We Tried: Improv – Improvisation with Impro ACT

Since I had tried an acting class, another theatrical challenge seemed obvious: improvisation. The prospect of working completely without the safety net of a script was a little intimidating but I arrived at the beginners’ class, led by Impro ACT’s Nick Byrne, willing to give it a try.

I came in late – it was the third weekly class – but the 15 or so other participants were friendly enough and we began with a series of fast-moving games to learn each other’s names and loosen up – an easy, informal introduction to the night.

Then came the first really improvisational exercise: we broke up into groups of five, formed into diamond patterns and the “head” of the diamond, facing forward, led the rest in dance moves that the rest of us followed. When the “head” decided to relinquish control, he or she turned left and the person on the left became the new “leader”, not able to see the others but controlling their movements. A twist came when Nick told us we could move about and follow any other leader: something resembling chaos ensued. It was tiring, but in its way goofily enjoyable.

Then came an exercise closer to what I had been expecting all along with improv, enacting improvised scenes. We broke up into groups of four and two of us became actors “onstage” and the other two “offstage” were commentators (the roles were then swapped). My scene partner was Nicholas and our first scenario was simple: “painting a house”. No talking, no further instructions, just go to it.

The idea was that we would move, in slow motion and the offstage folk – one for each of us – would describe what they thought we were doing and we would have to adjust our actions according to what they said, regardless of our intentions, not worrying about the past or the future, just going with the present moment to create a scene. Speaking for myself, however, nerves, a feeling of sensory overload, and lack of experience meant it didn’t really pan out like that. As Nick said afterwards, “The enemy of improv is trying to be good – everyone tries to be good instead of trying to be open to change.”

Canberra Times Journalist Ron Cerabona tries an improvisation class, with Phoebe Black.

Canberra Times Journalist Ron Cerabona tries an improvisation class, with Phoebe Black. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Finally, Phoebe and I were partnered in an exercise where we silently “sculpted” each other as statues – folding legs, twisting arms, turning a head this way and that, making each other bow and bend. Nick noticed I found such close physical contact a bit of a challenge. It’s not the usual way I interact with people.

He said of my experience of the whole evening, “It felt like you were quite nervous going in, then you let yourself fall into it,” which was a pretty fair summation. I don’t think I’m a natural at impro, but Nick says many people do it to meet people and to improve their social skills and I can believe that.

The Verdict: The feeling was certainly welcoming, friendly and fun and there was plenty of variety – both in the range of participants and in the activities undertaken. If you want a lively, icebreaking, social activity that is mentally and physically stimulating this could certainly fit the bill.

Details: Impro ACT’s next semester of classes begin on Monday, October 16 and Thursday. October 19. For more information see: impro.com.au.

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