Sensory Explorations: Enriching Scenework, Building Narrative

I recently started a performance group with a small group of committed, talented improvisers in San Francisco.  We don't yet have a name, and we have the luxury of exploring advanced and foundational improv together in a safe, challenging setting.  During our first rehearsal, we took a substantial amount of time with "beginning" exercises...and we found that the quality of our narratives, connections, and characters benefited tremendously from these shared experiences.

I'd like to share them with you here, as I have no doubt that activities focused around the senses offer opportunities for deeper learning in a variety of curricular areas.  These exercises were pulled and adapted from Viola Spolin's Improvisation for the Theater, an essential title for anyone studying or teaching improv.

Sound
What do the sounds in an environment tell us about that setting?  How do they support the development of character?  Can auditory input drive the narrative?  We explored these questions together after sharing the following experience:
Decide on one location in which the group can imagine a shared experience.  For our group, we chose "hospital room".  You could choose to "be" at a baseball game, in a grocery store, in a classroom...you get the idea.
Then, just sit together, making an effort to block out unhelpful background noises.  Close your eyes and "hear" the shared space.  Share out what you "heard" after a few minutes.  
We noticed so many surprising details from this activity.  Individuals in our group experienced entirely different emotional responses--the evidence of which was clear in our facial expressions.  Two of us began to envision distinct characters for ourselves, while others imagined looking down on a scene and beginning to see the problem (or "tilt") emerge in the narrative.

I could see using this activity to explore the setting of shared literature, to develop characters, as a pre-writing activity, or to connect with a historical setting.  How might you apply Shared Sounds?

Touch
Creating realistic scenes with convincing space objects is challenging.   We began this exercise by passing around common objects with our eyes closed; we really noticed how each object felt in our hands--its texture, its temperature, how to manipulate it, etc.  Rather than something mundane like a pencil, we opted for things such as an umbrella, a doll, and a power strip.
It's extremely helpful to hold an actual object right before developing a scene in which that object appears.  For example, I don't think I had really noticed that I always hold onto the metal rod of an umbrella with my other hand.  I used that little gem in the scene that followed.

We then created two types of scenes: those in which the object appeared but was not central, and those in which the object was the main focus of the story.  Each offered new opportunities.  Some of us preferred the subtle integration of the object, and others preferred the overt focus on the object.  How would this look in a classroom?  I'll report back!

When thinking about space-object work, I like to remember what Regina Saisi and Lisa Rowland of BATS Improv have told me time and time again: "We're creating magic up here on this stage.  In a moment, we create an entirely new reality out of open space."  These realistic settings and "props" support the setting, which supports the narrative, which allows us to connect and feel with the happenings on the stage.  It IS the point.

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