I have to say about those days that we shared together that they were absolutely fantastic. The material that came out, was so amazing and the group that we had was so inspiring. The fact that I had so many things going on in my life, physically and emotionally, but still wanting to come and join you everyday means a lot as to the success of this event and this group.
Apart from our moments, I also loved the “strange” people that were coming. Looking at them and their transition from their reality to a staged reality just amazed me.
I believe it is a project that should be repeated even for the sake of gaining more experience from the audience participation and I would like to have the same idea in a different here-space every time, whether this is a church or an open field or a house…
How it works:
By entering audience members find themselves in a performance space where cross-disciplinary improvisation is already going on. Some parts of this space are themed ‘Leave me alone Space’ which they can enter if they do not want to play an active role and solely be an observer. Upon their entrance it is recommended to them that they may want to watch first before joining in actively – to build an understanding of the interplay of people and media. It offers time to grasp the idea of creative communication besides the basic rule that one can enter and exit the space (from active into passive or vice versa) at any point.
The team of improvisers have two commitments as soon as an audience is present – to maintain their own improvisation besides making offers to audience members to participate in the space. Placing those offers well means that us as improvisers communicate creatively with care and precision because each audience member has their own limits, barriers, fears and objections, to enter the space. At no point an audience member should feel like they have to enter. Once one or more audience members join the space actively the work for us improvisers is taken to a new level that is to facilitate the play of the audience members, maintaining their freedom to stream their imagination through creative action because even though we have invited them into the space with a creative proposition we then orientate our improvisation along their actions which are defined through their personalities. At the same time we use improvisation not only to facilitate their explorations but to frame them for others who observe. How we frame them is entirely up to the moment and context but there are certain aspects I found most interesting to frame which is their, the audience’s, sincere approach to creatively engage and to show them as the people they are, not as performers but people who want to engage and play.
For clarification purposes: to follow an audience member does not exclude propositions from our side because an improvisation is always a following and proposing at the same time depending on how it is viewed. It may take time for an audience member to fully immerse themselves and hence they may want propositions from our side that they can join in even after they have entered the space. Ideally I would like an audience member to gradually move/grow into action, letting go of self consciousness by moving towards what has been described by previous participants as a state of trance. Once they drop out of this ‘trance’ or a committed ‘engagement’ they then find themselves able and willing to exit the space on their own behalf. However this ideal serves as an orientation for ourselves in order to understand what we, as improvisers, are aiming for. Any audience member will have their individual timing along this scale, might never enter the space actively or enter straight away and never leave. Those are the two extremes with an infinite range of options in between. Everything and anything is welcome.
Entering the space means entering communication. The choice to be passive is a valid choice of communication The choice to sing, dance or draw reflects how we subconsciously veer towards certain languages that enable intersubjectivity and communication. HERE NOW is a pointer towards how we communicate and how much we allow ourselves to communicate or interact with our environment. It is a project about locality, starting from our body as the basic means of communication, a filter for movement and sound and strong visual referencing – a testing ground to explore how and how far we can reach out, how we impact our immediate environment and how we are moved by it; …because a “bodily experience in our disembodied society is not so easy to access” (Groundworks, Narratives of Embodiment, Johnson Don Hanlon, North Atlantic Books California 1997) this project is supposed to be a gateway for visitors to remember and revisit places of genuine explorations of the self versus environment – also: language.
Having talked to a wide range of practitioners who work with improvisation I repeatedly emphasised how the proposition of joining many media (instead of working in one alone) allows an audience member at first (when entering) to communicate through a language that seems most connected to their personality and background; there is a choice of language, even though that is likely to be a subconscious one and certainly heavily influenced by education and habit. Particularly in London I find that many people have some level of creative practice included in their lives which will allow them to engage through a familiar media i.e. music for the one who sings in a choir while at the same time witnessing how their creative input triggers responses in other media (although people without creative background still share at least one language that will equip them to enter)… for example we had musicians entering who then shared some time and space with a dancer or actor and due to the openness of the space, movement of dancer, actor and musician related, as well as their sounds, looks and energy. The freedom to drop into more unfamiliar media is especially then made use of when people are fully engaged, submerged, immersed – also trusting. It is then that the the ability to watch or control oneself decreases.
