Our most recent scholarship winner, Rosanna Stevens, gives us a frank and first hand glimpse into the emotional, physical and psychological journey that an Improv Festival can take you on. In the second part of a two part series, Rosanna talks about how her outlook began to change and what she took away from the whole experience.
Maydays Spring Intensive Improv Festival
The Game of the Scene
Every evening, The Mayday’s performed a show. On the third night, an improviser called Angie sat next to me in the audience, and laughed at what she saw on stage. It was unapologetically delighted – the kind of noise that pulls you from your own moment to admire someone else in theirs. It was as though the sound of her laugh had transformed the room: suddenly I was watching everything, like a stranger to it all. In front of me a team of improvisers performed dressed in black and white. One of them mime-skinned the air, which they explained was a vole being prepared to become a glove.
Then I scanned the audience – eyes unblinking, faces collectively rested in a gentle wonder at the plot woven before them. When I watched everyone from outside, nothing in the scene was funny – nothing was anything more than it plainly was: an interplay of explainable things between viewers and doers. But everyone, collectively, was making the world on stage real. The room’s walls and floorboards, the music, our bodies and the vole skin, were electric with imagination, and not a single heart in the room was breaking their commitment to the scene. Belief hung like thin gold threads, connecting and blanketing each of us. We were glistening with it. The game of the intensive, and of improve, and of eliminating wobbles, was belief. And with that, I began to play.
As improvisers, we practice and share tools to improve the game of belief we can offer each other and our audiences: better object work, deeper emotional commitment, practising setting up the what, where, who of a scene, learning to find the game of a scene, and exceptional musical accompaniment are all tools that can help craft a thicker fabric of belief on stage. But there’s also the game of belief we play with ourselves, and each other.
For the remaining three days of intensive, I thought about the stories I was telling myself. When I believed that I could do improv and I took risks, two things could happen: I could fail, or magic might unfold. If I failed and I believed that this was indicative of inherently sucking, a wobble would consume me. If I failed and believed that I could learn from that failure, the wobble seemed to diminish. I began to recognise that failing was only a situation not meeting my expectations – so if I let go of expecting anything other than learning, the game of belief amplified itself and always led to delightful moments of discovery.
So here’s what I learnt at The Maydays Spring Intensive Improv Festival. Find people whose methods of belief resound with yours, in the way they breathe and react, laugh and talk and think. Then play the game of belief with them. Befriend them, perform with them, cook with them, employ them, work for them, love them, fight with them, lead them and follow them. Believe in them. See what they need in the scenes of their lives and make offers. Step into a moment alone, and see who joins you. It won’t be perfect; there will be magical scenes, and sometimes, beauty and lessons will come from imperfections and mess in your game. Players will come and go. Ideas and values will clash, and fear will obstruct your delivery. What you believe and accept will change. What you want will alter. There will be wobbles. But through the game of belief, you’ll build the story of a life, just like we do on the stage. That is the everyday magic you wield, when you live as an improviser.
On the final day of intensive, I fought to play the game of belief, but my wobble caught me, and I couldn’t seem to escape it. I cracked easily on stage, and I was hesitant to enter a scene. I could see myself – in the anthropological way I saw the audience and the players during The Maydays show. I didn’t believe that I was enough. But there was something different about the nature of the wobble now. It sucked immediately, but it mattered less. Belief can outlive a wobble, if you choose to believe it.