In the last few months during the corona-virus lockdown, my improv group had to stop. No more courses, shows, and workshops in real life for the time being.
Online conference mediums such as Google Meet and Zoom surged forward in the consciousness of all, and soon my group and I were doing courses, shows and workshops again… online.
I have more than 20 years of experience teaching improvisation to beginners and will admit that I feel I have a good idea of how it goes and what works. Physical exercises to relax and energise the body. Mental exercises to sharpen the mind. Group exercises to create a bonding experience between the participants. Games and formats that are easy to do and universally able to make people relax.
Teaching online? No experience. None. As I participated in our group rehearsals, led my first online workshop and finally, my first online improv course, I found it fascinating which techniques worked online and which didn’t. Some exercises that I would have expected to do well, did do well.
We tried a scene where the participants were both miming the same activity (in their own separate homes of course) but talking about something completely different. Awesome. Looked great and was a totally involving scene, even though I had expected the miming activity in two actual different locations to be distracting. We tried a warm up game where the participants “pass” a sound and motion back and forth according to a few game rules. Terrible. This game, so easy and energising in real life, was confusing and laborious online.
As I continued to teach, week after a week online, what I began to enjoy and discover is that it didn’t really matter that much what exercises worked and what didn’t. The excitement of exploration and discovery was real for me and for the participants. The very nature of improvisation, to commit 100% and just accept both success and failure allowed us to have as much fun online as we would have in real life. Improvisation teaches you to say “I will try” in place of “I can’t” and teaches to jump from the edge of the cliff and trust that you will fly. These are skills and beliefs that transcend the medium of stage or online conferencing. These are life skills that can be used no matter where you go or what you do. Online or in real life.