The Forgotten Gems of CHAPTER 6!
The Forgotten Gems of CHAPTER 6!
One of the most referenced books in Improvisation is IMPRO FOR STORYTELLERS by Keith Johnstone.
MOST people you talk with say, “I’ve never read the thing all the way through.” Keith intended it to be that way. He’s said that it was made to be picked up, opened to any section and explored. Put it down and then go play with the ideas.
Improvisation isn’t linear. You can start from any point on a hub of topics.
If I flip to a random page, this is what I find:
The students’ inability to remember the rules vanishes as soon as they discover more subtle defences; for example, it feels safer to be controlled from a distance (this is why sergeant-majors prefer to scream into your face from an inch away)…
(Impro for Story tellers, pg. 197)
Immediately I want to know more about these subtle defences I use to defeat my skills as an improviser. Coincidentally, I wanted to re-introduce you to CHAPTER 6 which talks behaviours we use to defend ourselves from being spontaneous, fearless, vulnerable and simply, good improvisers.
Chapter 6 of Impro For Storytellers is titled MAKING THINGS HAPPEN. It starts on page 101. It should probably be the first thing most improvisers explore.
Almost every improviser knows what BLOCKING is: Blocking occurs when we negate offers. It stops the scene from moving forward. It usually comes from an improviser who is fearful about going into their partner’s reality.
Alongside the idea of Blocking are equally useful concepts. MOST improvisers in MOST of the classes I teach have heard of only one or two of these and are not likely to know what they mean.
WIMPING, PIMPING, BRIDGING, HEDGING, CANCELLING,
LOOPING, & JOINING
WIMPING: This should be equally as popular as Blocking. Wimping occurs when we are scared to define.
“What that on the ground?”
“I don’t know. Probably nothing”
“Who were you talking to on the phone?”
“It was a wrong number”
Failure to define information leaves our partner stranded, forced to carry the scene on their own.
While BLOCKING happens when we fear going into our partner’s ideas, WIMPING happens when we are scared to risk our own ideas.
Instead of starting a scene with a question; “What’s that you’re working on?”
bravely define, “GREAT! You repaired the time machine!” You can see how this moves us forward and gives you partner a gift instead of a burden.
PIMPING: Related to Wimping, we throw our partners under the bus and force them to carry the scene. Where wimping is more passive, pimping purposely sets your partner up to jump through a challenging hoop:
Look at those Hieroglyphics on the wall! What do they say Doctor?
I’ve written a poem. Here, you read it. It’s a rhyme in iambic pentametre.
Fred, why don’t you sing that song you wrote for us?
This can appear as playful interaction between performers who feel safe with each other but it can also defeat the narrative and be a sign that you are hiding behind potentially mean spirited behaviour to protect yourself from risk-taking and vulnerability.
BRIDGING: As Keith writes,
“Bridging’ describes the building of bridges over streams that could be
crossed in one stride.”
Keith mentions an improviser who gets a suggestion from an audience member. As a child, the volunteer recounted throwing a stick at a bird and unintentionally killing it. In the scene the improviser bridged for the entire scene, looking for the right stick, going to the shed for a saw, cutting a big stick from the tree etc, delaying what the audience knew must happen.
A brave improviser would have thrown a stick right away. The mother bird would have died. Then we would see the consequences with the guilt-ridden human. Possibly there’s a scene in the future when the human meets the bird in heaven. Or we turn to a scene with the babies in the tree. The sun sets and they realise their mother is not coming back. They pack their little backpacks and jump out of the tree (unable to fly) and go on a quest to revenge Mamma’s death.
We bridge when we are scared that we won’t have an answer in the future. We delay with safe action to protect us from danger. But facing the unknown is the reason the audience is interested. Face it bravely.
HEDGING: This is related to Bridging. In Bridging, you know what’s coming and you delay. With hedging, you don’t know where you are going so you delay in the hopes that the RIGHT idea will come to you.
“OK Boss! What’s the plan to break into the bank?”
“Let’s get in the car and I’ll tell you.”
The gangsters start driving and then the boss keeps delaying.
The problem with that sort of self-protection is that the improvisers build pressure on themselves to come up with a GREAT idea “eventually”. Recognize that the delay is going to amplify the pressure you are feeling and that pressure will defeat your spontaneity. Any comfort you are hoping for in the long run will just be greater.
If you say something spontaneously and you don’t like it, the character can fix it.
If the Boss spontaneously answers with, “we’re going to wear Banana suits and go in singing” and then immediately regrets the idea, then the character can backtrack and try again.
CANCELLING: This common behaviour in scene work is related to Blocking. It happens when you move the scene forward with an offer and then immediately pull back.
“Let’s go for a walk.” (they go outside. It’s raining.) “Let’s go home.”
Unlike the previous note about fixing a ‘weak idea’, by finding a way to allow yourself to come up with another idea, cancelling occurs from a fear of moving forward. The improvisers erase their own offers without a thought to moving forward. “Let’s jump on the trampoline. OK let’s stop.”
LOOPING: Improvisers show they are in troun\ble when they return to the same idea with no intent to play with it. (Clowns will play with repeating the same theme/idea but they do it by pushing the idea forward after establishing a pattern of actions.)
John is washing the dishes and finishes. He starts washing the kitchen. And then he washes his car. And then… more washing.
The clown will wash the external stuff and then turn to himself. As the idea of washing becomes an obsessive game he washes himself away until there’s just a washcloth floating to the ground surrounded by a shiny clean room and no clown anymore.
The fear-filled improviser will keep moving from cleaning one object to another object and be unchanged by his actions. He secures his safety but nothing will change.
JOINING: This is another safety mechanism that keeps us normal, flat, unchanged and safe.
My partner says, “I’m not from around here. I am from another planet.” In the context of the scene, the choice makes sense and it draws the audience in. How will my character react?
I join my partner’s idea and say, “I’m also an alien.”
The audience feels let down because they’ve imagined themselves in that room and they wanted to live the experience through my character. I’m not altered by my partner’s great offer as any normal person would have been.
My desire to stay in control robs them of what they expect.
There’s danger, uncertainty, and a promised adventure if an alien shows up in our reality. But, if we are an alien as well, we normalize the offer and everything becomes a little more ‘average’.
We know there are no rules. Nothing written here is a rule.
When WIMPING, PIMPING, BRIDGING, HEDGING, CANCELLING, LOOPING, & JOINING happen from fear and self-preservation they damage the stories we are trying to create. They deflate that magic of improvisation that we all want to feel.
Conversely, many of the “issues” can be used for positive impact if we are aware of what we are doing.
Great scenes often come from a finely placed BLOCKING of an idea.
In the scene with “JOINING,” we can all see the potential of two aliens discovering that they are on the same planet, expecting this planet was going be all theirs.
Keith’s CHAPTER 6 has a lot of great tips, tricks and observations about how we get in the way of our own work.
Go back to the source and check out some of Keith’s other observations to help you with your improvisation.