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Occupational Improv

On Tuesday Out of Character ran a workshop for a group of Occupational Therapists.

Christian and myself led the workshop with assistance from Robin, Nathan, Sharon, and overseen by Gemma. Warm-ups involved Name and Action, Pass the Object, and What Are You Doing? All games that intended to get the group feeling relaxed, light-hearted and creative.

What Are You Doing? involves one person performing an activity in the centre of the group, then, when asked the eponymous question, they have to respond with a completely unrelated activity from the one they are performing, which the questioner has to take-up and perform. Following this I got the group to work in pairs to tell one-another a story. The only rule was they had to pass the story over at an appropriate point, and the receiver had to begin their part of the story with ‘Yes, then…’ and so continue the story before passing it back.

Both of these games involved having to ‘accept’ the intent of the other person. This is an important concept in improvisation, since it helps the creative progression of a performance. A brief discussion ensued about the ease or difficulty of the task, aswell as hearing about the unusual locations and characters that people met – George Clooney, shark rides, and multi-dimensions anyone?!

With this in mind we proceeded into Freeze Tags. Two people perform a scene, and at an opportune moment a non-performer shouts ‘freeze’, enters the scene and tags one of the performers (who are now holding their positions) to replace them and continue the scene in a different direction.

I think elements of the workshop went well, but it seemed the OT’s found it easier to do the story exercise since they could talk in pairs and not have a constant audience watching every word. Warm-ups like What Are You Doing? were successful because they were fairly straightforward and finite. Even though they had to stand in the centre of a circle with everyone watching, they knew they had to perform/mime one action before being asked to leave. A game like Freeze Tags is more intimidating because it relies upon progressing a performance, and you can fear not knowing what to say or what direction to take the scene. And yet it’s not dissimilar to the ‘Yes, then…’  story-telling technique. It relies upon notions of ‘accepting’ and trusting the other person. A performative tennis game in bouncing off of one another andhopefully leading to a rally rather than being aced by the other player.

Performing can be intimidating at the best of times and especially if you are not used to it. The OTs probably didn’t know what to expect, and there is a different intensity to be asked to improvise as opposed to taking five minutes to devise a scene. Perhaps we were asking too much of them in too short a time. Learning to ‘accept’ rather than ‘block’ takes time and our exercises might have been all too brief.

One OT remarked, ‘I shouted FREEZE, but then regretted it because I didn’t know what I was going to do when I got up there.’ Others seemed to agree. We discussed that this isn’t such a bad thing, and that you should trust yourself – and the other performer – once you step into the scene; and that you don’t have to know everything that you are going to do. I also wondered if they felt a pressure to be funny or entertaining, which isn’t necessarily the point, and so were more reluctant to enter into the spirit of the game. Yet I think the fact they knew one another would have been advantageous, and would have found its own humour and validity amongst the group. Anyhow, well done to those that dared get up in front of everyone (and those that I gave gentle nudge to!)

The workshop concluded with a viewing of our Tales from Out of Character documentary DVD, followed by a brief Q&A. I hope everyone went away a little entertained, a little more informed, and felt that it was interesting way to spend a morning.

Mark