Initial Thoughts on Solo Improv: Day One of Training

This trip is made possible thanks to the Ian Potter Cultural Trust, a wonderful organisation which supports early career artists to pursue professional development opportunities, usually overseas. During my time here I shall be posting about some of my learnings in my private sessions with Gary Austin and Michael Pollock respectively.

Already this trip has surpassed my expectations.

The latest twist, discovered in my first session of private training with Gary Austin, is the potential of solo improv skills to be applied to scripted work.

I say a ‘twist’, because I thought I had my head pretty clearly around what solo improv was, which I realise already is not the case. Let me explain: I already do some solo improv, both within my stand-up and as a small portion of my one-woman show. However, I really wanted to come and expand my knowledge and skills in this area, specifically so I could be better at doing it (naturally) and expand my repertoire of what is possible in terms of using it onstage.

What I didn’t really even think about was how the skills of solo improvisation can be directly applied to text, to:

– keep a performance fresh (which, I’m already realising is going to be hugely helpful in terms of the future performance life of my full-length show);

– discover new possibilities (rather than getting stuck in one way of thinking about approaching the text); and

– connect unexpected emotions to pieces of text.

It’s difficult to put this into words! But Gary spent much of the first session going through a number of exercises with me – some physical some verbal – to this end, which are now officially my “drills!” I have to practice them for homework, with the idea being that after drilling it and drilling it, it will eventually become a habit.

He spoke to me about the work of people like Dean Martin (whose work we’re going to be looking at further in our time together) and his improvisational approach to his hit variety show, and, most specifically, the EASE with which he did everything.

And finding that, within solo improvisation (and solo scripted performance too, for that matter), is key. As Gary said to me:

“You need performing to be easy. And to do that, you need to work really hard.”

Here goes!

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