Improv Beach HolidayPosted: 27 March 2013
Improvisation is like an ocean; doing improv is like swimming.
But we are not floating about in open water out of sight of one another. We’re all in one bit of the ocean, close to the shore. Picture the scene: a hot summer’s day (remember?), a broad, curved stretch of sand, and a swimming area. And there we all are, the improvisers, in the sea, swimming and playing. We tend to split up into groups, because that’s fun, and because we can’t all swim in all parts of the sea at once. The different groups are spread out, exploring different parts of the bay and the beach. The stronger swimmers are further out; the beginners are in the shallows.
Nobody but the most robust swimmers of all can honestly claim to be swimming in waters that no one else ever has. Not even the strongest swimmers are swimming in a different way to anyone else – they just have a better technique acquired through practice. Nobody can honestly claim ownership of the parts of the sea they’re swimming in. While that sort of behaviour is common on the beach itself – with people laying down towels and erecting windbreaks to demarcate their private patches of sand – as soon as they’re in the water that makes no sense at all. If the swimming area gets crowded, they make the best use of the space and don’t get in each other’s way.
It’s common, and inevitable up to a point, to feel possessive of our own creative activities and envious of other people’s. And it’s natural to form cliques and groups. We cannot remain oblivious of what other people are doing, but we can choose not be distracted from our own fun.
Whatever style or format or show concept we’re exploring, the chances are that someone somewhere has already done it before. Whether or not they have, it’s as selfish to claim ownership of our improv ideas as it is to steal someone else’s, and it should make no difference to our enjoyment of it in the present. And no matter how great and talented we think we’ve become, the most important thing to remember is that the virtue of what we do lies only in the creativity and fun that we can share with others. The bigger picture reveals that we’re all of us only in a tiny part of the great ocean of improvisation that stretches endlessly beyond the horizon.
That’s what I reckon, anyway.
See also: ‘Learning to Swim’