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It's week six and we're running the gauntlet

…And looking at how long-form improv can make us better listeners.

This article is part of a series on learning long-form improvisation.

WE TRIED SOMETHING new in this week’s class: the gauntlet.

Side note: This is what the word ‘gauntlet’ will forever mean to me:

gauntlet Source: YouTube

It’s not quite the same but, according to our teacher, comedian Danny Kehoe, it’s the hardest thing you can do in improv.

This could go either way.

The idea is one person has to react to several different characters in the space of a few minutes.

Each scene is quick, about a minute or less, and covers very different emotions – for example, if the last scene was hyper then the next one should be downbeat.

When running the gauntlet you might have to react to a frantic woman about to give birth, before touching down in a war zone, and then have to deal with the aftermath of getting a terrible haircut. Your characters have complex lives.

You’re encouraged to try different accents and cry or shout or laugh.

improv Source: Tom Maher/Gaiety School of Acting

As with other techniques we’ve tried out in previous classes, you have very little time to think. You’re a happy child, then a paranoid office worker, before becoming a sexy Frenchman – all in the space of two minutes.

It’s ‘go, go, go’ and before you know it you’ve been ten different characters in ten VERY different scenes.

The process is a lot of fun – and, FYI, a great way to pass time if you’re sick of nothing being on telly.

In improv you constantly surprise yourself and usually leave the class on a high.

Getting more confidence

As the weeks have passed, I’m starting to be one of the first people who jump up for scenes – rather than one of the last. This is not really like me, I usually hang in the back while someone else starts a conversation or is the first one up to dance.

I’ve recently watched a couple of Ted Talks on improvisation.

In the below video, Jennifer Hunter from Lake Superior State University in Michigan talks about how improv can improve our communication skills and how we connect with people. The clip also explains some of the techniques improvisers use – such as saying ‘Yes, and…’, rather than ‘No’.

Source: TEDx Talks/YouTube

“In our day-to-day lives, having conversations with someone, we have already decided what our responses are going to be halfway through their dialogue. So how much information are we missing by only half-listening?” Hunter says.

She notes that stronger connections (and better improv scenes) happen when we fully listen to the person we’re having a conversation with. This makes sense, but is not something people always do as they might be focused on something else like checking their text messages.

The below video, made by Rapid Fire Theatre, shows a scene that is performed on the spot after the players are inspired by two words the audience shouts and them: ‘mayonnaise’ and ‘puppy’. It’s wacky and fun and a great example of how improv works.

Source: TEDx Talks/YouTube

The classes are going well – getting to act out whatever pops into your head is a great de-stresser. I’m not going to lie though, there’s still a sense of fear and nervousness ahead of our showcase next month – for me anyway.

All the class’s participants know each other pretty well now. Do we find each other funny because we’re aware of each other’s quirks and way of approaching scenes? The big question remains: If someone walked in off the street and watched us would they laugh? (With us or at us – either would be fine.)

We’ll soon find out.

More information on long-form improv classes at the Gaiety School of Acting is available here.

For those of you looking for a video of my exploits, that’ll come at the end of the series.

Read the rest of my improv diary here.

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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