Amid the chaos leading up to Christmas I didn’t get the chance to write about an improvisation workshop that Vincent Adams ran earlier in December.
Alongside recently directing for the Southsea Shakespeare Actors (SSA), Vin is a member (actually co-founder!) of SOOP, the resident theatre company at the Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant. I went to a brilliant evening of improv by the company, called ‘Instant Soop!’, which I thoroughly enjoyed and blogged about back in September. Thus when Vin offered to run an improvisation workshop for the SSA along the same lines, I couldn’t wait.
One wet and windy Wednesday evening a group of us gathered at the SSA HQ for a few hours of quick thinking, exploration and fun. Vin started the workshop off with a few warm-up games of word association, resulting in some rather bizarre connections and one participant always coming back to babies or death!
As we relaxed a bit and shook off some of those creativity-stifling inhibitions, we played a game involving two teams, the alphabet and a pet shop. The two teams lined up opposite each other, and two people at one end (one from each team) started a conversation based on a given scenario (someone buying something in a pet shop). All sounds fairly simple right? Wrong. The dialogue had to work its way through the alphabet, so person A would start off their sentence with a word beginning with the letter A, then person B would say a sentence beginning with B, then person A would reply with a sentence starting with C, and so on through the alphabet. Letters X proved to be particularly challenging, and we ended up with a lot of xylophones in this pet shop! If person A or B couldn’t think of a sentence quick enough, they would go to the back of the line and the next person in the line would have their turn.
The interesting thing about this game was that we often came up with perfectly normal-sounding conversations once we got into the flow. Until we hit that pesky X, that is.
Other games saw us telling a story going round the circle with each person only allowed to say one word, and a volunteer speaking for a minute on a given topic, which we each wrote down on a scrap of paper when we arrived and then folded them up and placed them in a pile, so the person picking a topic to speak on couldn’t see what they were choosing. The only rules were you couldn’t use the topic you wrote, you had to carry on speaking for a minute, regardless of how ludicrous or off-track it went, and there was to be no heckling. My topic of ‘The many uses of Brussels sprouts’ had someone telling us how it is tradition for children to wear them on their clothing during winter.
My favourite game of all was the finale, for which I was one of the two volunteers. My friend and I were given a scenario to act out – digging in Egypt – and Vin took down a list of film genre suggestions from the group. Then the game could begin.
We started off shooting at baddies in an action film, gazed lovingly at each other in a romance, cooed ‘oooh MAtron’ in a Carry On film (me flaring my nostrils rather impressively, or so I thought, a la Kenneth Williams), and ended up doing a musical number singing ‘digging in Eeegypt, digging in Eeegypt’. An instant showstopper.
Entertainment value aside, the real beauty of the workshop was the freedom to play in a supportive and safe environment. No-one was made to do anything, though of course getting stuck in was encouraged, and we all had fun. Many actors are afraid of improvisation work and avoid it like the plague. However, the elements involved, such as quick thinking, being flexible, and of course a fertile imagination, are invaluable skills for an actor to possess, and I would highly recommend conquering that fear and giving it a go!