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There is a question I like to ask people who come to my confidence workshops and that is; “When was the last time you did anything new?” You can almost see the question marks above people’s heads as they scan though their mind searching for an answer. Now, if I asked that question it wouldn’t be so difficult because in our ‘new normal’ we are adapting to new things all the time. Working from home, wearing a mask, meetings on zoom, social distancing and adapting to the activities we do socially. For me that is improvisation, which is now classed as a high-risk activity in this new era of Covid-19.

A new era for improvisation Improvisation has always been an outlet of fun for me, where I let go of the stresses of the week and let my imagination run riot. Now we have boundaries, and the question that ran through my mind before getting back on stage was “Would those boundaries also kill the fun? We were about to find out.

In improv we always start with a warm-up game, and so we started off with a game called the emotion-chain. This entails everyone standing in a circle while one person

acts out an emotion with a sound and a movement and then points to the next person who must mirror this but make it bigger. With every new person, the emotion and movement gets bigger and bigger until finally it is at it’s peak. It’s such a liberating exercise, I mean it’s not often you get to scream, wail and move in crazy ways. After experiencing weeks of lock-down this letting go exercise proved to be a welcome release. So far so good. But then the real challenge…acting with boundaries.

Learning not to break the boundaries

The first sign of our boundaries was the appearance of a box drawn on stage to indicate that we had to stay outside the box in every scene. If, for some reason, in the heat of a dramatic scene we got closer than the 1.5 distance our director would shout ‘distance’ anytime we broke the distance rule, which happened a lot.

But although we initially felt limited it also meant we had to think in a way we had never done before like how to act in a fight scene without getting too close? How to approach a love scene from a distance? This was a case of adopting a beginner’s mind. Facing this challenge was like a reprogramming of the brain, a new way of thinking which would now uncover ideas and inspiration that had previously be hidden, because we had never needed to think about social distancing before.

The imagination has its work cut out Limitations has meant we have to be more imaginative in improvisation, even more so when acting with our masks. So, we have to express more with our eyes, focus more on body language and project our voice more so we can be heard over the mask. Everything is more! But what is evolving is funnier, dramatic and thought-provoking scenes as we push ourselves further in this skill of improvisation. Every week I find I am constantly surprising myself in this new way of storytelling. For so many of us, our imaginations have been underused since we left childhood but now we have the opportunity to give it a work-out as we tackle the obstacles we’re constantly facing in the ‘new normal. This is a new way of learning for everyone and for sure, the imagination is going to be used like never before.

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