Saturday, 6 October 2007


Below are the reflections and comments of the group (not all of you yet!) from week one, after reading material on devised theatre; reading interviews of Improbable's founding members; as well as watching 70 Hill Lane, Improbable's first production as a company. Some of you have already watched Lifegame and read Keith Johnstone's Impro as part of week two preparation, offering some interesting views. I enjoyed reading through those comments (which are not published in a particular order), and was pleased to see how much you have gained already in such a short time!
Don't worry if you are a bit overwhelmed with the idea of writing in a blog. By the time you will become more familiar with it, and will be capable of articulating your views more comfortably.
Well done, and hopefully everyone will have contributed by Monday. I will be adding to this post whenever I receive more entries from you. I will also give comment when neccessary.


I found Monday's lesson very useful, I enjoyed the discussions that we had as well as the drama games that we undertook. I especially enjoyed 'the present game'. This took into account the theory of blocking and accepting and how we need to accept the offer of the present and then exaggerate our feelings once we have received it. In Keith Johnstone's book Impro, he goes into more detail about blocking, accepting and offering, as well as the outcomes of the present game. If possible read Impro, as it is very interesting and contains some detailed and stimulating techniques to help with improvisation. I am glad we are studying Improbable, as they have some very original ideas and work in very different ways than other companies I have studied. I am intrigued by the fact that they do not always finish their performances and often have to improvise throughout. To me this seems a very daunting procedure, however it would be interesting to still be experimenting until the opening night and throughout. Furthermore, I think that they are clever in the way in which they let go of preconceived ideas that they have. When devising, everyone has some idea of what they want to include within the piece, however they are able to work as an ensemble and listen to every one's suggestions. Often in devising, someone will take the lead role within the discussion and make most of the decisions, Improbable work well as they take every one's ideas into account as well as respect the other members of the group. All ideas will be listened to and discussed thoroughly.
For anyone who has not yet watched 70 Hill Lane, try to watch it, as it will help you see and understand what Improbable is all about as well as learn more about the techniques that they use. I really enjoyed 70 Hill Lane, it was full of originality, surrealism and confusion. My favourite part was at the end, when they created the poltergeist out of sellotape. This was very effective, especially the way in which the light shone through the puppet.
I have found a short synopsis of the play, which I have included here, in case anyone needs to know a brief introduction about the performance.

"A trickster spirit with a devilish wit, solid objects that pass through walls and a house with an untold secret. Part autobiography, part fantasy and dream, this unique show creates a haunting world of childhood yearning through an extraordinary synthesis of storytelling, improvisation, object animation, live music.....and sellotape. Written by Phelim McDermott and based on a true and haunting childhood experience, 70 HILL LANE is the show that put Improbable on the map. It saw the beginning of our predilection for sticky tape and established many of the elements that were to become identified with our work.” (

Posted by Charlotte Harvey

Comment: Thank you Charlotte. Improbable members actually do 'finish' their performances, but often with an 'unfinished' quality and feel, there is a difference. Choosing to leave certain elements of a production unfinished or changeable throughout a show in order to keep the liveness of a theatrical event and to make it more engaging as you saw in 70 Hill Lane and Lifegame. Nesreen

(2) The Work of Improbable
After watching the videos of 70 Hill Lane and Lifegame I noticed that although the element of improvisation is apparent in both, the ideas of both are extremely different. Whilst 70 Hill Lane is more of a play with narrative and structure, Lifegame seems more like a therapy session, which was discussed in last week's reading.

Posted by Louisa Hagan

Comment: Yes, Improbable's work is varied and changeable even though it stems from the same improvisatory attitude, you recognise that already.
Can you expand a bit more on how you find Lifegame as more of a therapy session? Nesreen

I watched Lifegame with a group of fellow students. I found it really interesting how they responded so quickly to the story they heard, and even improvised lyrics as they went along. Overall I was very impressed!

