There’s a moment every improviser loves – it’s the moment where everything that is happening on stage is effortless and, at the same time, really good. Sometimes that feeling can happen for several scenes, and sometimes it can be absent for whole shows. To many of us, it’s a mysterious little feeling that, if we could bottle it, would sell for a very hefty sum. Last night, with Marshall and Nancy from Zenprov, Chicago, we came as close as some of us every have to bottling that state of effortless improv.
Their website says the following:
“Zenprov is the brainchild of Marshall Stern and represents a novel way of viewing Improv through the lens of Zen thought while also viewing Zen and Life in general through the unique lens of Improv. Nancy Howland Walker joined him in creating a full six-level curriculum for Players Workshop of the Second City in 2001 based on Zenprov.”
We started the workshop by doing some warm-up stretches and then meditating for five minutes. I’ll say that again – meditating for five minutes. I’ll admit, when they said we were going to do that, the British bit of my brain went “Oh, it’s going to be like THIS is it?” but what we did really cleared my head.
As improvisers we often get in our own way by constantly thinking “what should I be doing next?” or “What did I learn in training that I should be doing here”. I do it all the time and what was so incredibly useful about this workshop was that we learnt about discovering our characters and discovering what happens next in the scene rather than creating it. Discovery vs creation was a big theme and, for me at least, it worked really well. The exercises we did got me out of my head, allowed me to respond with an emotional honesty that my characters often don’t have and very importantly for me, it allowed me to make a group of people laugh without having to try hard.
This workshop didn’t leave us all spaced out. We didn’t all do “low energy” scenes either, despite the meditation bit and the preconceptions that might elicit in some people. What it did for me was give me a sense of freedom in my scenework that I’d encountered before, but had never been able to deliberately elicit for myself.