It may seem strange that a foreword for a book about applied improvisation should be written by theatre makers. However, to study the applications of improvisation beyond performance, perhaps the base-camp for the expedition should be the place where it all started. It was in the theatres, comedy clubs, and experimental performance spaces of the 1960s and 1970s that the story of improvisation, as we now know it, began and developed. This is where it was first applied, a new kind of theatre, pitching performers and audiences into a thrilling new relationship.
As young actors we fell in love with improvisation and, as often happens in a love affair, our initial infatuation was intense. It made us feel more alive.Creating in the moment, saying “yes” to other people’s ideas, sidestepping control, and connecting to our intuitive impulses in front of an audience was exhilarating. We were making people laugh, discovering success and failure onstage, creating comedy and drama from nothing but the air between us, and sometimes we told stories that moved people. But we soon discovered it wasn’t just about the shows or the product, and the learning was not limited to the onstage crucible.
As we continued to improvise, our relationship with impro matured. It became a deeper love. We found ourselves in a Dojo (a practice arena) where we had to explore our strengths and vulnerabilities and engage in dialogue with our inner critics. Something much more profound and wide reaching was happening: a relationship was being forged to the chaotic part of nature that enhanced our experience of life. We were discovering that we had to confront and include our true selves in the process if we were to grow. We were engaged in a continual practice, which nurtured a set of beliefs and principles that would run through our careers and lives. Improvisation was the underground river that flowed beneath everything we did.
We have been “applying” improvisation to the making of theatre since the mid-1980s. During that time, we have made improvised shows, used impro to devise shows that end up scripted, and created shows that were hybrids of the two. When directing shows with preexisting scripts, we have used impro to ensure performances are played differently every night. We got puppeteers, opera singers, and “proper” actors in their eighties to improvise and the shows have played everywhere from comedy clubs to outdoors to the National Theatre.
At Improbable, the work has primarily been the creation of theatre shows;however, we also had to learn how to run a company. We admit there was often a mismatch between the improvisation we practiced onstage and how we organized our business—as if the two worlds did not share the same principles.We were not applying what we did with actors and shows to the running of our own company. We were in need of some applied improvisation!
It was about twelve years ago that we had a breakthrough when Phelim discovered Open Space Technology (OST), which, instinctively, we understood to be one enormous, self-organizing impro game. We began running forums for the theatre community (that we titled “Devoted and Disgruntled”) to work on issues that people were frustrated about and wanted to take action on. OST quickly became an essential part of running Improbable, onstage and off.Offstage, it now informs our meetings; how we envision our future and how we make that vision happen; it supports how we deal with change; how we create fluidity around roles in the company and how we address conflicts. Onstage and in the rehearsal room, it has become an essential part of our theatre-making process and a guide for our teaching of improvisation. The boundaries between the different areas of our company have begun to blur. There’s a long way to go,but our aim is to walk improvisational methods through all aspects of our company’s life.
This is a book about Applied Improvisation, so perhaps we should unpack what “applied” means to us. One does not “apply” improvisation in the sense of adding something to what is already there. It is not like a coat of varnish or even,14we would argue, a set of skills. It is more like a way of accessing and bringing awareness to processes that are happening anyway. Whether it is in a theatrical or in an applied context, improvisation, as a form, draws from the dreaming world and brings the imagination into embodied life. We must beware of the notion that people doing it in theatre or comedy aren’t doing something in “real life.” Dreams are its “real world” and this is one of its most valuable assets.Improvisation brings together, in a marriage, the imagistic world and consensus reality. It would be missing the point to lose (at least) half the value of impro when it becomes “Applied Improvisation.” We must be awake to the tendency for it to become too goal or product oriented, stressing the technical skills over the more artistic and dreaming aspects of improvisation. When the improvisation gets applied, is the ineffable nature of impro diminished? This question is one that the best practitioners, such as those in this book, are courageously grappling with because not all deliverables are describable.
