This was my 6th Maydays residential in Dorset. Like most of the Maydays, I teach several days a week, but there is definitely something unique about Osho Leela. I love to be out in the sticks, walking to my class across dewy grass, past last night’s still-smouldering bonfire and always a short walk from a privet maze.
At Osho Leela, every class needs to be self-contained so that – like a Choose your Own Adventure book – students can take any journey through the program and it will still make sense. Big group warm-ups happen at the start of the day, so each 1.5 hour class gets right down to it from minute 1.
On Thursday I wanted to offer a class that would equip the students for the rest of their time at Osho Leela. You are sometimes in a class with people that have a very different style to you or have a lot more/less experience. I decided that the best thing to teach was a toolbox of ways to deal with that gap.
I Need a Hero, then. It’s the first time I’ve taught this class and it’s a bit of an experiment. We start by playing some group story games, doing scenes where the crazy person is a genius and over-agreeing with everything because everything is brilliant. We’re enjoying it, but I’m suddenly worried that I don’t know where I’m going with this. What’s the big headline for this class? Everyone knows that they need to support the other person, that’s all improv IS, right?
We try some scenes where one person does whatever they want and their scene partner tries to make them look great. It’s hard work. One of my class asks a question. Apparently someone in their troupe bulldozes them all the time. I have someone play the Bulldozer and we work out some solutions and tactics. They’re bulldozing because they’re scared, because they don’t trust you. Reassure them, mirror and have a high energy scene. It works, I learn stuff too. Another hand goes up. “There’s someone in my troupe who hardly says anything”, “I work with a guy whose body is totally closed off”, “This girl always plays negative”. We keep on like this. What do I do when I get denied? I justify. What do I do when I’m getting nothing back? Make nice big inclusive offers. How do I stop this one girl walking through my furniture? Put your set somewhere that doesn’t interrupt the whole stage/make her a ghost or a hologram/make sure she sees what you’re doing.
I realise the point of my own class. It’s not about tactics, it’s about respect and trust. It’s not ‘dealing with inexperienced improvisers’, it’s that every offer your scene partner makes is the right one. Rather than being annoyed that a total beginner stepped into your scene, you get to practice even harder at being the best support in the world. If you handle it that way, they will look great, like a genius. If they do the same for you, improv is the best art form in the world.
As I’m walking over the dewy grass to join the dinner queue (still smiling about some of the scenes), I realise that my class was doing for me exactly what I was trying to teach them; support. I wanted to offer them a way of helping their buddy, I got lost and they just showed me what they wanted to learn. I needed a hero and we made each other look like geniuses.