Where Do We Go From Here?
Since 2020, I have had the honor of meeting so many improvisers from around the world. Something, I couldn't have even imagined as a possibility. In a time of isolation, improv found community in Zoom rooms. It was amazing to see improvisers from around the globe, at all hour of the day and night (I'm talking about the Filipino improvisers who said yes and to whatever time of day) in the same spaces doing something they loved. I met folks doing improv for the first time, people who had done improv for 20+ years and everything in between. It was the ultimate yes and that this art form demands on stage and we quickly transitioned over to a virtual stage.
Now, 30 months later online improv continues through shows, classes and workshops but the real world armed with live stages and audiences has lured people away from their computers. Others remain, grounded in the community that uplifts them, that provides accessible learning and play opportunities. Online teams that performed together for one year or two years are now finding their natural conclusion and wrapping things up. Some schools and teachers who taught online throughout the pandemic are stepping away from online and focusing on in person offerings. So, where does that leave online improv?
Here's my thoughts.
We need to remember that online improv is not just a variant of what we learn in classes and perform on stage, it is it's OWN art form. It has given many improvisers the opportunity to view their work for the first time. Most live improv performances are not taped so now improvisers have the ability to watch their "game tape", like professional athletes or actors. This allows teams, instructors, coaches and improvisers to find patterns in performance or opportunities for ensembles to connect and so much more. Online improv shows may live on the internet forever. This makes folks think about content and make choices that aren't just for a laugh. What a gift this has been for my personal improv play. I feel like I have grown more in the two years online as a performer than I did in the 10 years prior. I have the ability to play with improvisers with tons more experience and talent than myself, challenging me to rise to their level. I have had the privilege of working with improvisers who were new to the improv and re-learning the tools and rules through their eyes.
As performers, we've adapted to the things that online play gives us that we can't do (or don't do) in real life. Costumes and props have been one of my favorite things during the pandemic. It reminded me of my musical theater days and just how much I move within a character with the addition of a hat, a wig, glasses and more. Karla disappears and the weird wonderful creatures from within me come out to play. As improvisers, we truly learned how to be the actors we've always been by seeing our emotional abilities and authenticity on camera. We can delve into the world of cinematography, sound engineering and musical accompaniment through camera angles, background music and sound effects. These give improvisers a better understanding of creating a production vs just a performance or show.
As teachers, the zoom technology has provided brilliant gifts. First, using break out rooms during class grants students the ability to practice the same exercise at the same time allowing for more class time to explore new topics or the repetition students need to master a skill. The break out rooms also offer great spaces for conversation, connection and reflection. It gives students the freedom to speak amongst themselves without an instructor present as they process and move towards understanding of the instructors teachings or even their learning styles. The chat and live transcript features free up students from notetaking so they can focus on the examples and scenes throughout class and give accessible options for more students.
These online learnings translate to a in person stage or classroom. They uplift the artform, they create improvised theater instead of just comedy. They allow us to grow in ways we couldn't even have imagined or thought we needed before the pandemic. So as the online exodus continues, I ask of schools, institutions and teachers to continue to offer virtual options. Decrease the frequency if you need to juggle in person and online, but don't walk away completely. Offer something once a month, or twice a year - whatever works for your schedule. There are members of our community that rely on these classes, jams and shows as their primary form of connection and creativity. There are folks that can't get to an in person class for accessibility reasons whether it be lack of transportation, child care or abilities. There are people who can't return to their local communities because they don't feel supported, welcomed or worse. These improvisers were there for you when you most needed them, now is when they most need you.