Improvisational Theatre is an entity with a split personality. It has rules, but it also tells you to throw any pre-conceived notions right out the window and go with the flow. This can be confusing.
Over the last couple of months, I have learned a lot. So much so in fact that I actually perceive storytelling in a completely different manner than I used to. Before, I expected that everything was to be viewed in the big picture…beginning, middle and end. That’s why I have failed for so long in my need to write…I kept looking ahead and didn’t see what was right in front of me. Now, when I approach a writing exercise I work towards envisioning the most miniscule components and building from there. It’s just a matter of Living In The Microcosm.
I pictured this clearly in my head during my class on Sunday. Herbie was having us practice using an exercise called One Minute Of Silence. During this, two actors would be onstage and each are only allowed to say one line during each minute they are working. The rest of the time would be spent in complete silence, working towards continuing a story that way. This can be very difficult to master.
Each moment on stage where you have to express yourself non-vocally can feel like an eternity, especially to actors such as us who tend to like the sounds of our own voices. When you are on stage for five minutes, and can only say ten lines between you during that whole time, you have to find a story, and fill it with as much meat as possible. Every component you add is a microcosm all it’s own…if you only had one story to tell in five minutes of silence it would be dreadfully boring. Difficult to be seen while you are doing it, but if viewed on its own afterwards you can see it all laid out before you.
I also envisioned the individual work between the two actors as a microcosm on its own. As the exercises we were working on were merely for practice it makes sense to do this, but in a real world improv or even dialogue performance, people wouldn’t be sitting around letting these two people fight to find a meaningful story in complete silence. You watch for the panic they will inevitably show on their face and you jump in to save them. That would create a new dymanic, a new component, a new microcosm.