A really good improv session last night. Excellent. I am so pleased with it.
( I was leading a session on Endowment )
I was leading a session on Endowment. Endowment being the giving of attributes about a character, an environment or a narrative. It’s about making and accepting Offers and Chivalry
The handles worked well. Things by and large had a beginning, a middle and an end. They were funny. The new people seemed to get the concepts. Everyone seemed on good form, enthusiastic and keen to be involved. There were some good performances and some good contributions. Many of the old hands were giving bits of side coaching to new people, explaining why certain handles are structured the way they are or why certain guidelines apply. It was good to see.
I was pleased that the container I had built worked well and everyone felt able to do good work. I must ask one of the participants to tell me some more about why she thought it worked so I can build on the success. I was a little intimidated by having the Illustrator there as he taught me this series of classes last year. My how I’ve grown up in a year.
If I were being critical I would say that the characters and the narratives weren’t unique or deep but that’s okay because these are beginners’ session and people are still learning the handles and the Improv Guidelines and Concepts and how to create a narrative. There is a lot going on. What’s important is that things worked. Success is a good thing.
Of particular note is one scene in a handle called Here Comes, where two players on stage discuss the next character to arrive, endowing them wildly. Two newbies were on stage, let’s call them Eric Newby and Ernie Newby (they can own their own involvement in this if they wish). Eric set about endowing the next person to arrive, The Illustrator, as a deaf foreigner who spoke almost no English. Then Eric exited the scene. That’s a tough call. Especially as Ernie left on stage with the Illustrator had never done improv before. I winced when I saw what was happening. It worked out. The Illustrator came on and mimed the characteristics of the next person to arrive, a strong person they were going to need to move an object on stage and thus end the overall handle. Ernie guessed that that the next person to arrive would be a monkey. A strong monkey turned up and shifted the object to the rapturous and concluding applause of all. What really impressed me was the Illustrator’s flexibility and mastery of his craft and how Chivalrous he was. He knew this was going to be challenging so made a big entrance giving everyone time to settle into the situation. I was also really, really, really impressed by Ernie who could have gone to pieces but didn’t. Characters were retained, narrative was developed, offers were made, the next entrant was endowed as a monkey. One of the key bits of learning for new improvisors is that there is no wrong answer, except no answer. If you think your partner is miming a monkey, say monkey, and trust that between you can make it work.
Key learning points for me were chivalry is important, how useful it is to keep calm and carry on and just how good my improv troupe is. You could describe endowing someone as a deaf foreigner as Pimping (deliberately putting someone in a difficult situation through endowment). Being someone who struggles to communicate and with whom other people struggle to communicate with makes it difficult to carry on any dialogue. On the other hand, it was a very strong clear offer. No one could be in any doubt that there was a defined character ready to walk into. A tricky one to play but something inhabitable.
It just so happens that the Illustrator is one of the best people I know at gibberish games so could do a non-English speaker superbly. If I had done this to the Illustrator you could argue that I knew he could carry it off and I would know I would have to work with him to help him out. For Eric you can argue (and I totally do) that until you see the difficulties that Pimping can create it’s difficult to see when you’re doing it. Until you’ve had something technically difficult or really strange launched at you it’s not easy to grasp how discombobulating it can be. The difference between Pimping and a challenging Endowment is subtle and a lot depends on the intention. All in all it was a great learning experience.
It also made me reflect on my own Chivalry or lack or it. In the same handle I endowed Ernie as being from Govan. Ernie is not good at accents. I didn’t know this. I had (unintentionally) put Ernie in a difficult position. Had I done it deliberately I would be very cross with myself. Doing it by accident was careless and I should have been more careful. I know better and should have been thinking further ahead. This is why one of the important things about improv is learning the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues. The improv group is a safe place to explore this.
I notice that I feel different after leading a session to how I feel after participating in one. Participating in a session, especially a really good one usually leaves me highly energised. Leading one I notice doesn’t leave me energised. I feel like I’ve done some hard work. Enjoyable work. Work to a good purpose. Work nevertheless. I feel like energy has flowed out of me. Not a lot of energy and I’m glad I spent it. That’s one to think on
I have been discussing if Improv is a eudaimonic activity or not and I wasn’t sure. I enjoy it so much that I find it difficult to pick out the enjoyment from doing from the doing good and being connected happiness. I think it probably is eudaimonic, for me at least. It’s certainly not empty enjoyment. You have to put work into enjoying it and the amount you get out depends on how much you put in and how well your group works.