Monday, 8 October 2007


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

No comments: