Blog > Living an improvised life

February 1, 2010

The third and final day of our Playback Theatre Summer Intensive Workshop presented by Melbourne Playback Theatre Company brought together a number of disparate threads – and brought to mind some of the key lessons I’ve learnt over the years from improv theatre in its various forms. Lessons learnt and still being practiced in that unending journey towards mastery. Here’s what I was reminded of this weekend.

Your body knows before your brain
I catch myself over thinking. I can see others thinking too, coming up with an idea or a plan before doing anything. Hesitating. Rejecting the first idea because it’s not ‘good’ enough. Trust. It comes back to trusting that the movement in your body will spark something in your mind. I can’t tell you how often I have proven this to be true. Not knowing what I’ll say or do, just moving into the performance space, whether that be on the stage or in a workshop, and trusting that whatever I need will surface when I need it. Would I do this all the time, or in every situation? No. But I can train myself to do it on those occasions when that’s what’s needed. When more thinking, or more planning, will not add an iota of value.

Start anywhere, and just start!
When faced with not knowing, complexity and no right answer, where is the best place to start? That question has no answer. It’s nonsensical. Start anywhere and see where it leads. If it leads to a dead-end, try something else. The trick is to just start, and to start anywhere.

Strong offers are worth their weight
A strong offer is clear, it’s robust, it’s obvious, it’s easy to respond to. A weak offer, like a hint, doesn’t support your partner or others, and it’s ambiguous. Support each other by making and responding to strong offers.

We learn, and connect,  from doing and watching
We learn different things from doing – being in the work – and from watching others do the work. This is true of Playback. The perspective of a player (the actor) is quite different from the perspective of the teller (of a moment or story), and is even different to each and every audience member. Yet we remain connected – the players, the teller, and the audience – through our common experiences, our empathy and our differences.

It’s okay to do nothing
Sometimes, our presence is enough. We don’t need to be doing something, when others know we are there supporting them. Our presence is enough. That’s all.

Our stories reveal a lot more about us than anything else
I might tell you about what I do, where I live, my family, my work – and you will know me through that lens. Yet if I tell you my stories, if I reveal my vulnerabilities, and you can share my laughs and my tears, will you not know me a lot better? Playback Theatre embodies that sharing.

Thanks to Mike McEvoy, Ian David, Glynis Angell, Andrew Gray and Ernie Gruner – all from Melbourne Playback Theatre Company – who  conducted the workshop and contributed to my learning. And thanks too to my fellow participants, who so willingly and generously shared their stories, and themselves.

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