Introduction to my Full Spectrum Improvisation Book

Here’s part of the introduction to my book, TWO WORLDS AT THE SAME TIME: Full Spectrum Improvisation for the Theatre and Life, about Full Spectrum Improvisation, due out by 2017 It’s late December, 2014, and I’m driving across the Bay Bridge in heavy traffic & even heavier rain.  Cars are speeding by me, going too fast for the wet road. I’m nervous. I turn off the news on the radio, not wanting to hear more about the housing crisis and income inequality in San Francisco, where I live. I’m all too familiar with these troubles. I’m cursing the pain in my aging body and obsessing about all the unwelcome events in the last year; my husband’s injuries and illnesses, (requiring a lot of caretaking) my frequent migraines, not enough time for my work, canceled travel plans. And forgetting, as I do, about the good stuff; loving family and friends, gorgeous grandson, a nice house to live in, work I love; teaching, directing and performing Full Spectrum Improvisation. I arrive in Berkeley, sour as Scrooge, and enter the dance studio we rent for improvisation practice. As soon as I’m in the door I see the large, open space, the smooth wooden floor, the high ceilings and light flooding in thru the skylights. I feel my shoulders release their clutch. I greet and hug my beloved and inspiring colleagues. We warm up individually (I lie on a mat, stretch and breathe) and together; sound and movement fill the studio. Then we watch each other. Craig is up first with a solo about his childhood on the Bayou. He begins with movement: shaking his hands in front of him, tiptoeing about the space, making gasping, anxious sounds. Then his words come; rich language integrated with the movement. I thoroughly enjoy his piece and tell him so. When it’s my turn to get up, I’m the third (come- in-later) actor in a trio with my partners, Owen and Martin. The piece starts with the guys doing some kind of bizarre, off kilter workout routine in what may be a gym or club in some nether world. They lunge and recover, grunt, and run in place to some rhythm only heard by them. Occasionally they fall into one another, push the other down and help him get up, blurting out a few lines like “Hey buddy, watch it”, “Go-go-go.” After about a minute I feel drawn to enter their world, so I saunter in and join Martin in his running and leaping in place. Martin keeps moving and without looking at me says: “ How did you get in here?” “(pause) Uh, I came in through the side door.” Owen: “That door is supposed to be locked” (pause) Me: ”Well, it isn’t” Martin, to Owen “ I thought you’d talked to maintenance about that” Owen: running slow circles around me: ”Oh, yeah, I talked to them all right.” Me: “Well, I’m glad it was open, cause the front door was locked.” Martin, (pause) “It seems you don’t understand” Me:  “ I don’t understand?” Martin “This is a private club. Private”. Owen  “ Yeah, private,” Owen and Martin, nearly simultaneously, stop in their tracks and look at me. I freeze. The atmosphere is charged. My character is scared. The movement re-starts, though new patterns emerge. My character is clearly having trouble keeping up, as am I. It feels like a story from my life, though I don’t remember ever having done these kind of movements with two men in a locked athletic club. The scene develops and a story emerges about who belongs and who doesn’t. There’s discussion about the fact that I’m a female, in which my character stands up to the men, explaining that providence has led me to this spot and I have a right to be there. After doing what they can, short of physical contact, to eject me/ her from the gym (it’s assumed a gym, not stated) Martin, (Owen names him Arnold) and Owen’s (not named) characters, who apparently have known each other since high school, end up fighting for dominance. After 14 minutes the piece finds an ending with my character languidly stretching while the two guys lay bloodied (not literally) by each other, one panting, one whimpering, on the floor. Craig (our audience) claps. Martin, Owen and I smile at each other, acknowledging the pleasure in our connection. We sit down. Craig, tells us he was entirely engaged and shares what he liked best about the piece.  In this case, there’s very little he didn’t like. If it hadn’t worked, he would have told us his thoughts on why that is. We, the actors, agree, we really enjoyed the work, felt we were all “In the Groove”. I feel transformed. Life looks fascinating again. I’m not aware of any pain in my body. A wave of gratitude washes over me. The theatre piece that just emerged from our collaboration is not what anyone could have expected. It’s a mystery. It’s Full Spectrum Improvisation. So what happened in the piece described above? How did Martin, Owen and I devise a  spontaneous theatre piece that we all agreed worked as art and as therapeutic play. What about Craig’s solo? What made it successful? What happens to cause an improvisational theatre piece not to work? (a frequent occurrence) What do I mean by “works” or “successful”? You will read responses to these questions in this book.  You will also read of reasons for non performers to learn/ practice improvisation.


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