It is also the aspect of dealing with many media at once which blurs the boarders of languages. Since responses are to a high degree instinctual and immediate – and if we give ourselves permission to observe how languages intertwine and relate – we will find ourselves perceiving a multitude of languages that are somehow connected and our response therefore can be just as varied. Languages are currently boxed in – we think of speech and movement separately for example. In HERE NOW we open the boxes – spoken language is also movement is also sound is also visual … constantly shifting and referencing each other, playing with our understanding of it. Once unboxed we are less able to distinguish them, we loose recognition because we loose definition and with it the ability to trace and remember. Observation is then difficult because the input is highly multiple and also we lack definitions/ boxes in our minds although on another level we are filled with clarity which is possibly not much more than a clear impulse to follow something that is happening there and then. And that is what I call committed engagement and I believe that the more we achieve interconnectivity we automatically move towards letting go of control and distancing oneself (also a position of judgement) into presence.
During HERE NOW at the Albert we experimented with having a very small number of audience, meaning we would have a group of 5 max which allowed audience members to enter more freely since less or no observers were in (in case everyone was participating). It was a very informal setting and participants were most of the time fully immersed in free play unless they made a conscious choice to stay on the periphery to observe for some of the time. It never felt like anyone stayed out based on a feeling of uneasiness to join. Rather it would take them time to find a way in, to find a place amongst the existing players or to get hold of a proposition in order to grow in. Sometimes people would step out, out of curiosity to experience an outside view.
I believe that the position of ‘out’ in terms of being distanced and disconnected, is possible when there is a group of people staying out. If just one person stays out, it becomes just another place in the room where you don’t need to come up with something. It is not a fixed position because the prospect of joining in always exists and is always perceived – posing an ongoing enquiry where to place oneself – with the placement as observer being a momentarily position only. It is interesting to note that I knew of two audience members who said before the event that they would not join in which seems to imply that their mind and intension was set and not to be changed. Both of them joined after a while which I interpret as either their statement prior to the performance was in place to cover themselves in case they would not manage to participate even though they wanted to, or that even though they were set on staying out they could not escape anticipating the ongoing possibility to join in with the result of giving in to our propositions because it became the more entertaining or fulfilling option of being part of the event.
The largest audience we had was about 30 people strong. We then had to deal with many more participants and therefore it became impossible to maintain personal relationships with all of them rather we constantly pulled our audiences into collective frames.
In general as improviser one has to maintain an awareness of the whole space instead of trailing off into a personal ‘one on one’ that has little awareness of the whole space. And with a small number of participants there is a greater danger for that to happen as we experienced at The Albert; unconnected private stories producing a fragmentation of performance space… unless intended. However, the more capacity we hold to communicate with participants personally, the more we are able to facilitate their flow of play. With let’s say 20 people in the space participants were left to their own devices, were less taken care off. As a consequence we experienced that audience members were suddenly at loss about what to do and how to engage. That can be an interesting aspect, (needing to be more self reliant and supporting as an audience member), but it defies the chance to loose oneself in free play unless you are already a very unbound person (which, looking at London´s aloof stereo type is less likely). In addition there is a now a group of observers which produce self awareness for those actively engaged and people start to perform rather than to drop their performance – if that makes sense.
Looking at the term performance:
I would like to argue that not only performance is defined through having at least one person watching but that it is about someone being aware that someone is watching you from a distance. ‘Watching from a difference’ means that someone is engaging with you not 100% but remaining just that little bit apart (at least) where instead of mutually sharing an experience someone is watching your experience making up thoughts about you and producing a judgement.
A major ethos of improvisation in terms of making it work is: you place your focus outside of yourself into your environment and on others to inform your actions. You engage 100% with what surrounds you (not on everything to the same degree but generally outside of yourself, generally but totally), that way you merge with your surroundings and you will be moved by it – you will respond and act accordingly. This tool for improvisation serves to diminish self consciousness that we nowadays have to get on with. The society we live in, we perform most of the time…
In HERE NOW we facilitate ‘being engaged’ by proposing an open exploration of one’s environment. We challenge the audience to merge and give up their critical distance stance. And in some way we ask them to not only stop expecting a performance but to stop performing as well – through engaging – and while they do that, we frame them for others to watch ‘engagement’.
It is clear to me now that a group of 10 – 15 people would be ideal. Less than that amount would produce an amazing treat but unfortunately somehow finances play a role too and having less than that would cost an audience member more.
Another interesting aspect is that the space we used was open planned, bright and therefore vulnerable towards outside eyes. If one would do the same thing in a bar where there are more niches, darker spots and hiding places – possibly audiences would feel less intimidated. But that is something to try out.
Then there is time: of course this can be very long but maybe 45 min suffice in people getting the gist, having a play and being content enough to leave or to be channeled out for others to come in and join. We did have people in for hours, people who came back for up to 4 days which I consider the most flattering compliment and sign of success and above all that this project is meaningful.