I began an eight week theater improv workshop feeling intrepidly awkward. I finished the workshop with newfound freedom and feelings of joy and bounty.
This is what I learned:
Improvisation is establishing a pattern or noticing my pattern, and choosing to do something different. The first thing we did in class was to walk naturally. After a bit of that our teacher asked us to make one small change in our gait. This is the basic building block of improvisational process.
Focusing on making my partner look good, making sure I had his or her back, greatly reduced my own self-consciousness. This is an excellent tactic for fostering conversation with strangers and friends.
Aspire to the greatest challenges. Taking risks provides an opportunity to embrace failure and celebrate mistakes. Whenever we got stuck on stage, or during one of the games, our teacher encouraged us to throw up our arms and gleefully declare our mistake with an enthusiastic "whoopee!" I began doing this at home when I burn toast or worse, and while making quilts. It's extremely freeing and effective to let go of self-judgement in this physical way. Try it. Seriously try it.
I don't need to plan ahead. All I have to do is affirm what my partner offers and add one little bit to it. By taking things moment by moment and accepting everything that's offered and building on it --doth make the scene or quilt unfold. Practicing this in the theater class has reinforced my ability to do this with in my improvisational patchwork.
The path where I am least comfortable holds the most promise for discovery and the most opportunity for a dynamic unfolding of the scene. Choose the route that feels "dangerous?" How awesome is that! I'm so tired of living a life where my primary concern is being comfortable. Everywhere I turn culture bombards me with the supremacy of comfort and security as the highest standard by which all relationships seem to be deemed as meant to be, or not meant to be. Okay I will stop my rant right here but let me say that I am moved to tears of gratitude, in this moment as I'm writing, for having the opportunity to participate in a community that affirms one of my deepest values --that discovery is the path to knowing and being known which leads to the gateway of freedom, and freedom is the path to connection, and connection the path to joy.
Damn if I'm not going to have some fantastic kick-ass quilts if I keep this in mind while I'm making them! Which brings me to this quote by quilt maker Arbie Williams:
I’m going to be up to something real dangerous when I get through with this. This quilt done killed two people. --from "Let It Shine: Improvisation in African-American Star Quilts" by Eli Leon.
Fully commit -- to the character and to what has been established in the scene --and follow it whole heartedly. I learned that commitment actually supports flexibility, because with commitment comes whole heartedness. Once I am into something 100% it's easier to be present and flexible. When I committed to the smallest character trait like a nervous hand tick for example, the scene flowed with less effort. There are so many choices to make in a quilt that without commitment there is no flow or integrity, just a constant back and forth that leads to confusion, feelings of being overwhelmed and a mishmash patchwork. Commitment feels and looks so good in comparison!
Of course I discovered so much more than I can put into words. Hopefully the many lessons learned from theater improv will show up in my quilts. I'm joyful to report I'm already feeling some impact on my life and relationships.