Posted by Laura Barclay

(4) Improbable's Performance
After watching 70 Hill Lane and discussing how Improbable devise, I have definitely seen the concept of improvising from a whole new perspective. I have found the company's playful and spontaneous attitudes and beliefs towards devising completely refreshing and I'm very intrigued to learn their unique ways of performing and creating theatre. Today I also watched Lifegame which again thoroughly impressed me! The performance was a perfect example of the company's capability to work together so tightly as an ensemble and portrayed their huge talent to completely improvise and adapt into any situation.

Posted by Emma Bilton

The thing that impressed me the most about 70 Hill Lane when I watched it was the use of the sellotape. I know that it's a bit predictable to talk about it but i was honestly amazed at how much they could create with such a simple household object. I also think that it demonstrates a key aspect of Improbable as well, which is creating something from virtually nothing and using the imagination in doing this. It also displayed their desire to encourage the audience to use their own imagination, only using the sellotape as an out line of things, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps with their imagination. I also really enjoyed the narration, it had a real sense of being drawn from old story telling and sharing. You felt an openness and honesty from the main character with his direct approach and casual manner. I particularly appreciated the amount of depth he went into when showing the audience around his house, creating such a vivid picture for the audience with nothing but words, mime and sellotape.

Posted by Fiona Allison

Comment: It is not predictable at all to talk about the sellotape in 70 Hill Lane. It's one of the most used material in their work, and its uses in various contexts is a significant element in their devising process. This will be discussed further in weeks 4 and 5. So well done on recognising such an important aspect of the production! Nesreen

I watched Lifegame and I really enjoyed it. I watched 70 Hill Lane earlier this week and wasn't, in all honesty, that fond of it. The sellotape scenes were brilliant but I found some of the acting slightly "patronising." In addition, the point of the play didn't seem to hit me too strongly. However, the idea of Lifegame was exceptionally original. You really had proof of the spontaneity of the whole play as you learn that each guest will be different every night, and consequently, what the cast will be acting. I was curious as to how much of it has been decided before hand, the short singing sequence, for example, must have been practiced on some level, no matter how small!

Posted by George Calderwood

Comment: This is an interesting comment. Can you please expand further on what you meant by finding the acting "patronising"?
About Lifegame, non of the acting is decided beforehand, not even the singing sequence. Having the impression of an improvised performance being pre-arranged is a sign of very good improvisation work. Read my comment on Emma Berge's entry below, she also had a similar observation to yours. Nesreen

(7) View on 'Creative Decisions'
I found that I really related to Improbable's belief that it is better to "make creative decisions later rather than sooner." From my own work I know that at the beginning of a devising process it can seem really important to create scenes as quickly as possible to maximise rehearsal time. However, in most cases this actually stifles the piece as we limit ourselves too quickly. I have also been reading Keith Johnstone's Impro this week and I am enjoying it so far. I really like the accessibility of the book and Johnstone's honesty in his reflection and I'm looking forward to putting his ideas and exercises into practice.

Posted by Fran Smith

(8) 'Play is an Essential Part of the Work Process'
This really struck me when I was reading through the list of terms. This week I have been reading through Impro, the book on improvisation by Keith Johnstone and I really liked the sound of the exercises in the 'Spontaneity' section. They seem really fun and open, I just hope that I don't end up thinking if we play any of them!

Posted by Faith Brandon-Blatch

Comment: This is the point of the exercises, is to say or do the first thing that comes to your mind, not trying to be 'original' or 'creative'. For the process of thinking of your next idea will block the flow of creation, thus will achieve the opposite of the desired intention. Don't worry about it and it will happen naturally. Just enjoy the games and have fun! Nesreen

Having watched Lifegame, it would be interesting to see it again with another, different person. It's hard to tell exactly what was improvised (obviously a lot of it was) and what was arranged before hand. Do they sing something for every person interviewed? Is the idea of an improvised dinner sequence something they often use for everyone?

