Tuesday, 20 October 2015
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.
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].
Monday, 17 November 2014
This continues the series of articles inspired by or based on words from the famed improviser and teacher David Razowsky from USA, once the artistic director of Second City, on SCTV, and a prevalent voice in the improv community all around. Having spent some immense moments with the man, it has led to a lot of wonderful results. However, unlike the previous articles, this one shall be aspects that tie tightly with his thoughts. On the podcast, “ADD Comedy with David Razowsky and Ian Foley,” (Razowsky, 2014) the topic of words comes up. In previous writings this has been discussed, although not precisely on the economy of words. Razowsky believes that words are powerful and has various thinkings about the area of discussion that shall be explored. Economic words are an enabler for people.
The exaggerated end, and a bit that appeared in conversation on the podcast, of being economic with words is the concept that people die after x amount of words. The idea is that anyone that talks aimlessly or pointlessly will be taking up their life quota of words. Razowsky speaks about how someone driving around chatting a lot may just suddenly die mid-sentence. The overall message that this can offer is summed up by Steve Job's (News.stanford.edu, 2014), “Your time is limited, so don't waste it... .” Words will stop at some point, maybe not the mystical cause of the definite end, but it shall all stop. Treating words like they matter is important; be concise with your words.
Every word matters. To begin with writers, Melissa Donovan states, “Finding the right word can breathe life into an otherwise lifeless sentence. When we choose words carefully, our writing is clearer and more meaningful.” (Donovan, 2014) Training ourselves to become clearer and more meaningful is a productive task. In comedy, someone once said to put the funny word on the end of the sentence. Obviously that would make sense, as the laugh in the middle will stop the sentence. Even with a statement that is deemed funny; the laugh needs a spark, an end term or conclusive moment to instigate it. Annie Binns (2008) describes it as “...applying the funny word, phrase or sentence at the last possible moment.” Seeking out the best wording is a practice and can be beneficial to general communication.
The term eloquent exists for a reason. From the late fourteenth century Old French eloquent and Latin eloquentem (Etymonline.com, 2014), which means to have the faculty of speech. The act to truly be heard, understood and cause purpose comes from having the capacity to speak. Therefore, being mindful of what is being said will ensure the words found are the best suited to the purpose of what is being communicated.
“Be careful what you say and protect your life. A careless talker destroys himself.” (Biblesociety.org.uk, 2014)
Following on, the proverb given in the Good News Bible offers a further development on the mindful ideal. Words matter and can hurt. The consequence of what you say shall last in memories. Our memories do not help this either. As Kantor created plays about, memories are forever dying (Kantor, 1990). Northwestern medicine proves this:
“Every time you remember an event from the past, your brain networks change in ways that can alter the later recall of the event. Thus, the next time you remember it, you might recall not the original event but what you remembered the previous time.” (Paul, 2012)
As our brains betray us and transform our memories, as Ian Chant (2012) mentions, we will deepen the origin feeling about what someone has said or may have said. A good reason to communicate clearly.
Stopping a sentence mid-sentence can also embody the whole sentence. As long as the half sentence holds the complete meaning... Another thought Razowsky (2014) played a bit about was being able to stop mid-sentence and still be understood. Completing the communication of the sentence being spoken without finishing the sentence can be possible. It is clearly doubtful in writing; however it is a reduced array of tools used in this medium. Through using the listener against themselves, it is viable to make the person assume the rest of the sentence. In embodying the whole meaning in half the sentence the speaker is creating their point with the minimal effort. This does happen in reality, but it goes unnoticed due to being in friendships or with people that know each other well. Something unsaid could be communicated that can also happen in these circumstances. However, when speaking we desire clarity.
Say what is meant. Clearly it is important to be mindful of what is being said and be clear. Subtlety is prone to obvious interpretation. All language is, but when someone is only hinting at the meaning, the problems arise. As improvisers such use of subtleties will ensure the scene partner more work. Improvisation is not work, it is play. Therefore, the contradictions prevail the point that improvisation requests clear meanings. Say what you mean and the other improviser shall be in a better position to react and respond. Often improvisers 'waffle'. It is a tedious trait that is sometimes taught due to the need to get a lot of detail out at the top of the scene. Spolin's theories on using the 'who, 'what' and 'where' are a useful training tool that will capacitate the scene. A frequent error in teaching is that these are spoken. Physicality beats words. As Jeff Thompson (2011) breaks the old percentages of communication down to the reality; Thompson recapitulation states seven percent of certain situations are the words themselves. Fifty-five percent is body language, which means the details of an improvisers scene are best from non-verbal creation. It also does not bore the audience with 'waffle' at the top of a scene. Johnstone's theory of 'nothing, nothing, something' (Johnstone, 2009) asks the actors to do nothing until that something organically arises. Furthermore, the statement, “...I mean...” is another attribute that improvisers can be prone to develop. Similarly to the 'waffle' issue, this one has been available to read about and hear on podcasts and similar; however, only recently has it been able to witnessed locally. The need to use the phrase “...I mean...” means that the improviser is not endeavouring to be clear. Improvisers definitely wish to portray people onstage, but in everyday life it is not possible to hear it as much as onstage. The potential reason to why this has arrived is the judgement or expectation that is linked to playing in a more complicated manner. Certain methods may put performers into thinking and due to that, they talk without being mindful of what they are saying. Beat the issues by purely saying what you mean.
