conversation is an engine

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Posts Tagged ‘Improv

Audiences Read an Actor’s Use of Space

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Keith Johnstone: Impro

May Day Parade, South Minneapolis, 2013

May Day Parade, South Minneapolis, 2013

When I was commissioned to write my first play I’d hardly been inside a theatre, so I watched rehearsals to get the feel of it. I was struck by the way space flowed around the actors like a fluid. As the actors moved I could feel imaginary iron filings marking out the force fields. This feeling of space was strongest when the stage was uncluttered, and during the coffee breaks, or when they were discussing some difficulty. When they weren’t acting, the bodies of the actors continually readjusted. As one changed position so all the others altered their postures. Something seemed to flow between them. When they were ‘acting’ each actor would pretend to relate to the others, but his movements would stem from himself. They seemed ‘encapsulated’. In my view it’s only when the actor’s movements are related to the space he’s in, and to the other actors, that the audience feel ‘at one’ with the play. The very best actors pump space out and suck it in, or at least that’s what it feels like. When the movements are not spontaneous but ‘intellectual’ the production may be admired, but you don’t see the whole audience responding in empathy with the movements of the actors.

–Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (NY: Theatre Arts Books, 1979) 57

Actors act on something the rest of us respond to without knowing why.


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Can A Question Trump A Script?

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Don’t Prepare. Just Show Up. Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson

A confession: it’s hard for me to break free from notes when speaking.

Maybe notes are a crutch. But I think there is more to it. I spend my days writing so I have an affection and affinity for words on pages. And this: there is specificity to writing that is not quite so available for speaking. It’s a specificity that allows me to work an idea and move the parts around even as I deliver that idea to my audience.

Speaking does not allow that.

Or so I thought.

Patricia Ryan Madson’s Improv Wisdom is helping me see things differently. This well-written, easily digestible book (NY: Bell Tower, 2005) is full of all manner of notes about how to move off the page. In particular I’m struck by how Ms. Madson deftly turned scripted notes into an opportunity for spontaneity. 02262014-Cover-burgundyCheck out the photo below, where she reformats scripted remarks into a series of prompts—questions—that result in something alive and conversational versus the usual bad voice-over quality that comes from reading a script.

The result of her work and approach is spot on with all we’re trying to do at Conversation is an Engine: live out loud with each other, mistakes and passions all available to each other as we show up. Day after day.

Here’s Ms. Madson speaking at Google (Authors@Google) on her notion of just showing up. I cannot help but notice that she put lots and lots of time preparing before she just showed up. Plus: I am completely taken with Ms. Madson’s willingness to make mistakes in public.

Patricia Ryan Madson may be my new aural hero.





Written by kirkistan

February 26, 2014 at 8:44 am

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