Paul – The Final Entry!

Published by ShawnKinley on

closeup photo of brown and black dog face


Student Post

Paul – The Final Entry!


yellow labrador retriever puppy sitting on floor“Another possible outcome for a dog’s unreleased energy results in the dog’s becoming fixated on or obsessed with something. It could be anything from a tennis ball to the cat, but it’s not natural and it’s not good for your dog.

A fixation is wasted energy. A dog needs to channel her energy into something in order to be balanced and calm-submissive. A dog living with a homeless person walks all day, so that’s where the energy goes. A dog that lives with a disabled person has the physical-psychological challenge of keeping her owner safe, which is another way the dog releases her energy. Owners who run and walk with their dogs on a regular basis help their dogs drain energy.”
                                            -Cesar Millan

What Cesar Millan describes as ‘calm-submissive’ I interpret (or misinterpret) as securely attached. It’s a dog that doesn’t need to assert dominance because it knows its place in the pack, nor does it show its belly every time there’s a threat. It reads the moment to know when to lead or follow, and what is a real threat and what is merely theatre.

If a dog is deprived activity, meaningful social interaction, and an interesting environment, it can become fixated. The dog barks like crazy at mirrors, is afraid of a toy, goes into trance states looking at squirrels; it can’t free itself of an arbitrary obsession. People aren’t much different. How many improvisers do you know that have become fixated?

  • I must learn this technique.
  • I have to get into this group, this festival, this show.
  • I need to perform with these people.
  • I must receive a good review from this critic.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have goals. In fact, I think a fixation is the opposite of a goal. A goal is something you pursue honestly, something you achieve with pride or fail to reach gracefully. A fixation has no catharsis. Its achievement is hollow and is followed by a brief bout of low energy before a new fixation. Failure to reach it is an invitation to a world of self-loathing.

Can something be a goal and a fixation? Can it be both at the same time? Can you swing back and forth between the two? Probably.

Shawn asked us some questions this week. In the moment, I wished we had heard them on the first day. But, then again, maybe it was better to get them at the end, lest they become obsessions blocking us from learning. Here are some useful benchmarks:

  • Can you hold a solo scene for three minutes?
  • Can you do a solo show for 2 hours?
  • Can you give up on an idea you cherish for your partner?
  • Can you wrest a scene away from a controlling partner killing ideas?
  • Can you walk-in to save a scene?
  • Can you carry a passive partner through a scene?

Here are some I would like to add:

  • Can you tell when your partner is speaking as a character or as a performer during a scene?
  • Can you catch incongruities in the show?
  • -Can you do so in a way that honours the performance?
  • Can you pacify a nervous performer?
  • -Can you tease them?
  • Can you name the thing everybody doesn’t know is on their mind?
  • Can you do a taboo subject respectfully? Insightfully?
  • Can you read the arc of a show and adjust a scene to meet the needs of the show?
  • Can you be an evil character that is not a mindless cartoon?
  • Can you make people go ‘ah’ all at the same time?
  • -Can you do that from the subtlest movement?
  • -Can you make them cry?

This is disposable theatre. This mantra is meant to release us from pressure, but if taken too literally it makes improvisation nihilistic and kitschy. Because something is disposable does not mean it has to be thrown away, merely that it can be. 

We crave those moments of magic on stage, those genuine epiphanies, those collective silences where an entire room holds their breathe. We should strive for those every night. But, only if they can be honest goals and not fixations. Fixation kills improvisation.

This is disposable theatre.

The audience’s time is not disposable.

The relationships we create are not disposable, they are indispensable, and I am grateful to Anna, Oshow, Kash, and Cindy for being my classmates, students, and teachers; to everyone else in the wider Calgary improvisation community who joined us; and to Shawn for keeping the lights on, doing the thankless and weighty job of holding the centre, and bringing us all together.

Categories: Paul


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