Posted by Emma Berge

Comment: Answering your questions, all Lifegame performances are entirely improvised, and are completely different every night, because they are based on interviewing a different person for every performance. Because the performers are good improvisers who respond well to each other's 'offers', it seems to us as if they work 'telepathically' as in Johnstone's term, thus their performances seem pre-conceived. As Johnstone puts it, "Good improvisers seem telepathic; everything looks prearranged. This is because they accept all offers made--which is something no 'normal' person would do" (Johnstone 99).

Answering your other questions, they don't necessarily sing for every person they interview, or perform a dinner sequence. It depends on the person's story and the events it entails. In the performance you saw, the person interviewed mentioned family Sunday lunch, and how his family members interacted and behaved throughout, so the improvisers decided to enact a 'family dinner' scene, and so on. Nesreen

(10) Actors' Relationships in Improvisation
I have just been reading one of the chapters in Kieth Johnstone's Impro and I think what he discusses about actors' relationships is really important. I love the way he describes the blocking and accepting idea. I strongly agree with this because you can sometimes see when people are improvising that they are so concerned about what they are doing and about their own ideas that they do not gel together and the resulting impro is "rubbish." I guess this ties in a lot with Improbable as well because they put a lot of emphasis on the equality of company members, working as a unit. I'm excited about hopefully becoming like this within our group and making some interesting improvisations.

Posted by Fiona Allison

(11) Improbable: Week One
Week one of Contemporary Theatremaking provided us with an introduction to the understanding of Improbable’s work. We discussed the ways in which Improbable work, using improvisation as a main feature in their devising process for their shows. Some interesting points came out of the discussion, including how the process of devising theatre has become almost ‘the norm’ within theatre companies and that it is hard to define what exactly ‘devising’

This lead into a discussion on how Improbable devise their shows, spending a lot of the rehearsal process on simple improvisation games and exercises rather than planning a piece with a script etc. As Improbable is an ensemble, their members work strongly together as a group and when creating a piece, they don’t necessarily have one leading director. I personally found this interesting as, although at times, it helps to have one single person to see over the production and pull it in the right direction, with an ensemble piece, if the company works well together, so many more ideas can be put into practice and the devising process seems so much creative and collective, just like the saying “two heads are better than one.” In my previous experience in improvisation, I also found this to be true, for when improvising in a scene, not everyone has the same ideas for the direction of the scene as yourself, therefore, working as a team and collectively; moving the scene forward with mutual ideas helps prevent the scene from being blocked or dying away.
To get a feel of Improbable’s improvisation techniques, within the class, we practiced some of their exercises and games. For example, we paired off and mimed giving presents to each other. As it was mimed, we did not actually know what gift we were receiving but, using our imagination, we developed a response to the offer, showing through facial expression and gesture to our partner whether we like the gift or not. I found that this exercise helped our creative mind. The use of mime meant that we had to use our body and face more expressively and as it was improvised, thinking on the stop was essential. I feel that techniques such as these can help develop our devising and improvisation skills throughout the course and will provide us with many ideas and methods to create our own piece of theatre.

Posted by Emily Cookson

Comment: I think what you are trying to say about devising becoming 'the norm' is that the term 'devising' now have less radical implications than when it emerged in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s as a material expression of political and ideological commitment, and as an embodiment of ideas such as 'individual and collective rights', self determination, community, challenging authority and equality. As you have read in Heddon and Milling's text, now there is a slight shift in the significance of 'collaboration' within contemporary devising practice, placing greater emphasis on skill sharing and division of responsibility. Devising in contemporary theatre making has become widely
practiced that it no longer considered as 'fringe' or 'underground'.
Even some devising companies are now treading on the edges of the mainstream culture and becoming associated with established theatrical institutions or funded by government subsidy.

And one of the reasons why it is hard to define what 'devising' is, is that most practicing companies now see no contradiction between working on pre-existing script or text and devising work. Many companies use text as a starting point for their devising, including Improbable (as in Theatre of Blood that was a stage adaptation of the 1970s horror film, and The Wolves in the Walls, taken from a book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean). So devising does not necessarily entail a process of creation without a pre-existing text, script or score. It can emerge from a variety of sources.

