In storytelling improv theatre workshops, adults attempt to rediscover the skills they once had as children. There are numerous sayings in this art form, such as ‘First jump out of your plane, and then discover your parachute’ ( ie. Don’t pause to consider if it is safe, or funny, or ‘good enough’, just jump!) or ‘Everything you need for a scene is right in front of you” or “The only security is the fact that there is no security”. As an early childhood teacher seeking to document learning dispositions, I followed Jules and Georgia and Cypress with a camera and, to my appreciative surprise, realised that, in their play, they unerringly follow these maxims. Before I knew it, I was drawn into their ‘story’!
I first came across the three of them, conveying small containers of water precariously balanced in a wheelbarrow all the way across to the other side of the playground, and then carefully pouring the contents into a tub, all the while talking about how they were making ‘ingredients’ (muffin making was afoot indoors with no doubt talk of such stuff!). One of our improv warm up games is to shout out any random idea such as “Let’s all be rabbits” or “Let’s all faint” or “Let’s all make a batch of scones” and each time everyone enthusiastically shouts back, “Yes, let’s!” and then we all proceed to do the actions until the next callout! You can’t get it wrong, and you all have a wonderful sense of enthusiastic belonging as the actions rapidly and erratically shift and change. This is what the trio did: “Let’s get more water!” “Yes, let’s!!” and they all hared off to get more! Again and again they enthusiastically ran and gathered and returned and poured.
Then I noticed (and pointed out) that the tub had a hole in the bottom, like all good garden tubs! Actually filling the tub was clearly a minor detail…the goal was to run, to share, to agree, to have a purpose, to be physical, to feel urgent….to play! So then they tipped out what water was left in it, loaded it up onto the wagon, the girls clambered aboard, and Jules proceeded to drive them away. The trip is underway, the action is happening… and now, a late ‘parachute’ or motive appears! Jules announces that the tub needs to go to the dump! There is another game in improv, called ‘Yes,and…” where you up the intensity in a partnership game and this is what happened. The wagon is now wet and therefore ALSO has to go to the dump! I pleaded on behalf of the wagon and also pointed out that we have two wagons. They were delighted by a new challenge… how to get the second one out of the shed and master the niceties of three point turns. Jules worked extremely hard to lift the wagon AND the two girls, past the trucks and back out on to the road to the ‘dump’.
Cypress held onto the wet one as a trailer. At this point, I suddenly appreciated that the long and committed friendship between the three of them is based partly on the fact that Jules loves the physicality of the numerous challenges that arise out of the imaginative story lines… and the girls were never short of ideas, as the three of them continually invented reasons for extending the trip and upping the challenge level.
And here it comes …..Whoops! They realise that they have forgotten their lava guns and have to return to the place where I first met them… and this is part of all good storytelling. A good story returns to previously mentioned people, events and objects and reintegrates them into the story.
All three children decided that their guns were now not good enough.( That the guns needed to provide different powers, in fact). Again I appreciated how the story drives the action, just as much as the action drives the story. Regardless of what the guns looked like, both the story and the action required them to be ‘not good enough’ and destined for the dump as well! Off the three of them went, inside to the glue gun table. While they were gone on this new challenge, I was so completely involved in my self-appointed role as saviour of the ‘doomed’ wagon that I decided to trick Jules so he would not know which wagon to discard… I made both wagons wet and wrote ‘Please don’t take me to the dump” in the bottom of each one! And then what happened? Five other children came belting past, leapt in to the empty wagons and drove off!
What a lesson in not being fixed on an outcome! What a perfect opportunity for me to experience how it works when you have to co-operate with 30 other children. You have a carefully calculated plan, you put something down, and then it’s gone! What flexibility, adaptability, generosity, and active social skills one has to develop in this world of early childhood!! (AND in improv!..we adults have to learn to let our ‘plan’ go if another person unexpectedly changes the narrative into a new direction. It requires an enthusiastic generosity and a letting go of one’s ego). One sees younger children who are still learning this, wailing with angst that someone has THEIR toy! But Jules and the girls returned shortly, all wheeling prams! They did not need the wagons. But the girls love to be pulled so they abandoned their prams and leapt into Philip’s wagon. The story simply takes another turn and no one tries to drag it back to some earlier, completely arbitrary, story-line.(Although I admit to being tempted!) The children just stayed in the present. As long as there was movement, dialogue, action, collaboration, apparent purpose and a forward propulsion of the narrative, then it’s all good. Again and again, I noticed how the girls’ imaginations and Jules’ love of a physical challenge were made for each other, like fingers in a glove. When the girls wanted to be mermaids, Jules dug furiously to cover their legs with sand. When Jules looked like he might be abandoning play and going inside, Georgia and Cypress raced after him so that he could save them from a monster, “ A monster, there’s a monster, Jules!” and back he came to help to save the day. And this was only a snippet of their day! The creativity required to be a successful player is gargantuan! Many adults find that the skills learned in storytelling improvisation stands them in good stead in all the other areas of their lives… it helps to have a sense of humour, flexibility, imagination and a creative ability to improvise on the spot! So thank you, Cypress, Georgia and Jules for letting me play too! (Recorded by Evelyn. July 2018)