Scary Improv (that Makes Community)

[this post builds on the last — so you may want to start there if you missed it]

I’m going to leave the question of how the crowds at St Paul’s chapel responded to the all singing all dancing eucharist open for a while longer, so that I can tell you more about the Music That Makes Community workshop. (though honestly, what more can we say, after Mother Ruth’s ‘eeek’?)

My own ‘eeek’ came when the detailed schedule arrived a few days before the conference, and almost all of Friday was given over to Improvisation and Composition.  I am stunningly bad at improv.  As a teenager, the theatre director made a virtue of a hangup, and made me the stage-manager for the Improv Company.  They said and did funny thing spontaneously.  I muttered curses, as they skipped whole chunks of narrative, and frantically re-jigged light cues.  I can happily adapt a sermon, or weave something unexpected into a liturgy — but pure naked improv? no.

As for composing… well, you can imagine.  So much for learning a few new songs.

But it was a most remarkable day.  Bit by bit, barriers were broken down — flung up again — then once more dismantled.  We began with physical improv:  a mirroring game.  Not too hard, not too scary, though even then I preferred following to leading.  ‘Now add sounds’ made me flinch.  I should have just said ‘Eeek’ and been done with it, but that’s the trouble I have with improv: even the obvious things slip away.

By the end of that first session, it was hard to know who was leading whom.  We worked in pairs — but in our collective creativity and panic, we stole from each other shamelessly.  Someone did something that ‘worked’ and others instinctively mimicked it, until sounds and movements were spiralling round the group, even as we focused intensely on our immediate partners.  Towards the end, even I began to move from panic to enjoyment.  Feeling what the group was doing changed things. It helped me get outside of my own self-consciousness to begin to act more spontaneously.  Don’t misunderstand:  I was still very glad when it was over.  But something had happened, and I wondered what would happen next.

That’s quite a good space to be in liturgy:  ‘something has happened.  I wonder what will happen next.’

What happened next was a psalm — and it took my breath away.  But that is the subject of tomorrow’s post.