Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Master and Veterans

It is nice to be inspired to write an article. It is equally as nice to note the hypocrisy of the articles. In this, the topic shall be what has been written against previously. There are terms in improv that are not productive; common agreed terms that are not useful are 'should' or 'supposed to', because they put pressure and impossible for improv has definites: Obviously nothing has to happen, it is improvised. Nonetheless, the terms that this discusses and have a long-lastingly dislike for are master and veteran. The following will discuss, in a less referenced level than usual, the reasons that link to the previously used words.

Words! In improvisation, the training provides a freedom; it gives opportunity to explore yourself and your language (specifically in context of this article). The words that get uttered are the greatest, even if they are not. Improvisers build on whatever is said and done. After improving from the basics, further courses could well expand this into wider awareness of tone, phrasing and physical speech (any communication that is physical). Essentially, as improvisers that are building more experience and trust in ourselves and each other, people then get to own their words. Therefore, the word improv means something exact. In the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxforddictionaries.com, 2015), the definition of improvise is clear, “Create and perform … spontaneously or without preparation.” However, it also states for improvisation (ibid.), “The action of improvising”. The more appropriate of these definitions that works for the people in the art form is the one for 'improvising'. Due to one needing to refer to the other, as defined by O.E.D it is required that improvisation is in action of something in order to improvise. Therefore, that 'something' can be any action, anything. The word improvisation is a noun, a thing, and the definition relates purely to the action. Therefore, it is fair to suggest that improv is not a thing, but a doing of a thing. Another commonly agreed part of defining improv is by observing that it is all in process. All of humanity, and others, are in process: Our lives are improvised and are a process of birth to death (if not birth to death, then a to b). Improv is not just doing scenes or group games, or any other limited perception. To see further than this we can look at Forced Entertainment, Improbable, Fluxx, Geese Theatre Company and no doubt more.

Improv is an action and not the form. A form is seen to be, “The visible shape or configuration of something.” (Oxforddictionaries.com, 2015) Therefore, the form of improvisation can be scenic, dance, music, art, clown, fool, mask; however, then that is looking more into the subgenre of ‘scenic’, which is fact a subgenre of theatre. It is possible to improvise anything. Even scriptwriting is based in improvisation. A writer could have learnt and use as much structure as the person requires, but in the end the idea has to spontaneously come from somewhere. Once more, that seems a little too pedantic to continue this dissection with. Other verbs have form. For example, walk; when we walk we can walk in various shapes and configurations; it is possible to be in the form of a catwalk. This form has various conventions that can require the way you complete your verb, walking, can be restricted. Similarly, another verb is run; in this action we can run in the form of 100 metres or a cross country race. This is the exact same as improvising, as the forms we can use are numerous.
A master of an activity, skill or area of study has its acknowledged definitions and uses. The common understanding of a master is a person that has the most knowledge on the topic in the room. Therefore, every time one steps into a space, a survey would need to be taken to determine who the master is in that moment. The statement is hyperbolic; however it makes a sensible comment on the use of the term. In accordance to this, it is not wise to call oneself a master, because one cannot know that for sure. On the other hand, The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxforddictionaries.com) states the definition as “a skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity.” This offers a looser use of the term; anyone could be a master in one given location. Nonetheless, for various areas of expertise a master may not well be very skilled. When does one know that they are skilled? It is subjective, as one person's mastered skillset is another's student development.

To use these ideas in more of a context, improv being a process and not a thing means that being skilled at doing so is not possible. Can one master life? Life is also a process. To claim that an improviser has mastered the art form would be stating that they stopped improvising, alike stopped living; no one can currently know if the dead died due to their mastership. Improv is built on risk and change, or purely the 'not knowing'. Phelim McDermott (McDermott, 2008) once said, and this is paraphrased, that if improvisers stop taking the risk and do what they generally do, then they should stop improvising. There is no point in performing the art form if you are no longer learning and discovering because it is visible to the audience. Therefore, not being able to use the term master for improv, as it is subjective anyway, could allow people to rephrase the word's use. An improviser who is skilled at what they do could say that they are a master of what they do. This makes more sense. However, if improvisers master themselves, then we generally call this using their defaults. Using one's defaults is not seen as a positive.

Likewise, to look at the term veteran, The Oxford Dictionary (Oxforddictionaries.com) states, “A person who has had long experience in a particular field” and it must be mentioned that the other definition is the major connotation that was known. To be “An ex-member of the armed forces” seemed like stating that improv is a battle field. Improv is not the art form where we serve our country. It is important to own this ridiculousness. On the otherhand, an improviser who has had a long experience onstage improvising could be anyone. Once more, this term holds a lot of subjectivity. How long is a long experience? There is no answer. Even moreso, someone new to the art form can have more and better insight into the art form than a 'veteran'. Purely out of not knowing the teachings, the person can see clearer as they have nothing to obscure their view. Fundamentally, to use the term on oneself seems like ego. People have them, for sure, but it is not useful.

Hierarchy in improv seems pointless. Anyone can make a comment that holds value, which happens; therefore being a master or veteran is overvalued. Inside the structure that improv generally has around the world, teachers need to offer their students confidence. Along with being a teacher, ego would enter as segment of their trusting atmosphere. Contrastingly, training can hinder and ruin the untainted person when they enter improv. It is possible to look around and see untrained improvisers doing the job. In Bristol there has been various untrained improvisers that have gotten onstage and had an easier or more relaxed time than people that trained and still struggle.

In conclusion, the terms are unproductive. Improvisation is a process and being a master of it would merely determine that person as having stopped improvising. One can only master one's own improvisation and then be a default and predictable, offering the same as usual; this is called devising, therefore. Similarly, being a veteran is subjective. An improviser who needs to be a veteran wants their ego to inflate. Improvisation requires us to be equal, as anyone can give insight anyway.


McDermott, P. (2008). Cooking Chaos.
Oxforddictionaries.com, (2015). improvisation - definition of improvisation in English from the Oxford dictionary. [online] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/improvisation [Accessed 13 Jul. 2015].
Oxforddictionaries.com, (2015). improvise - definition of improvise in English from the Oxford dictionary. [online] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/improvise [Accessed 13 Jul. 2015].
Oxforddictionaries.com, (2015). master - definition of master in English from the Oxford dictionary. [online] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/master [Accessed 29 Jul. 2015].
Oxforddictionaries.com, (2015). veteran - definition of veteran in English from the Oxford dictionary. [online] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/veteran [Accessed 29 Jul. 2015].
Oxforddictionaries.com, (2015). form - definition of form in English from the Oxford dictionary. [online] Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/form [Accessed 20 Oct. 2015].

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