Updated: Jun 5
Early April 2021
The last time I officially taught an improv workshop in person was Mon 9th March 2020.
Since then 56 weeks have passed.
In my lifetime so far, I have improvised in person every single week for about 710 weeks. Not improvising in person for 56 weeks feels a lot.
There were a few days in Sept 2020 when I improvised in a park, which was great, but also … weird… It felt like all the cumulative skills accrued over 13 years, had kind of got a bit…. rusty (more on that later).
Don’t get me wrong online improv has been amazing. Really. It was born quickly out of the compulsion and sheer determination to deal with the crisis of a lockdown in a global pandemic. How do I do what I do, but online? Many improvisers and teachers were figuring out the same thing at the same time.
Online improv quickly developed into its own version of improv. An amazing version! So many aspects are the same, and in some cases have sharpened – listening, connecting, noticing all offers. Some aspects of online improv are unique to the form – camera edits, virtual backgrounds, close-ups, real (not mimed) object work, puppetry, writing quick notes to help you remember things (guilty!).
Even with all the joys and gains of improvising online – all its bounteous soulful connection and laughter – there have been three major losses for me: the loss of physically moving in space; the loss of real and direct eye contact; the loss of physical contact. These aspects of improv are almost impossible online.
Covid guidelines now allow for groups of 6 to meet outdoors*. Yay!! So … it’s back to the park for me! The whole glorious world of in-person improv is possible again, albeit maintaining a 2m distance and minus physical contact. And I can’t wait! I can’t wait to actually move in space; to sweep edit; physically build a world as an ensemble, to create a soundscape, to use my whole body to communicate character, to actually form a real ‘backline’, to make actual eye contact!
Cut back to in-person improv feeling a bit weird…
Here’s the thing … here’s what I think might happen …
The old rust might emerge; that feeling of strangeness I felt last Sept might surface and tap me gently on the shoulder. I will have to (re)remember all the skills, games and techniques that were as familiar to me as breathing. I will have to reach into the recesses of my mind to pull out all those gorgeous games we haven’t been able to play for 56 weeks. In my treasure trove of improv games and top tips, I will need to reach in and pull out kicking and screaming those memories of how to do in person improv.
It’s going to be like starting over. In amongst all the joys of actually rolling around on the grass being a talking squirrel or sweep editing across the space, I expect there to be moments of me thinking, ‘Oh shoot, I don’t know how to do this anymore’.
And you know what – that’s OK.
To those brilliant people who have only experienced improv online, or who haven’t participated in online improv at all, I want to say this: starting over or feeling rusty is OK. Feeling like you’ve taken giant leaps forward online, only to go backwards when in person is OK.
Improv in person IS different. You will soon get used to and embrace the possibilities of moving your body, you will soon get familiar and comfortable with space and staging parameters, of projecting your voice, of feeling courageous enough to step forward off of an actual backline to edit or join a scene.
And as you get familiar with in-person improv, remind yourself that you are not the only one feeling a bit … weird, not the only one trying to remember, or the only one re-learning something you felt you’d got your head around. Let's do this together.
After all, there’s a few things all improvisers (whether online or in-person) have got down: adaptability; flexibility; the art of being OK with ‘failure’; the generosity of having each other’s back; and the abundant spirit of Yes And.
*Current Covid guidelines allow for groups of 6 to meet outdoors with social distancing in place. Improv in the Park is fully booked for April. If all goes well there will be more outdoor park sessions going forward. I will continue to look into the viability and safety of indoor improv sessions as the year progresses.
All online improv sessions continue and are listed here: http://www.liverpoolcomedyimprov.co.uk