posted by: Kirsten Collins
Guy Dartnell’s Improvised Storytelling was attended by a varied crowd. Some seasoned performers, some novices, the naturally outgoing, the not-so-naturally outgoing. The workshop suited everyone.
We introduced ourselves, played a few rounds of tag, and then we made-up stories. The workshop was gentle, taking us through one basic exercise one step at a time. To recreate this workshop at your next dinner party or summer job as camp counselor, here is the play by play:
Introductions. We circled up, each said our name, then went around again, slower. Guy then pointed randomly to people, and if we remembered their name we called it out.
Walk around the space. We walked around the space, making eye contact with each other. We each picked two people, and without letting them know, tried to keep them equidistant apart from ourselves. Then, after a while, tried to stay very close to one while staying as far away as possible from the other. Our group ended up split evenly, and huddled in two corners of the room. It was cute.
Cat and mouse. The cat chased everyone else (mice) around the space. Cat tags you, you became the cat. To escape you could a) run away, or b) yell out someone else name (Susan!). Then they (Susan) became the cat. Good times, and good for getting to know each other.
Hug tag. Someone is “on it.” So, “I’m Kirsten, and I’m on it.” Then Kirsten chases everyone around. Tag someone and they become “it.” To escape, either a) run away, or b) hug someone. This introduced a savior element, the chance to rescue someone by rushing in and hugging them. Two-person hugs, 3 seconds max. Three-way hugs are totally tagable. Introduced physical contact and established camaraderie.
Stand and become aware. Closed eyes, turned awareness inward. Then paid attention to surroundings. Then tried to do both at once.
Storytelling. We partnered up, linked arms, and told stories, each alternating one word at a time.
Somewhat tedious, and challenging. It was slightly frustrating for such a simple task to be so difficult. I kept thinking in full sentences, wanting my partner to be thinking the same sentences, and getting caught-up because I couldn’t think out a script in my head. But it got easier even with just a few practice rounds. After making up a few-minutes-long story, we stopped and shared reactions. Then we changed partners and tried it again. We worked with this exercise for the remainder of the workshop, each time with a new bit of information to think about. “Try to notice what tense you use to tell the story.” “Try telling a story in the present tense. ‘I am walking through the forest, and I sit down on a nice log.’” “Try telling a story with actions.” “Try to pay attention to your partner’s tone of voice.” “Try to follow your partner’s tone of voice.” Eventually we were telling a story and acting it out at the same time, still arm-in-arm, alternating words.
We talked about the urge to censor ourselves, to think of a word, and then stutter, trying to think of a more interesting/unexpected/funny word. Or, stuttering to think of a word that doesn’t reveal a disturbing or otherwise inappropriate part of our imagination. Guy pointed out a natural tendency to destroy what was created. “I am walk up to a door. But the door is locked! I go to another door. It is also locked! All the doors are locked!” It would be much simpler to just let yourself walk through the damned door. Then something can happen.
Be average. This was my favorite take-home message of the workshop. I’d been exposed to the improv mantra of “free your mind, don’t think just act, say yes to everything.” But, in previous workshops and classes, it seemed this censorship-free attitude was meant to result in blurting out unexpected phrases or movements, taking the story in a wacky place: “Look out! I’m going to thwack you with a cabbage! Now I’m having sex with the cabbage!” Ha ha ha. Guy’s instruction to “just be average” was incredibly freeing, and made the exercise work much better. In this situation by being average, and making obvious choices, the interest comes not from the crazy depths of your imagination—the simple act of two people spontaneously telling a comprehensible, follow-able story that fulfills the audience’s anticipation is “fantastic.”
Not an improv-type by nature, I was impressed by how comfortable I felt in this workshop. 99% of the time was spent with a partner, and since we were all doing the activity at once, there was no audience pressure, no waiting for your turn and building up anxiety. And since we only worked with one exercise, I felt like I was getting the hang of it, noticing my need to control the situation, and gradually subverting that need. Each slight change offered a new dimension to discover and explore. Plus, if you go to Travels With My Virginity (which you should, because it’s absolutely delightful), you’ll see that Guy Dartnell has quite a mellow, friendly presence. He didn’t have expectations to fulfill, he just suggested that we play around and see what happened.
And, I must add, that the Institute is a really wonderful component of the TBA experience—pages 74-88 in your catalog should not be skipped over! The chance to see an artist at work, and to work with an artist (perhaps along side of other TBA performers) really fleshes out the week. And, I look forward to having 20 or so familiar faces to say “hi” to in the lobby, or to just smile at and know that we played Hug Tag together.