My final comment is on the exercises and games we practiced last week. They were derived from various sources, mainly Keith Johnstone's improvisation games (the 'present game' for example) that are sometimes used by Improbable in their devising process. So they are not exclusively Improbable's exercises and games. Nesreen


To me, Lifegame was like a lesson in improvisational skills. One could clearly observe that each member of the company took his time before making an offer or responding to somebody else. Although everything was done spontaniously, every thought was expressed accurately and clearly. This made it easier for the team to interact and create a conclusive story. I learned that
no exceptional originality or speed is needed to make an improvisation worth seeing. I also quite liked the way they prevented their impro to drift apart. The man who told the story about his actual life could lead the company by using a buzzer (wrong) or a bell (right). This simple method made the ensemble stick to one thread, which made the whole improvisation even clearer and therefore more interesting to watch.

Posted by Mirjam Frank

Comment: Thank you Mirjam for your observation on improvisation, particularly relating to the idea of originality as expressed by Johnstone; which does not stem from a conscious attempt to 'be original'. You placed Lifegame in a relevant context which I think was useful to you. Nesreen


It's funny, I have always been very skeptical of theatre games. Through lower school and GCSE’s when everyone else was so keen to ‘play’, I would sit back and see them as a total waste of time. I feel that I came to do Drama at University in order to escape that reputation of drama being a sort of ‘doss’ subject. I must admit, during the first lesson on Monday I was searching for point behind the games that we played and to some extent, I saw them as slightly irrelevant. Therefore, after the first week’s reading of the Improbable interviews I was slightly unconvinced that their performances and many improvisations were derived purely from games. However, I became conscious of my ignorance and soon my opinions swayed after reading some of Keith Johnstone’s Impro and also my Tuesday’s lesson of ‘Space, Body and Design’ with Dick McCaw. I suppose myfeelings towards the Theatre Games were so negative before because I never saw a point in them, and was never really told the significance of them, but I understand now that the exercises are used to “Foster spontaneity and narrative skills” (Keith Johnstone). This has made me more optimistic and feel that it's absolutely vital to understand exactlywhat you are doing and why, in order to take something seriously.

Posted by Ailee Kemeny

(14) Response to Lifegame and Impro

Lifegame seemed to echo the exact formulations that makes improvisations successful. Firstly, each scene had a sense of 'normality' such as when they describe a reminiscence of a Sunday family lunch in which they improvised in a casual manner using 'everyday language and gestures.' This, therefore, created a real picture of the family instead of trying to add a clever and unusual twist which seems to be the error of attempted improvisation. Keith Johnstone commented on this, where he claimed that "many students block their imaginations because they are afraid of being unoriginal." This is completely accurate and I found myself conforming at first to this problem in the exercise of 'giving the present.' When I received the present box, I started to add a different narrative perhaps to try and be more original. However, as my connection with my partner became stronger we 'accepted' one another's gestures collaboratively such as copying the size of the box given which made the improvisation flow more sucessfully.

Posted by Olivia Pointing


I agree with Faith on the amount of quick improvisation needed to do some of these exercises! From the class on Monday it became clear that you had to think on your feet – espescially with the 'present game' and the ‘being an object/feeling...’ one. I found that it was much easier to just clear your mind and do what came naturally. Because the work of Improbable is based on improvisation and what appears to be spur of the moment decisions, thus these games seem to be incredibly relevant – even if Improbable don’t play those particular games as such themselves, there must still be a huge degree of similarity to their work process.

