Imogen Palmer shows why creating ‘Scenes from Truth’ are some of the best ways to get the Improv ball rolling…
Two actors are on stage. They are talking, they’re laughing, one of them is saying how much they’ve loved not wearing a bra during lockdown and they don’t think they can ever go back. The other shares that since having the freedom to wear pyjamas whilst working her whole wardrobe has been replaced by items which may look like clothes but are, essentially, pyjamas.
We get the sense that they are sisters or close friends. They’re putting things in boxes.
One says: ‘I’m sad you’re leaving.’
The other replies: ‘Me too.’
The lights go and we discuss the scene.
How did it feel for the audience?
‘I felt like I knew them’
‘Beautiful acting- so real.’
How was it for the actors?
EASY! Is the resounding answer. They were having a conversation, as themselves, with some imaginary story woven in.
What have I learnt is one of the gateways to amazing, heartfelt improv & acting?
Practicing being yourself on stage.
This is easier said than done.
Being authentic in front of other people or an audience can cause even the bravest amongst us to quake. What if we reveal too much? What if they judge us? I started learning authenticity work in Melbourne with a German practitioner Nadie Antler who helped us mine our memories for material. I remember distinctly feeling queasy in my stomach and heart as we were asked to share truthful childhood stories with the other participants (who were strangers!) in the class. I now recognise that this queasiness was the feeling which came with practicing being open and vulnerable when I had built up some incredibly tough protective walls for myself.
Cut to 2 years of intensive training later and I’m more or less an open book. I need to learn how to put my walls back up so I don’t get into trouble but the effect on my life and performance skills is incredible.
Vulnerability accelerates connection.
When I share a truth with a crowd of people whilst I am hosting a show, I speed up the feeling of connection and often cause them to laugh. When I play a character who experiences a moment of vulnerability on stage- maybe they are scared or frightened to ask the person they like out- this can solicit a roomful of ‘awws’ and connection.
Sharing truthful memories with each other & with the audience not only makes the ‘inventing’ easier because we’re drawing on truth but the gift we give the story is authenticity & detail. The other great thing is: no one needs to know whether it is true or not. The skill is to practice drawing from truth and then weaving in elements of imagination to serve the story. This way, if you are nervous about what you might reveal- remember it’s all made up! You are a great starting point.
In the exercise ‘cocktail party’ we practice having conversations and then take turns observing other’s conversations. It is mind-blowing how fascinating and fun it is to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. Anyone who has ever turned their music down on public transport so they can listen to other people knows exactly what I mean.
There is a whole history of pursuing authenticity in acting, with master teachers such as Uta Hagen, Meisner and Stanislavski seeking this goal to name a few. How can I practice being an authentic human being who is alive one moment to the next?
In the course I’ve developed ‘Scenes from Truth’, I draw from improv and acting training to help participants practice being comfortable being themselves with each other and on stage, using their memory as a mine for detail. We practice using truth as a starting point and then explore how to begin to weave this into imaginary circumstances.
As Sanford Meisner said:
‘Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.’
The effect of this work is beautiful to watch, can often lead to belly laughter and is also very rewarding to do. A recent participant in the online version of the course wrote in their feedback that it was:
“Brilliant fun, energising, with great life lessons and training as well… It was something I looked forward to each week, and smiled about in the days in between. “
Like any skill, vulnerability & authenticity can be practiced. It takes courage, but the results are transformational, for your performances and for being yourself in your day to day life.
Scenes from Truth is a four-week course part of the Performing Level 2 program at The Bristol Improv Theatre. It starts on Mondays from the 9th November. Book your space here.