Of course, improvisation does have a set of skills and games that can be stated, taught, and learnt. Within these pages are many fine and diverse examples of non-theatre contexts where impro has been used to support change and increase creativity. Each demonstrates the value of impro and its impact. However, it’s important we don’t just pay attention to the measurable technical skills. This is not the whole story.
Between these stories lies a deeper set of skills that points toward what psychologist and process-work practitioner Amy Mindell calls “metaskills.” These are the attitudes and sensitivities that inform how we use the technical skills. These metaskills would be such things as: an ability to be comfortable with uncertainty and “not knowing”; a willingness to say “Yes” not just to an offer but to the whole of reality as it truly is; a trust in the Tao and the wisdom of nature; an ability to see the bigger patterns in chaos; a desire to hold silence and sense what is beneath an atmosphere; the capacity to catch secondary signals and impulses within oneself and in the environment that are on the edge of awareness; a belief that everything happening around you is a valuable part of the process.
These stories are taking place in a wider context of an attitude to life that only 15improvisation fosters. It is this context that tells us how we practice those skills. The application of impro is not just technique but an invitation to explore the deeper understandings this work can bring to us as individuals and as a community.
Notice in these chapters where improvisation has been used to create new cultures within organizations and communities. How it creates intelligent climates where individuals own their own agency while being sensitive to ensemble responsibilities. Where new models of democratic collaboration promote true listening and self-organization. These improvisational cultures support emergent solutions and foster the kind of wisdom that our world is urgently demanding of us.
Life is full of uncertainty and each day our world gets more complicated and chaotic. The solution is not an attempt to tame the chaos. The answer is to find more robust and fluid ways of interacting with the chaos, which is merely a fact of life. The call is to become “wave riders,” as Harrison Owen, originator of OST, describes those leaders who know how to trust the flow of nature and take advantage of its emergent energies. The call is to improvise because the practice of improvisation is one of allowing.
You don’t apply improvisation, it simply applies.
Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson met in 1986 after a Keith Johnstone workshop that Phelim had been to and Lee hadn’t. They soon discovered that they were both interested in impro that was more theatrical and theatre that was more improvised and spent the next ten years making both these things. In 1996, alongside Julian Crouch and Nick Sweeting, they founded Improbable, a company that deepened and broadened that quest, taking improvisation into uncharted waters and, along the way, creating a bewildering diversity of work (e.g. Animo, Lifegame, The Still, Theatre of Blood, Lost Without Words, etc.). Lee is also one of the Comedy Store Players, and Phelim has directed shows at the Metropolitan Opera. Their latest venture is the International Institute of Improvisation, a way to celebrate, investigate, advocate, and connect all forms of improvisation from 16within and outside the arts; a way to tell the story of how the practice and philosophy of improvisation is what the world needs. Right now.
在参加了 keith johnstone 的工作坊之后，Phelim mcdermott 和 lee simpson 相识于1986年，phelim 去过，lee 没去过。他们很快发现，他们都对即兴表演感兴趣，即兴表演更具戏剧性，即兴表演更具戏剧性，他们花了十年时间来制作这两样东西。1996年，他们与朱利安•克劳奇(julian crouch)和尼克•斯威廷(nick sweeting)共同创立了“不可思议”(improbable)公司。这家公司深化并扩大了这种探索，将即兴创作融入大航海时代系列，并一路创造出令人眼花缭乱的多样性工作(例如，阿尼莫(animo)、生活游戏(lifegame)、蒸馏器(the still)、血腥剧场(theatre of blood)、无言失落等等)。李也是喜剧商店的演员之一，菲尔姆在大都会歌剧院执导过节目。他们最近的一次冒险是国际即兴创作研究所，这是一种赞美、调查、倡导和连接艺术内外各种形式的即兴创作的方式，一种讲述即兴创作的实践和哲学是世界所需要的故事的方式。现在！