This fragment contains the entire first chapter, yet uncorrected for English. My goal is to keep it all brief and clear: every chapter will be just two pages or less. 

“The flow” and how to get there

All improvisers know it, and we all want it: to get into the “flow” or into the “zone”. I prefer “flow” because it suggest that something flows from one improviser to another and to the audience and back. It suggests connection.

And to me, that is exactly what “the flow” is: connection.

Connection is key to any performance art, be it music, theatre, storytelling, but especially improv. As an improviser you can have connection to almost anything.

  • Connection to the floor (you can very often tell a professional actor from an amateur just by the way they stand)

  • Connection to your character (one of the fundamentals of acting)

  • Connection to the other characters

  • Connection to the other improvisers (which is something entirely different)

  • Connection to the audience

  • Connection to the fictional space around you

  • Connection to the real space around you and the lights

  • Connection to the feelings of the character

  • Connection to the story

  • Connection to the “games” that are being played outside or inside of the story

  • Connection to your own feelings and thoughts (those of the actor, not the character)

  • Connection to the style you are playing in and the language you are using

  • Connection to the music

  • Etc. etc.

Watch any bad improv show and you will see very little or no real instances of mentioned connections. Watch any good show and you will see actors that know where and how they stand, are in touch with their characters and each other, committed to the story and the situation, often with true emotions – which are probably hilarious at the same time – and natural and convincing reactions to anything that happens in the room, both on and off stage.

There probably is a limited number of connections you can have at once. Playing in the flow does not mean that all connections are there, but enough.

What I have noticed over the years, is that there are three basic connections that, if made, will make it so much easier to make many of the other connections, often even effortlessly. Those three “basic connections” are:

  1. Connecting to the floor – also known as “grounding”.

  2. Connecting to yourself – also known as “being in touch with yourself”.

  3. Connecting to your character – also known as “acting”.

Grounding helps you have a basic neutral posture from where you can build characters. It makes you stand firm as an actor, so you have control over your body and the situation. Some people have it naturally. Others, mostly intelligent people who have intellectual jobs, have much less of it. It may require physical training, which is hardly possible out of a book; but it is a mindset, too. If you feel you are not physically grounded before you play, you could ask a yoga or other physical teacher to help you find exercises that help you to find that feeling of being alert, calm, ready and steady.

The second connection, connection to yourself, requires sensitivity to what is going on in your body and mind. Your body and mind are the only tools you have as an actor, so being aware of them is where you should start. Many beginning players, but quite some advanced players too, have (un)conscious thoughts whilst playing that block their potentials, like “this is weird”, “something should happen, this scene is going nowehere”, “Martha is so good, everybody will see how bad I am”. They are fidgeting their fingers without noticing because their nervousness needs a physical outlet. They are drifting around the stage instead of just standing. They go into their heads out of fear of losing control.

When you connect to yourself it doesn’t mean that these unintentional thoughts and movements are magically gone – they may never disappear. Connecting to yourself means that you are Zen enough to realize what you are doing. It means becoming aware of your conscious and unconscious behaviour. And, in a next step, stop fidgeting by giving the energy that causes it a new focus. Basically it means being aware of what your body is doing and what it is conveying, and altering it if needed. It’s giving your attention to the here and now, and to yourself, and trying to do so without condemning yourself if you fail. (To some that last part is the hardest. Which is fine. Don’t condemn yourself if you find yourself condemning yourself. Meta-self-condemning is where it gets damaging. Self-condemning is just nature.)

 

That, to me, is connecting to yourself: awareness and, eventually, control, of what you are actually doing, thinking and feeling.

These first two connections (A and B) are also very typically things you might want to work on during warm-ups before shows.

The third connection, connection to your character, is what this booklet is mostly about: acting.

Having the first two connections tremendously helps achieving the third one more easily. And the third one helps to get to most of the other connections I mentioned much more easily. Luckily, it also works the other way around: any connection you make during playing is bound to strengthen other, related connections.

Let’s see why and how.

© 2019  Roemer Lievaart/QQleQ Dramaprodukties