Sunday, 31 January 2010

I'm introducing: Improvisation theatre

Impro theatre is a technique drama teacher Keith Johnstone invented to teach his students to be more spontaneous. Impro turned out to be entertaining in it's own right though, and a new form of theatre was born. Most times it is done for comedic value, sometimes hysterical comedic, bu there is also a move towards more serious impro, such as Kenn Adam's book "How to improvise a full length play" and Johnstone's own stance on the matter.

Typically impro is done as Theatresports - Two teams face off in a good-natured and playful contest, taking turns of challenging each other to short scenes with given rules and themes. (Could be anything really, for example best enactment of a folk tale, best single actor scene, best scene with a audience member participating)

My experience is mainly from the local group gbgimpro (Gothenburg impro) and their after work impro nights. The formula here being:
1) The group explains the rules for the next scenes and then play it out (For an instance, whenever the audience shouts "Sounds like a song!", the actors has to do a music number of the line sie just said. Another example of rules would be that every actor has to speaks in three word lines)
2) The group asks for volunteers from the audience to play a scene according to the same rules
3) The audience provides a setting/mission for the scene (For an instance; robbing a bank or redecorating a house)
Costume and props are never used, except for chairs, whereas Johnstone is a strong proponent of using sets and props. This would probably clash with the audience participation of gbgimpro, though.

Kenn Adams sums impro up in the three following guidelines:

1) Be spontaneous
Don't plan in advance, act on your partner actors! In Johnstone's books, exercise upon exercise is spent upon training this very simple idea, to react in a second rather than trying to think up something "good".
2) Always make your partner look good
Stressing the collaborative aspect of impro. Beginner impro actors are often so caught up in their own performance and planning (Which they aren't supposed to be doing anyway) that they don't take notice of what the other actors are doing.
3) Always say yes
Don't block the story, advance it! There seems to be a great fear among the actors of impro of actually progressing the story, letting other actors take control, or even to accept their own spontaneous ideas, a sort of achievement-anxiety self-censoring.

Keith Johnstone doesn't provide distilled guidelines in his books, but if you boil it down, these two could be added to the guide to impro:

4) Don't try to be funny, just act on the moment 
Going for the quick laughs will only feel forced and won't let the scene develop. In his exercises Johnstone even has his student trying to be as bland as they can, and to stay within the circle of what the audience expects (Which is rather complex, actually)
5) Allow yourself be altered 
Johnstone describes how actors fear "losing", having the other actors get the drop on you. For instance, he describes a horror scene the victim takes delight in, instead of becoming horrified. The actor are striving to maintaining control for their roles instead of vanquishing it.

These guidelines captures the very essense of "letting something grow".
Impro is about being in the moment, being one with the scene together with the other actors - To let the scene and the other actors into yourself, so to speak.
Don't plan, listen instead.
Don't act like an actor would act, instead react, lend your body and mind out to the scene and just act on what happens around you, be natural.
Don't stop any ideas or events, let them come out, nourish them, and theatre will grow.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Let something grow

A markedly nonnarcissistic attitude toward offspring informs the remarks of an 85-year-old frined of mine who reared 12 children during the Depression, all of whom have turned out well despite borderline poverty and some painful losses:
“Every time I’d get pregnant, I’d cry. I’d wonder where the money would come from, how I was going to nurse this child and take care of everything else. But around the fourth month I’d begin to feel life, and I’d get all excited, thinking, ‘I can’t wait till you come out and I find out who you are!’
From the book Psychoanalytical diagnosis, by Nancy McWilliams.

What McWilliams describes here is a mother that didn't let her expectations and preconceptions force themselves unto her children, but instead kept an open-minded and attentative attitude. I think you'll agree with me that the word "curiousity" sums up this mother's stance towards her growing children.

I believe this has relevance for psychotherapy in general.

Klaus Grawe has written a
tome of a book called Psychological Therapy, in which he has this to say: One of the most basic things in psychotherapy is that a psychotherapist needs to convey hope, trustworthiness and a sense of empathy and interest in the client, through verbal and non-verbal communication. (i e, looking interested)

After years and years of providing psychotherapy, how do you maintain that interest? How do you avoid growing jaded? How do you avoid reaching the point where you think to yourself "It's just another narcissist, I already know what this client needs" and start filling the client with your own ideas rather than seeing hir for who sie is? 

I think the sense of curiosity is key f
or maintaining this sense of interest. Ask yourself Whatever new things will this client teach me? and you will also stay curious and attentative, and actually pick up on the unique secrets of this human being. I guess. As an undergraduate, I'm not really in a position of advicing jaded psychotherapists on how to handle their great mass of experience... Hell, maybe I am in just that position, on virtue of having no experience in providing real therapy. I can tell you this though: The number one complaint I hear about psychology is "It's just about trying to classify people into categories"
So hey, let's roll with it, see what comes out of it. Now check out this guy, Carl Rogers, one of the founders of humanistic therapy I mentioned in my last post. The very first thing he says when he comes into play (at 3:05) is:

From my own years of therapeutic experience, I have come to feel that if I can create the proper climate, the proper relationship, the proper conditions, a process of therapeutic movement will almost inevitably occur in my client.
Which sums up a big part of humanistic therapy pretty good, actually. It's an idea that thoughts and awareness will grow and develop if you give them the room for it, the trust, the careful encouragement. (You can see Rogers in action in part 2 and forwards, mm-hm!)

Everything needs room to grow.

Now, this subject is
huge. I could go on about expectations, the connection of curiosity and playfulness, or taoism... but actually, I think this is a good time to introduce improvisation theatre.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

I'm introducing: Psychology

Whenever I feel like I need to provide some background before moving forward, I'll do one of these posts. See it as "getting the building blocks" before doing the actual building. Oh, and I use the word "client" rather than "patient", "sie" for "he or she" and "hir" instead of "his or her".

Psychology. It is the science of mind and behaviour, so you can tell the field is potentially vast. When I say this is a blog on "psychology", just what the heck do I mean? In this post, I will construct a crude map to orient yourself around the domains of psychology we're concerned with on this blog. 

Psychology can basically answer two questions.
1) How does people work?
2) What is your story?

How does people work?
Psychology can be the charting of common human traits and mechanisms: How does perception and thought process work? How does workgroups develop? Why do people get stressed out when stepping up on stage? We're looking for answers to generalise.

What is your story?
Rather than understanding people, I'm working to understand you. Rather than trying to find out the true answers, I'm trying to see how you understand the world, your story. We're looking for an understanding.

Now, imagine we draw a line between these two points, like so.

Now we can place different kind of psychological research and therapies (the application of research) on this continuum, based on how much focus they place on answering these two questions:

Let's go through the labels.

Quantitative research
Research with numbers, basically. If I tell people to administer electric chocks to hapless victims when they answer my questions incorrectly, how many people will obey? And to what extent? (Best experiment ever) The questions are already decided upon, and the research is about finding answers.

Qualitative research
Descriptive resarch, working towards an understanding, basically. "The qualitative method investigates the why and how of decision making, not just what, where, when. Hence, smaller but focused samples are more often needed, rather than large samples." (Quote wikipedia)

Cognitive-behaviour therapy
Therapy addressing the patterns of thought and behaviour according to which we operate. Maladaptive patterns (Such as "If I let other people close to me, they will hurt me, I must reject them before they got too close") are transformed into more adequate patterns. Often, these patterns and thoughts are automatic and not conscious.

Psychodynamic therapy
Rather than changing the patterns of thought and behaviour, the therapist and the client are working to expose the underlying causes to these patterns. Big emphasis on your past life, your relationship to your parents which you recreate in relation to other people, how you cope with/defend against anxiety...

Humanistic therapy
Rather than interpreting the client's story according to psychodynamic therapy, the therapist is encouraging the client to process hir own story deeper and more fully, and find hir own answers. Instead of using psychodynamic theory, the terapist tries to find the client's own concepts of what is meaningful and important in hir story.

(I'd like to point out right now that there is a very strong connection between the words "meaning" and "story".)

As I said, this is a rather crude map. Psychological theory doesn't really divide between Facts and Story in the way I've shown here, but it's a convinient way to present psychology in it's entirety on a blog that is concerned with stories, such as this one. I have left out a whole bunch of different therapies and research domains, but this will do just fine for now.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

I'm building something

Something has started to emerge from within of me. A sort of philosophy made out of what I've learnt from studying psychology, playing impro theater and designing roleplaying games. That's what this blog is about. It's a psychology blog, an improv blog and a roleplaying game blog, but it's also something more, something of it's own.

First, this blog is for me. It's a place and a construct for me to explore and build something out of my ideas.

Second, it's for everyone. The psycho/impro/rpg theory will be broad rather than deep, and my aim is that anyone interested in any one of the three domains and how it can be applied in a different context should be able to read it with enjoyment - And I want you to read it! I want all of you and your ideas, your thoughts, the energy from a multitude of different readers. I'm also writing in english rather than swedish, my native tounge, which is something new.

But this blog is still just a seed. It may sprout, it may wither... I'm going to let it grow and see how it turns out. Who knows what it will read like, in what language, and look like eventually?

What do you think of the theme by the way? Too loud?

There are some things to be said about letting something just grow and see how it turns out, all very relevant to this blog. I will return to this subject. But for now - Welcome!