Why the Most Honest Work is Born Through "Objective-Free" Improv: The Devised Theater Process & The Actor

by: Catalina Lavalle

The greatest mistake I make as as an artist is repeatedly and deliberately stopping my impulse to create in the first place. I do this almost instinctively, a modus operandi born from years of insecurity, made more symptomatic in lieu of the competitive nature of the art world. In short, I doubt to the point of paralysis. I fear that the lack of clear objective (or my perhaps more true- my own flawed perception of that objective's weakness) in any idea or impulse I may have, is reason enough to not even try. This isn't to say that the flip-side is any better (creating directionless "art for art's sake"), but I envy those who throw themselves blindly into the creative "try". I am denying myself the option of creating out of fear that my ideas are not enough, in turn denying them the chance to ever become so. 

This behavioral pattern would be less irrational if I wasn't actually capable of creating, which I've proven to myself already isn't true. What it comes down to instead is having formed a habit of listening to this knee-jerk reaction within me, instead of shaking it off. Creating, requires relentless practice after all. It's easy to get rusty and disheartened. One of my favorite quotes is, "don't get it perfect, just get it going". If we don't "just get it going", how else are our ideas to evolve into something grand or meaningful? Furthermore, who are we to judge our own idea's greatness in the first place (the judgment being what prevents "the try")? Isn't the point to be taking risks? Monday's session forced me to identify and examine (and in a small way, confront) this pattern of thinking/behavior once more. 

What started as an objective-free "abstract movement improv" evolved into something surprisingly meaningful by the end of our session. Simply put, the discoveries we made shared common themes with what we had done in our previous session- an entirely different objective-free "abstract improv"- but in new and unintentional or expected ways (it is objective-free improv after all, the exercises aren't supposed to connect). Not only that, but since the very nature of improv is to draw from what you know (yourself), our improv's resulting themes were in turn very prevalent in and relevant to our own personal lives. The result? This new material formed a bridge between ourselves and the previous session's materials/themes. Without intending on a specific "objective", we built anyway. Humans are after all, by nature, collectors. We collect to give meaning and shape to our lives/ourselves. These ideas are collected and then called upon when the moment is right. Monday, what we had been calling upon without even realizing it, started to come into some universally-impelled fruition.  

For this particular session's improv we were asked to bring two objects that shared similar physical characteristics (that is to say, shape). Beginning with a customary warm-up (to "move and breathe into tense areas in our bodies"), we let our body's impulse guide us as we were told to "recall our objects". We were then to imagine that the shape was "like an orb inhabiting our space and/or bodies". I.e: That we were the orb and we were inside of the orb, we were on top of the orb, the orb was hovering above us, the orb was huge, we were huge, the orb was small, we were small, etc., and to react physically to those ebbing nuances. How are you forced to move? How do you reconcile?

At first, self-consciousness flirted with the part of my mind that's always outside of myself analyzing, but eventually, as my body and mind warmed up, I opened up more and my spirit began to channel. The freer you are from analysis the more honest the work. It's never continuous however- you definitely struggle throughout- but repetition and mental or physical exhaustion can even influence and inspire newness and discoveries, and so the struggle/non-struggle cycle continues. By the end, I surprised myself however with my own ability to work so abstractly; honestly and without fear. Surprised- I then realized- mostly because I remembered I had been successful in these types of exercises before. It was my being so out of practice that had fooled me into thinking I was no good! We close up so quickly as humans, forget things (or push them out). A defense against our fragility I guess. 

The exercise evolved. After writing/reflecting silently to cool off for a bit, we revisited our shape's movement language and spent time editing our discoveries down to a specific set of physicalizations (ones that resonated with us for whatever reason). A series of steps ensued: we channeled a verb through our newly formed routine (to tease, to fill, to end), we shared w/each other and mirrored/learned/repeated, and finally, we released the routine and built together. Through "'non'-contact improv", we took turns filling in each other's negative space- all while still maintaining our individual shape's "language of movement" but then, channeling the same verbs. One verb, two shapes. By the end of this final improv, Amanda and I were totally in sync. We had created something together entirely out of our physical voice. There were moments that evoked death, relationship building, trust, trepidation, fragility, play, need... and it fit perfectly in the world created by the previous session's seemingly unrelated exercise. 

We had spent that last session carving out "new domestic spaces" outside the space where we meet, in the alley off Harvard Street. With a ball of twine, we let the shapes that already existed naturally around us, inform our creation as we tied and levied the fiber to trees, rocks, hooks, fencing, and corners. We continued working silently- individually- like this for a good half of class until we started to play with each other. Trespassing, hiding, exploring. Now, we look forward to our next session: building /expounding upon this "bridge" between domestic spaces and human behavior. "Domestic spaces and human behavior". It might sound ordinary, but these days everything is. It's in discovering a new way of expressing that "ordinary" that we discover something extraordinary. 

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