A day on the scene

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How to use improv as a self-challenging experience.

When was the last time you tried something totally new? People like to explore the unknown and see what’s behind, but when they face a real challenge, they feel completely lost and unable to embrace it. It happens to me almost every day, so I’ve decided to try an alternative approach: Improv.

Impro Neuf – a volunteer-based association – hosted a workshop with the Chicago-based Improv teacher, artist and pioneer Jonathan Pitts. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far. I didn’t know a thing about improv before going. I thought it was some sort of theatre, but I wasn’t sure at all about its actual meaning. For anyone who knows just a little about improv as I did, here it is in a nutshell. Improv is a form of comedy in which the artists (usually in groups) build up a scene on the go, sometimes asking for suggestions from the audience. There are many different improv techniques and the one explored in the workshop was “The Collage”. In “The Collage” the scenes from both short and long-form plays are mixed.

During the workshop, I immediately had a warm welcome from the group of improvisers, and Jonathan treated me as one of his students. Therefore, he tried to teach me what the main features of improv are and how to overcome personal weaknesses. I participated in my first improv workshop, saw my first improv show, and acted on a stage as an improviser for the first time all in one afternoon. And I am still alive.

Creating bond
All the students at the workshop were excellent performers who wanted to learn more. Not just in terms of techniques, but also in terms of attitude and energy to use in shows. They weren’t a proper improv group, since they came from different teams, but it felt like they had been working together for years. That’s what improv does. It creates bonds between people and unexpected connections. Those students started doing improv at different times and came from different backgrounds. When I talked with them, they all told me this workshop has changed the way they feel confident about themselves on stage. It has let them step out of their own comfort zones, understanding how to trust their inner instincts.

Improv pioneer Jonathan Pitts was an honoured guest at Impro Neufs workshop at Chateau Neuf. Photo: Arianna Pera

Jonathan was more than just a teacher during the workshop. He was part of the group above all. As he says, when he is a guest in shows he thinks about himself as part of the team, being an actual member of the group. Moreover, he said that when he joins others’ workshops, he thinks about himself as a leaf attempting everything he is asked and following the mentor’s advice. Then throwing away whatever he doesn’t like. Jonathan’s advice was incredibly precious to the students. Firstly in terms of the understanding of how important knowing yourself and the rest of the group is. He made us understanding that Improv is not a matter of others’ approval, since it’s a way of exploring your own and being on your very personal path. Everybody has a different style and can use different tools that can even just work for him.

Important boundaries
Choices are one of the main ingredients in improv and it’s very important to understand whether someone feels personally, or artistically uncomfortable in order to be able to know how to proceed. In improv, as a group, it’s extremely useful to find out what are the boundaries of everyone. In particular, boundaries can be:

  • Physical, in terms of things that can annoy you in a physical way
  • Emotional, in terms of something that hurts your sensibility
  • Content, in terms of something you don’t want to talk about
  • Cultural assumptions, in order not to overcome someone else’s limits on cultural behaviours

Every time teamwork is necessary, discovering boundaries is a fundamental part of the process of the creation itself. Anyway, it’s important to remember that boundaries can change over time.

Getting out of the comfort zone
This experience has taught me many extremely precious life principles. Trust yourself, trust your group, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but together you can turn mistakes into something wonderful. Don’t stay in your comfort zone all your life. Going out is hard, it seems almost impossible. However, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself, because it’s the only way you can actually learn that you are more than what you think. Confidence can be gained with some exercise; you don’t have to be born with it. Through improv, I have understood the key is your attitude towards the challenge itself.

What about you? Would you dare to step out of your comfort zone?

Foto: Runhild Heggem // Studentenes fotoklubb

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