Improvisation workshop: a spot of devising

You may have realised by now that I’m a big improvisation fan. Earlier this year, when the sun had not yet fought its way through the clouds and the persistent gloom still hung heavy in the sky, a group of actors traipsed through a dark winter night to get to an improvisation workshop. It was run for members of the Southsea Shakespeare Actors by the brilliant Vincent Adams of Soop, resident theatre company at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, Havant. Soop run regular improv workshops in Havant and Southampton.

Last week, the sun beaming down on us, we once again headed to the Southsea Shakespeare Actors’ HQ for another evening of improv antics. Our band was a little depleted in number due to the England match, but we still made up a respectable gathering.

Vincent Adams, photography by Dan Finch, courtesy of Soop

Vincent Adams, courtesy of Soop

Vin started the evening by asking us to each write down the topic for a political speech on a piece of paper. These were then folded, collected, and placed on a table at the back of the room to be used at various points throughout the workshop. By the end of the evening each of us had had a go at one of the topics. We selected a piece of paper at random, then had to speak for 45 seconds on that topic, in the form of a political speech. The piece of paper I chose said the importance of rabbits, prompting mention of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, the latter signifying the importance of the arts in Britain, and my pledge to focus on the arts where the current government has made more and more cuts, with a brief less than complimentary mention of Michael Gove thrown in.

We also played a few games including hidden agenda and the one word game, but the highlight of the evening was getting to do a bit of devising, and direct it. We all walked around the room at a speed on a scale from one to five, one being as slow as possible without stopping, five being a very fast walk. Once we had run through the five speeds with Vin, we then chose one of these and moved around the room at our chosen speed. One by one we were asked to continue while everyone else froze and gave us a few adjectives to describe the kind of character or mood this speed portrayed.

We then decided as a group on a setting for our devised piece – a cruise ship. We wanted somewhere where you would get a group of random people together who may not necessarily all know one another, but in an enclosed environment, rather than in the openness of a street. Vin went round the group asking us who we were – I decided that, as I’d chosen a speed of 5, the head of entertainment would be a sufficiently stressful and hectic position to match this pace. Of course at this stage we no longer had to move around at our chosen speed, it was more to give us a starting point for a character.

Vin asked me to play a directing role as the others got into position for the first improvised scene. I decided on a few key moments of action that would each form a scene, and we gave the first one a go. Vin gave them three minutes for the first scene, then we stopped and decided what worked and therefore we wanted to keep, and what needed changing here and there to make the whole piece work better. It was a fantastic experience, getting a glimpse into the process of devising and how a director approaches this kind of performance work.

The workshop lasted for two hours, and in those two hours it was as if I completely forgot the outside world existed. In that safe and wonderful environment of play I was in my element, and it was quite a shock coming back out into the daylight and the ‘real world’. I left HQ feeling tired but happy, and with plenty of creative ideas dancing round in my head.

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