All the World’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.
– ‘As You Like It’, Act 2, Scene 7
It would seem that the world is no longer a stage and instead a 12” laptop monitor is the extent of which we can perform. I imagine Shakespeare would have a few things to say about that. We are done talking about the impact of the current global crisis but we are acclimatising living in the new reality, whether we like it or not.
There has been a huge outpouring of emotion by creatives everywhere which is akin to grief, and artists the world over are continuing to use their art of a platform for expression. To some though, theatre or more specifically my art form of choice, improv has died a death and is left buried in grave unattended by mourners due to social distancing.
There are improvisers the world over are turning to Zoom and other online platforms to get their improv hit and continue trying to connect with the people they love and the art form which serves so many of us. However, it has divided the world down the middle. There are those embracing the platform and there are those soured by the medium, feeling that it doesn’t work and doesn’t catch us at our best. Neither groups are wrong with their views however there is one distinguishing delta between both.
Coronavirus has not killed improv, we have.
Beyond the stage as improvisers, we pride ourselves on the key skills improv gives us to use beyond the stage. Communication skills, listening skills, the power of ‘Yes and”, adaptability, community, resilience etc. And its vitally important now more than ever that we put those skills to good use for betterment of both the artform we love and the value and happiness it brings us individuals.
Rebooting the Improv Machine
Performances aside, the importance of community remains in integral part of improv and no pandemic is going to change that. Talk to improvisers who participate in Zoom and many will speak of the joy of just getting to play with friends, even within the limitations of Zoom. In fact, one of the huge benefits we are seeing in all this is how national borders have disappeared as we cross share local events with the international community. Very recent, I organised a Parody International Improv Awards Ceremony as part of Tightrope Dublin. The event attracts participants from well beyond Ireland, the U.K., Sweden, India, Greece and both coasts of the USA. This is not a unique phenomenon. It’s becoming a great opportunity to get know international improvisers and play with them.
Other theatres and improvisers are embracing the challenge and putting the skills to good use. The Maydaysand the Nursery Theatre in the UK seem to be leading the pack with regularly weekly drop in workshops and performances. P-Graph in Austin have daily shows. Jay Sukow is doing so much online I don’t think he ever goes to bed! There are no facebook groups for highlight jams and shows. There was even an online improv festival! There is a lot happening with variety for everyone.
But of course, there is the eventual point raised about the quality of content. A fair point but a graciously facetious one at that.
This is improv. A fluid art form where no two shows are the same. We all have done shows that range in quality. We all know what’s its like when we introduce a new format. What is constant throughout is the support from our communities. The people who come to our shows, and our friends who talk to us before and afterward offering encourage and support. This hasn’t changed in principle; the only difference now is we do it over the internet.
It is a strange reality and we do need to explore the format more until we reach a level that makes us comfortable with the standards we set ourselves. But that shouldn’t mean withdrawing from an art form that has brought us so much love over the years. Remember that improv mantra, “Don’t worry we’ve got your back, focus on supporting your teammates”? Is there a way we can implement this now off the stage?
Nicholas Berger wrote an excellent article talking about what some folks in theatre in going through during the crisis and much of it applies to improv too.
Tips & Tricks
So having watched much of the online content, produced some content and facilitated workshops over Zoom, I have put together some tips that you may find useful as we meander this strange new world.
- Your Community needs you. Park expectations of quality and start playing with people you know and don’t know. Find that spark again. You’re aren’t the only one hurting at present and I promise, if you allow for a period of adjustment you will find the love again. Focus on the fun, not the format.
- Stop trying to recreate what you do on stage over Zoom. That’s impossible. Instead think about how you can use this new ‘stage’. Its more akin to acting on screen than acting on stage. Therefore, how you can use the space? Thinks to consider:
- Stop sitting down. Stand up and have some space to move around
- Props and outfits? Experiment with it, help set the scene
- Backdrop on your living room wall doesn’t have to be all we see. Change it up a bit.
- Play with physicality. How can being closer or further from your camera impact the character, emotion and status of your character?
- Utilise the functionality. Zoom has breakout rooms, you can hide participants when they switch off their cam, you can rename yourself. There are other handy in-room features too.
- Don’t use Zoom virtual backgrounds. Unless you have a high-powered PC, it will look awful.
- Go easy on yourself. It’s a difficult time for us all. It’s also temporary. But while we live it know that we miss you and we miss playing with you. Together we can find the fun again.
To the improvisers striving to bring improv to the masses, I salute you. You are doing what improvisers do best, following the fear and doing it anyway. And those of you waiting at the sidelines, we miss you, we will be here when you are ready to join us.