I was delighted to have the opportunity (thanks to AllImprov and easylaughs) to come to
Amsterdam and lead a workshop on The Ripple Effect in at the CREA. The workshop came
after the international debut (yeah... ‘international debut’: I like the sound of that) of my
solo improv show Marbles.
The workshop activities were grouped under the heading ‘The Ripple Effect’ to suggest the
idea of following ripples and seizing in-the-moment discoveries. The session was the result
of a number of things I’ve come across while doing solo improvisation. They centre on two
main themes: one is authenticity, and the other is exploration.
Authenticity in improv means being entirely true to what’s happening in the moment; in
the room, in the scene, and with yourself. Complete honesty is really compelling onstage,
and even when you add in character and emotion and attitudes – and blur the lines
between reality and fiction – that doesn’t change. The performers should never be or seem
inauthentic. It’s difficult not to put up protective walls, but it’s good to at least identify when
One of the most fun exercises on authenticity was actually inspired by the room
specifications. When I was booking it I found out the room had a stereo, so I decided to build
some dancing into the session. One reason is that I really enjoy dancing.
The other reason this seemed to make sense is that dancing can be used either as
self-expression or as armour to hide behind. (As typified by teenage boys at a school
social ‘pretending’ to dance, but too self-conscious to actually do so).
However, when people are completely committed to dancing (no matter how good or bad
they are) it's much more interesting. Of course, unless you’re supremely self-confident it’s
hard to dance by yourself in front of a group and not feel self-conscious. But in the workshop
we all did it, and experienced the different feelings. Leaving ‘the point’ of it all aside for a
moment: we had a pretty sweet afternoon dance party.
Afterwards, we did a number of exercises to help us get at the idea of riffing on (or
exploring) ideas. During the session I realized that it’s actually quite a rich area, and there
could've been at least a few more hours to the session.
If anything, finding an idea was the easiest part of the spontaneous monologues I had
people create; a number of people onstage discarded perfectly good ones trying to find
a ‘better’ one. In all cases, those first ideas were perfectly wonderful. Seizing the unexpected
idea or moment can turbo-charge scenes and stories and take them into unexpected,
risky and rewarding places. Though the work on riffing runs parallel to some other improv
concepts, the idea of discarding perfectly ideas – or ignoring rich accidents – to focus
on something that we hope (or expect) to be coming along is a far too often onstage
I know that applies to me, as I've been using these techniques to generate material for
solo improv and in other forms, but The Ripple Effect also seems like the kind of thing that
anyone could find useful, in their ‘real’ life or in other capacities.
It was over all too soon. But perhaps there will be a next time, and we can go deeper into
the ripples, and have an even bigger dance party.