To be mindful of what we say is important onstage. Talking too much maybe leads to death. If we do have x numbers of words before that moment, then we better be careful; live and play like that is true and real and the words will always be clearer. In doing so we find that the words matter more and we don't just say something for the sake of saying something. Perhaps even getting to a point where we can stop mid-sentence and have a complete … So mean what you say.
Biblesociety.org.uk, (2014). Bible Society - GNB Proverbs 13. [online] Available at: http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/the-bible/search-the-bible/GNB/Prov/13/ [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Binns, A. (2008). The Secret of Writing Funny. [online] Write to Done. Available at: http://writetodone.com/how-to-write-funny/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2014].
Chant, I. (2012). [online] Themarysue.com. Available at: http://www.themarysue.com/memory-distortion-in-brain/ [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Donovan, M. (2014). Writing Tips: Every Word Matters | Writing Forward. [online] Writingforward.com. Available at: http://www.writingforward.com/writing-tips/writing-tips-every-word-matters [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Etymonline.com, (2014). Online Etymology Dictionary. [online] Available at: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=eloquent [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Johnstone, K. (2009). Impro.
Kantor, T. (1990). Wielopole/Wielopole. London: M. Boyars.
News.stanford.edu, (2014). Text of Steve Jobs' Commencement address (2005). [online] Available at: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Paul, M. (2012). Your Memory is like the Telephone Game: Northwestern University News. [online] Northwestern.edu. Available at: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2012/09/your-memory-is-like-the-telephone-game.html [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Razowsky, D. (2014). A.D.D. Comedy. [online] Addcomedy.com. Available at: http://www.addcomedy.com [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Thompson, J. (2011). Is Nonverbal Communication a Numbers Game?. [online] Psychologytoday.com. Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beyond-words/201109/is-nonverbal-communication-numbers-game [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Monday, 7 April 2014
Continuing the series of articles inspired by or based on words from the famed improviser and teacher David Razowsky from USA, once the artistic director of Second City, on SCTV, and a prevalent voice in the improv community all around. I spent some immense moments with the man that has led to a lot of wonderful results. I perform based on his teachings, I teach through some of his thoughts and proclaim the tellings that he once told in conversations to many improvisers. Nonetheless, not all of what I heard from the wonderful man I agree with, and this is what the series shall be about. I get to write these with consent to the concept of the series too. The topic at hand is going to be how Razowsky removes the term try. Razowsky, and many others, believe that we do not try in improvisation, we just do. I preach just do, except I also like the term try.
The history of what happens when Razowsky hears the term try goes back to how he was taught too. In 'Second to None,' 2009, in an interview with Scott Adsit, the answer that is provided is how Second City has taught them how improvisers do not try when they get onstage. Instead of trying to do something, they just do it. In Razowksky's podcast, 'A.D.D. Comedy' (2014), it is a frequent occurrence that the guest is stopped on their phrasing and questioned about if they really try, or another word that is not thought possible by Razowksky. Most times the guest gives into the idea that no one ever tries, you either do or don't. The term try also has its history.
try (v.) c.1300, "examine judiciously, sit in judgment of," from Anglo-French trier (late 13c.), from Old French trier "to pick out, cull" (12c.), from Gallo-Romance *triare, of unknown origin. The ground sense is "separate out (the good) by examination." Meaning "to test" is first recorded mid-14c.; that of "attempt to do" is from early 14c. Sense of "to subject to some strain" (of patience, endurance, etc.) is recorded from 1530s. Trying "distressing" is first attested 1718. To try (something) on for size in the figurative sense is recorded from 1956. (Etymonline, 2014)
Trying has been around for quite some time. The ability to test something out, like the common educational lesson that happens for the young in their schooling careers of trial and error, is an important aspect of life. Everybody in their everyday lives has to attempt to do some task or a method. It is plausible for someone to try to get to work today, as they will only know if they do or don't when they have completed the task with some result. In the UK, we are hindered considerably by the weather to an ever increasing eventuality that poor conditions stops most people doing anything. In the past few years, the snow has closed bridges, stopped workers traveling, reduced the days of school in a given winter term and so on and so forth. In the UK, for unknown reasons, the preparation for such affairs is non-existent. Therefore, in the days of snow or more recent, floods, we cannot be certain. Hence the use and existence of the term try.
