspired to try more exercises to improve my techniques.

Posted by Ailee Kemeny