Posted by Emma Fielding


I am very glad to be studying Improbable as there work seems most intriguing. Monday’s class was a useful introduction to the company, particularly through the gradual build up to attempting some improvisation of our own. Firstly, we began with some exercises and games to learn each other’s names and create the basis for an ensemble, and then developed this into a presence of trust through the “blind car” game. Once a sufficient state of comfort had been formed within the group we proceeded to produce our own pieces of improvisation constructed from a pool of first thoughts each individual in the group had. My group’s specific piece was based upon the idea of a “journey” in which the traveller came across a “birthday;” someone “singing” at an audition; and two people in “bed.” Having read Johnstone’s Impro this week, I found some incredibly useful techniques in tackling improvisation; in particular the idea of blocking, offering and accepting all of which would serve sufficiently in further developing our ensemble.

Posted by Laurence Brasted

(17) Lifegame

I thoroughly enjoyed Lifegame, it was full of spontaniety, vitality and originality. It was so refreshing to know that what we were watching was completely unscripted. I find it very intriguing the way in which the guest is different each night; the actors therefore have to adapt to the guest and not dwell on past performances with other guests. Depending on what memories the guest has, the improvisations that takes place changes every night. Like others within the class, I would love to see another performance of Lifegame involving a different guest. It would be very interesting to see how the performance differed and to see which one the class preferred. Furthermore, the memories of the guest that were enacted triggered my own childhood memories, such as meal times. Did anyone else feel impelled to think about and question their own memories?

Posted by Charlotte Harvey


I really enjoyed the chapter in Kieth Johnstone's book Impro on spontaneaity. I recognised how as performers, and human beings, we tend to block the best and most creative thoughts through our own inhibitions guided by embarassment or fear of not being original. I totally agree with what Johnstone says about just going with your first instincts to find the best way into improvisation. This also reminded me of the games we played last week and how when waiting for your turn during the 'present' game I would be constantly trying to think of something clever to do instead of letting myself be truely creative, and I now more fully understand why Nesreen would say not to try to be clever! I would love to work more on this by doing some of the improvisations he suggests in the chapter and working on being spontaneous and not inhibiting or censoring myself to improve or enhance my creativity, and better the improvisation.

Posted by Helen Hudson


I watched Lifegame on Thursday with Louisa and Olivia. I thought it was a really amazing concept, and performed seamlessly and very humorously by the members of Improbable. It must be very daunting, appearing on stage with no pre-conceived concept of what you may have to perform, a strong sense of ensemble must be vital for this to work, and this sense of group unity is very obvious throughout Lifegame. Is Lifegame an original idea, or has anything similar been done in the past, from which Improbable may have drawn some influence? I'm looking forward to the workshop on the 17th, to better understand how Improbable develop their sense of ensemble. Monday's lesson was very informative, learning a little about the seemingly haphazard way in which Improbable work was truly fascinating! The games we played were useful in developing a greater feeling of group unity, which should make it easier for us to work together in the future, especially with regards to improvisation. Do Improbable use similar games to aid their work?

Posted by Ella Rhodes


When we were first introduced to Improbable I was keen to be open minded about studying a new approach to theatre. The concept of 'devising' certainly intrigued me. I could see that it would be a good way to create theatre that is fresh. However, when I first started to read the 'Improbable Prayer' and the interviews, I must admit I became somewhat sceptical. The thought that Improbable use no pre determined rehearsal process baffled me. I also found the concept that often actors know more than the director difficult to get my head around. My own experiences had always led me to think that the director should be the one who ultimately carried the performance's 'vision'.
I have been surprised by the huge variation of their final performances (or rather their work in progress). Also after reading Impro by Keith Johnstone, I began to see more and more about the company that interested me. Although Johnstone was an influence on the company, rather than a founder, I could see some of the ideas discussed in his book aparent in the company's work. The chapter titled 'Spontaneity' was particularly interesting because I could relate to the feelings of being 'blocked' on stage to descriptions in the book. The solutions also were not complicated and I could see examples of Improbable using these solutions in Lifegame. The actors were so used to accepting suggestions from one another and this made their performance fluid.
When re-reading the interviews with Improbable I am more curious about their ethos, whilst still retaining some doubts. I am curious to learn more about improbable and challenge my remaining scepticism.

Posted by Sylvie Barlow

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