I’m back in catch-up mode with Reverb10. Here’s the day 3 prompt: Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture smells voices noises, colors).
This is a tough one but I’ll go with the one that first came to mind, even if it’s more intellectual than sensual and I’m going to pass on the texture stuff.
I was in Sri Lanka, running a big workshop with Viv. There were delegates from all over the world, and we had an awesomely permissive brief to explore complexity through playback theatre and improv.
Everyone spoke great English, even though for many it was a second language. And we started to sense that this was subtly inhibiting how people participated. It’s just harder when it’s not your native tongue.
We reached a point where needed another way to explore the idea of “different ways of knowing”. And we thought of playing gibberish games – because we thought this get us past the way English was limiting engagement.
In improv, when you speak gibberish you avoid using any known language, but you do try to be saying something real and not merely making strange noises. There’s a knack to it, and all sorts of things to learn from the endeavour. And in the challenge, everyone would be on a level playing field: your native tongue would be help to you in a gibberish game.
We tried a few different games and loved the results. Suddenly, people who’d been quite reticent earlier in the week came alive, vocally and physically. It looked like our hunch was right: the use of English had been limiting engagement.
Then we reached a point where Viv and I had run out of gibberish games we could remember. So she pulled out her iPhone and used an app that basically lets you plug in an imrov category, shake the phone, and it randomly suggests a game.
It threw up a game called Gibberish Reunion. We looked at each other, realising it was going to be a risk introducing a game we’d never heard of, still less played. But that’s the point of improv: get to the edge of your comfort zone.
Essentially, everyone pretends to be at a class renunion, many years on. They slowly recognise familiar faces and gradually start to share stories with increasing warmth and enthusiasm, until eventually they begin singing the old songs they sang as students. All done in gibberish.
What this set off is hard to describe but it was hilarious and heartwarming. It ended in a remarkable tribal dance around some imaginary campfire in which absolutely everyone was completely engaged.
The best improv for me is not the cleverest line or action. It’s when you see people playing it revealing more of themselves in their play, and when you sense something really spontaneous taking place. These people were not just roleplaying to meet each other with warmth. Viv and I pretty much fell over laughing and the feeling was remarkable. We’d gone beyond words in a way we’d not expected.