by Jon Nguyen
Recently I had to choose between two Improv events, one in Chester and one in Nottingham. Both with fairly similar structures, two amazing improv teachers I respect greatly, from the West Coast of America Michelle Gilliam and Vanessa Anton. Nottingham is physically closer to where I reside in Norwich and far easier to get to. So why did I choose to go to Chester? Well, this was, as it turns out, for a couple of reasons. One was that the one in Nottingham fell on my birthday and I had a dear friend coming to me on that date. Though this gives way to another reason. I knew there would be people on the Chester version I had only ever met online. The metaphorical light at the end of the pandemic tunnel is edging closer. The Maydays are performing once again at Komedia and soon at the May 2022 Brighton Fringe.
But when we were in the midst of lockdown across much of the globe, I took to the world of online improv. Though a different beast to that of improv in shared physical space, it fulfilled that need I had to connect with people. Improvisers specifically, as I found improvisers were full of joy and as a general rule sought connection. Thus I was lucky to find a community online that wanted to connect. This is where I met Michelle and Vanessa. I grew in awe of their ability and attitude. So when it was announced they were coming to the UK I booked my hotel and waited for the tickets to go on sale.
There was a truly magical moment was when I locked eyes on those I had met online and had grown to love as human beings. And when consent was granted, a hug of epic proportions occurred with each and every individual and rushes of endorphins soon followed. Whether knowingly or not, my body craved that connection. Not everyone is a hugger, but for me whether on stage or off it, we seek a connection. To our fellow performers in the group, to the audience who watch it and to a sometimes scary world.
It’s good to be reminded that many of us, at our root level feel a similar way. We may not express it in the same way perhaps. I, for example, am a hugger in real life. But I know people who do it by smiling, others who do it with words and there are those who do so through writing. All and more are valid ways to connect. What does this mean on stage? Well if you can show an audience that there is both a genuine connection as performers and that the scenes you do reflect that, then you my friends have a recipe for a good time.
This is rarely achieved without work though, and we have all heard people ask why do you rehearse, it’s improv? One of a myriad of answers for me is that, we learn each other’s languages of connection in those rehearsals. We know where we can push boundaries and where to draw back. And our ways of connecting are rarely static. It can be daunting work, to begin with, with early moments of being vulnerable and trust being tentatively offered outwardly. Taking classes certainly helps with this, you’ll often hear teachers advise you to look at your partner, to mirror them, to listen to them. All these are ways of connecting, not just a way to check-in or some abstractly adapted theatre exercise. Maybe you knew this already and maybe you needed reminding, I certainly did when I started to write this blog.
Thus I encourage you to let your teammates know how you want to connect with them.
Tell your friends and family how important that connection is to you.
Show your audiences what it is to be connected
And when you are ready, show the world you are part of it.