A Year of Polarities
A year ago I was preparing to go and play in the ensemble team at IMPRO Amsterdam 2020. This epic festival brings improvisers from across the planet for one magical week of high quality improvised theatre, workshops and party. It was a truly wonderful experience. For me, it was part of an incredible year where my work had taken me to Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Denmark, Scotland and Italy. I lived in airports, I met new fantastic people every day, we did shows, we danced, we laughed, we hugged, we clapped. I loved it.
The final show of Amsterdam was the last time I ever stepped on stage. Who saw that coming?!
Now, a year later, as I sit in here in my top floor apartment in Brighton, England, staring at the rain on that oh-so-familiar window, I reflect on what a year of polarities it has been since the pandemic announced itself so rudely.
POLARITY 1: Shrunken World – Expanded World
Our physical worlds shrunk to the same room, with the same walls every day. Sometimes I’ve felt like a caged animal. Other times I’ve felt supported by the intimate safety of this known space and been happy to hunker down and hide.
At the same time as my world shrunk, it also expanded and flung its doors open to the Whole Wide Internet. Improv – online – ANYWHERE!
Some days the expansion to working online was something I was so grateful for. The ability to reach and connect with other humans. To keep the play alive.
Other days it terrified me. It was too big, too noisy, too many strangers and not enough sensory understanding. There’s a real difference between sharing the energetic buzz in the same room and pinging it out through the lag of screens. Being online felt exposing and vulnerable. My real space was small. The world suddenly overwhelmingly huge.
For many peeps online improv has been right in their wheelhouse. For me, it has felt like trying to fly with my wings clipped. Anyone who has improvised with me in real life will know I’m not generally a sit down, head and shoulders kinda player! I enjoy the fluidity of space, the boldness of expression. Now I’m in a tiny flat where I can be heard throughout (sorry!) and I can’t jump or tread heavily because of the neighbour below. I’ve seen other people ducking under slanted ceilings, crammed into a tiny corner in London whilst creating a scene with someone in New Zealand.
The discrepancy between the size of our actual space and the distance our voices can travel blows my mind.
POLARITY 2: Fear – Wonder
The world is living in a state of fear. I’ve felt more scared this year, on a daily and nightly basis, than ever before. I often wake up with a sense of dread clawing over me like ivy. There’s an unrelenting crushing in my chest and I know now what a panic attack feels like. Everyone has their own versions of the fear. For some people, it has been visceral in-your-face life and death experiences. For some, it is fear for others, parenting, finances, businesses, mental health… you name it. Nobody’s fears are greater or worse than anyone else’s. Everybody has their reasons and everybody’s reasons matter to them.
Yet the limitations enforced have also given me wonder and gratitude for the little things. Being able to step outside and feel the sun on my face. Glorious! A tree. (I’ve literally taken to hugging trees in my local park for some sense of grounding and connection to other living things!) More (zoom) conversations with my parents. I’m grateful for my health, my home, my food, my warmth, my community. The foundation of all human needs. Wonder and gratitude can sometimes be scarce in a hectic life.
POLARITY 3: Rage – Love
There has been an outpouring of fury around the world this year. Rage dominates many news channels and social media. Some of it has been for a damn good reason, some less so. Some of it from me, some of it at me. All of it is heightened by the fight or flight survival state we’re poised in. The global trauma is in our viscera and it is still going.
And yet I have had some of the most treasured moments of connection with people over this time. Honest, vulnerable love and acceptance as the human spirit moves on its instinctive journey to connect and care for one another. I’ve seen a tenderness unveiled in people I’ve known for years and a touching kindness in folk I’ve never even met.
POLARITY 4: Grief – Joy
People I know have died. People I know have been born. Both a testament to the impermanence of it all. Both a reminder to live whilst we can because everything changes. Often when you least expect it.
So when people ask how you are feeling, if you don’t know that’s okay. We swinging through a myriad of polarities from one moment to the next. Sometimes it seems manageable, sometimes it’s really hard. Our job as improvisers is to find the gold, to yes and the ‘mistakes’ and to raise each other up. Of all the artforms surely this one is the most human, we are living moment to moment making it up as we go along.
Who knows what is around the corner. We’re certainly a world away from how life looked a year ago. This year has brought light and dark, struggle and growth, and it will continue to surprise us. In the meantime stay kind to each other, for we are all on various stages of these polarities all the time. Like a good improv scene, treat each other like geniuses and try to stay present, for it is all fleeting.
by Liz Peters