In having a chat with Stuart Moses on the London Improv Podcast a few days ago, I realised that I have recently been treating my improv like crop rotation…
Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar or different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons. It is done so that the soil of farms is not used for only one set of nutrients. It helps in reducing soil erosion and increases soil fertility and crop yield.”
This last year I have not read a single improv book, which is unheard of for me. I have not been on any intensives or taken any classes. I have been writing a book and I didn’t want to disturb the process of laying out my thoughts on different areas (or plagiarise) by introducing lots of new stuff. In contrast, last year The Maydays created our own weeklong intensive with our favourite teachers in Chicago, I did a week with Craig Cackowski, I took classes at Camp Improv Utopia East as well as numerous other workshops and being coached. It’s tempting as an improviser to keep learning with other people because it’s easy to feel and say that you are working hard on your art form, but what do you really need? At either end of the scale lie; personal atrophy where you have been doing the same kind of improv with the same people for aeons and – at the other end – hoarding, where you take every single class with every teacher you can so that you can say you are doing your best to be a good improviser.
Growing the same crop in the same place for many years in a row (Monoculture) disproportionately depletes the soil of certain nutrients.”
Only working in one style with one team or school (Monoculture), can feel like a strong decision, like doubling-down, but there are diminishing returns.
With rotation, a crop that leaches the soil of one kind of nutrient is followed during the next growing season by a dissimilar crop that returns that nutrient to the soil or draws a different ratio of nutrients.”
Having different ideologies and inputs allows you to grow without depleting yourself so much. Switching between one team of heady technicians and another of hippy organic improvisers keeps your artistic nutrients more balanced.
In addition, crop rotation mitigates the buildup of pathogens and pests that often occurs when one species is continuously cropped, and can also improve soil structure and fertility by increasing biomass from varied root structures.”
Break your dirty habits and go-tos; remember that improv is about being present and flexible and having fun. By rotating your styles and teachers as well as having downtime, you are more artistically fertile. ‘Varied root structures’ are the forms and styles at your fingertips.
Having a fallow period for your improv is extremely valuable. Whether you’re going on holiday, doing scripted work for a while or just enjoying rehearsing and performing with your regular teams, it’s a good idea to rest! Improv should be super exciting, never a chore or a habit. We are seasonal; there are times when we can take new information and times when we just need to stop, process and recoup to recover our creative fertility.
Jon and Chris are both taking time off from my three-person team Project2 which initially made me feel sad and like it might be the beginning of the end, but after not doing a show with Chris over the summer (because I was at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) we just did a fantastic show in Bristol. We both felt self-assured and did exactly what we wanted and had a great time. In many ways, we totally fucked a lot of the guidelines of improv, but we absolutely didn’t fuck over the high level of trust we have with one another and that made all of our risky choices excellent.
I used to notice the need to do less but just ploughed on (sorry) anyway. This year I deliberately haven’t read any improv books or taken classes. I’ve been rehearsing and performing regularly, but that is the harvest.
Now I’m busting out shows I really like and I’m ready to be challenged again!
I have written an improv book called The Improviser’s Way: A Longform Workbook. It’s available on IndieGoGo for just few more hours if you’d like to pre-order a copy!
This blog came out of a conversation I had with Stuart Moses on the London Improv Podcast. Here is that podcast: