At the end of this month 30 April 20 we are running our first Claqueur Club night. We shall then be holding them on the last Tuesday of the every month. Club nights are free 40-minute shows followed by an open discussion with the audience. The aim is for players get to know what our audience wants and for our audiences to learn something about the workings of improvisation. I would like our shows to be generally more of a social event,
Each month I’ll post some notes about what we will be doing at the next Club Night. Club Nights are more relaxed performances; they may feel more like open workshops with an audience. I want the players to feel they can take greater risks so sometimes they will be playing new games and formats. Improvisation has to be as entertaining and as enlightening as the best theatre can be, it has to have the same the capacity to inspire, otherwise what’s the point. But it must also take risks.
In our improvisation workshops failure is an inevitable part of the learning process – it’s actually essential to fail. We are trying to change the attitude to failure that we are taught at school and learn to be interested in what it teaches us rather than be terrified of it. We don’t need to spend our time repeating what we can do – what we can do, we can do – we need to be struggle with things beyond ourselves. Stepping into unknown territory is the only way we can become the person and the player we want to become. When we perform we present things we feel most secure about because we want audiences to have good time. But we can often get bigger surprises and greater reward when we allow ourselves to play closer to the edge. We want to take bigger risks on Club nights so the audience can enjoy the successes and learn with us when we slip. There is an excitement and tension in balancing like tightrope walker on the wire, and a thrill of pulling off a good scene or an inspired moment. This side of improvisation is closer to sport than most theatre. Will they, won’t they, win?
Improvisation is used widely in actor training and the rehearsal process, it’s used to develop characters, explore their motivation, and gain a deeper understanding of plays. We are more concerned here with developing improvised performances, literally making it up on the spot before a live audience. We improvise games, scenes, sketches, stories, and next month we will improvising an entire play. Nothing we perform has ever been seen before, nor will be seen again; everything is spontaneous and of the moment. Like the audience the players have no idea about what will happen next.
I am already using terminologies like ‘game’ and ‘format’ and you may have noticed I use ‘player’ and not ‘actor’. These terms refer to philosophies, rules, and instructions that help us creating improvised scenes of varying lengths and complexity known as short form or long form.
People first learn improvisation in workshops playing games, some of which are performable – these would come under the bracket of short form. The TV programme Whose Line exploits many of these games. An example would be ‘The Alphabet Game’ where two players have a conversation, or tell a story and the first player starts his or her sentence with a word beginning with A and the second player with B, and so on until they have worked their way through the alphabet. In training a game like this teaches us to stay in the moment because you can’t prepare what you do next. In performance the rules are sometimes shared with the audience, sometimes not. The Alphabet Game like many others were initially devised in a the writers’ group at the Royal Court Theatre they discovered it improved the quality of scenes when you interrupted the dialogue and slowed the performers down. Scenes felt more real, it gave the illusion that the characters were deep in thought, or in love, or awkward. Audiences were so caught up in the atmosphere it created that they didn’t notice or imagine that the pauses were only caused because the players were working out what letter to start their next sentence with. On Whose Line the audience are told the rule and the games are played more for laughs and to exhibit the players skill. I am much more interested in the texture of scenes, and how it affects the relationships of the characters. I am also more interested in stories than jokes, I don’t care whether a scene is funny or not – so long as holds my interest.
Long Form is any format that connects two or more scenes to create a narrative. An example of a format is ‘The Seven-year Itch’; traditionally played with with three women, three men + a presenter, it can take up to 40 minutes to perform. Then the game consisting of four steps.
- The Dating Site when each of the six players introduces his/her character for approximately one minute as if they are making a video for a dating site. The audience may get to decide which person goes with which.
- The First Date – The respective pairs meet each other for the first time.
- After seven months how are the couple doing?
- After seven-year itch – we see how or if the relationship has survived. As in real life, everything is possible: fights, harmony, enduring together, new happiness…
Of course there are techniques that one has to learn to improvise play short or long form scenes. The basic rule is to to say ‘yes and’ to your stage partner. If your partner says to you: “What a beautiful day Alice let’s go for a picnic?” we would call that an offer to which you say “Yes (and) lets take the dog”. By accepting your partners idea and adding something else we start going on adventures, stories develop.
If you are teetering on the edge yourself about whether or not to try improvisation I recommend you visit a Club Night to get a better understanding of what it is. The Claqueur players are all local people of varying ages, backgrounds and experiences. Because of their common interest in improvisation they have developed basic skills that have improved their listening, and made them more generous and empathetic. Improvisation is not just for performance.
One thing I can guarantee, if you join the group they will look after you, it’s one of the safest environment you can be in.
I shall be hosting the first Club Night the players will be Dan, Scott, John and Chris – they will be playing a long form called Armando, a format that generates comic improvisation. The audience is asked for a word, the players then have to produce a monologue inspired by that word, and then they play a series of scenes based on their content. It’s challenging and they will all be on the edge, right where there should be for an exciting first Claqueur Club Night.
See you there.