Try is not a word that depicts success or failure, it is not a term to associate with a black or white point of view. Try is a process and to attempt to do an activity requires an open mind about its prospects. The Centre for Clinical Intervention (2007) state, “One of the things we have noticed is that people use unhelpful thinking styles as an automatic habit...One of these thinking styles is called 'black & white thinking'.” (p. 1) Furthermore, the idea that without trying, you are left with this way of only having the one extreme or the other. Anxiety BC in 'Thinking Traps' (2013) also progress this by explaining the need to a more real and moderate response. In life we encounter a lot, and most of these are never just one thing; it is often the case that whatever is found is a mix and a merge of complexity. A human can feel a whole web of emotions that cannot be put down to one word. Likewise, a human can experience more than just the success of what they want or the failure.
People seek a simpler life. It is a complex world that we live in; from the growing contradiction, melding of the bourgeoisie and the ruling classes historically to the present day not much has changed (Harman, 2008). People are complicated; it can be overheard frequently that it is desired to have a simpler life, or that he or she doesn't understand me. So much that surround us is complicated, from the development of new words that have been popularised and then accredited into a dictionary, ruining the old game of Scrabble for many (or making it easier for others), to the unchanged and complex needs of the individuals in the human race. In the action to seek a simple existence, we try; this is an indefinite journey.
Trying, in comparison to success or failure, is like aiming for perfection. No one is perfect, it does not exist. One person may deem something perfect, but it is perspecitvely so only. In Hewitt and Flett et al (2003), the problem that this causes can be the psychological distress of regulating self-esteem. Aiming high and setting expectations at a 'challenge' rate (Petty, 2011) for that perfection is a positive and opening sensation that the target holds. It allows us to try to be the best we can. We cannot be perfect or imperfect, as the journey to it remains.
Try is improvisation like people are on a journey through life. The correlation has plenty of connections to what and where try comes into fruition. As people, we do or we don't do, when we do something and instigate the process of the task, we try it out. In any given moment of an attempt, we may be doing well or not. This is not the end of the task, the person that decides the end is the one who started it, based on that person doing or not doing. (An obstacle that is a person of more hierarchical value may attempt to hinder the trial of the unspecified endeavour, but only one person may complete it always.) Everyone improvises their life, life is a journey, so clearly improvisation is one too. Not many improvisers would disagree with that, I think. Mary Scruggs and Michael J. Gellman wrote a whole book on it, 'Process: an improviser's journey' (2008). So every time we enter the stage, we try out or attempt something new: We improvise. The short-term journey we go on together is a live experience of trial and error. With every error we make it great, allowing the process to be hugely positive.
Now it comes to the whether or not removing the word try is truly inline with the positive and open environment that the art form is. A removal of a term is not positive. Negating anyone the opportunity to say a word, like in the podcast aforementioned, is restrictive. So many beautiful languages have died out and become extinct; this is not to do with improv or people enforcing the opinion that the word has little purpose, but it does point out that we lose a lot when we rid ourselves of words. We do not rid ourselves of an offer an improv partner gives onstage. Many do have words they don't like, for example, in improv there is no should have or supposed to; there is in the rest of life. By restricting these, we open up the opportunity of, like Razowsky says, 'getting to' do. By not having to or supposed to, and getting to, we have a positive interaction whereby obligation does not hinder us. In comparison to the removal of trying where we either succeed or fail, with the removal of obligation and offering opportunity, we get a massive contrast.
All references adhere to the relevant copyright laws, whereby given reference to the original source complies with the laws, such as Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).
Etymonline.com. (2014) Online Etymology Dictionary. [online] Available at: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=try&allowed_in_frame=0 [Accessed: 17 Feb 2014].
Harman, C. (2008) A people's history of the world. London: Verso.
Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., Sherry, S. B., Habke, M., Parkin, M., Lam, R. W., Mcmurtry, B., Ediger, E., Fairlie, P. and Stein, M. B. (2003) The interpersonal expression of perfection: perfectionistic self-presentation and psychological distress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 (6), p. 1303.
Petty, G. (2011) Have we got Equality and Diversity right?. [e-book] Institute for Learning. pp. 1 - 22. Available through: Have we got Equality and Diversity right? http://www.ifl.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/24552/Have-we-got-Equality-and-Diversity-right_-download.pdf [Accessed: 17 Feb 2014].
Razowsky, D. (2014) A.D.D Comedy. [online] Available at: http://www.addcomedy.com [Accessed: 17 Feb 2014].
Scruggs, M. and Gellman, M. J. (2008) Process. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press.
Second to None: 10th Anniversary edition. (2009) [DVD] Chicago: HMS Media.
Thinking Traps (2013) [e-book] New Westminster, Canada: AnxietyBC. pp. 1-2. Available through: Anxiety BC http://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/ThinkingTraps.pdf [Accessed: 24 Dec 2013].