If you're a first time visitor to the iQuantum Blog, please refer to the "Foundations of Quantum Improv" to give you an appropriate background to the philosophies and strategies discussed here. #1 What is Quantum Improv #2 More Quantum Background #3 Newton's Second Law of Motion

If you've missed one or more entries in the series:
ReV Up Your Improv Scenes
you can now easily access each and every part.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Positive - Negative Charge

Last post I discussed the inhibitor/promoter pair. I want to extend the discussion on that to talk about energy. Remember, one of the foundations of Quantum Improv is that we look to move forward in our scenes. When we move forward, we have a positive energy. When we move the other way, we have negative energy. Notice, however, how these energy exchanges work in our natural world. If we have a sufficient positive force or energy, we are moving forward. If the next energy introduced is a negative energy, then we move backward, right? Not at all. First the forward momentum from the initial positive energy introduced must be diminished - down to nothing before we will be going in reverse.

Ever try reversing the direction of your ceiling fan? When you hit reverse, it doesn't just automatically go backwards, even though the energy introduced is completely reversed. I've put the machine in reverse, but it still moves forward, albeit slower - and slower - and slower, until it stops, then slowly starts in the other direction until it is going the other way with as much momentum as it was moving originally.

We've experienced a transfer of energy, from positive to negative, from forward to backward.

Now let's look at how this can relate to an improv scene. Setting our common language, we are looking to build something together, between two improvisers let's say, and we are looking for our scene to move forward. We are looking for positive energies to be built on positive energies in order to move our scene forward. For the purposes of this discussion, positive means that which moves the scene forward, negative inhibits forward movement.

Here is an annoyingly general statement. I believe most improvisers are too quick to introduce negative energies into their scenes. I do not champion the idea that there should never be any negative energy in a scene. Obviously you can't have conflict if you don't offer some negative energy. Conflict, obstacles, trials, challenges - these are the things drama is made of and we must have them if we desire to tell a story. I'll go more into detail regarding that idea in future posts.

So I'm not against offers that add conflict. I do feel however, that many improvisers think that simply taking the opposite view will be the best road to desired conflict. Another quick play is the opposing perspective, or the challenge to the offered perspective. Although I think this style of interplay definitely has its place, I think it is too often used prematurely. When used prematurely, the desired effect is lost - that is, moving the scene forward. Let me go back to the energy transfer model to explain why and how this might be happening.

Two improvisers Carl and Sarah are building a scene. Carl makes an offer (positive energy). Sarah immediately challenges (questions) Carl's perspective. The trouble with this is there was not enough positive energy built up before the negative energy was introduced. There was minimal momentum developed from the positive momentum. What will happen is the positive energy will be quickly diminished and the pair will find themselves stalled with no forward progress. What they will have to do is start again with some sort of positive energy. If Sarah makes a new offer and Carl immediately takes a conflicting viewpoint, we're in the same place once again - going nowhere. Too many starts and stops like this will not have a positive effect on your audience - or your playing together dynamic.

This is why I advocate more positive energies built on one another, especially at the top of the scene. How many scenes have you seen or been in that you would feel just didn't get the momentum built? You gotta get those fan blades going first, then when you add a negative force or energy, you won't stop your forward movement - now you're creating drama, now you're creating art.

And once you get those fan blades going using your promoters, you can weather an inhibitor or two. But we must keep a watchful eye and mind of the overall energy. Too many inhibitors can grind us to a halt. In fact, since we're looking to move forward, we should be mindful that our inhibitors don't slow us down too much. When we do this and do it correctly, you will see that your "conflict" offers and responses actually have the impact of moving the scene forward, making it more exciting and impactful, and not just stalling it.

How can this be, you might be asking. Isn't that the negative energy you're talking about? Well, technically it is, but we're using it as a tool for our benefit, to make the scene ebb and flow, transferring between positive and negative energies - with the constant that there are not too many inhibitors piled on or pressing too heavily on the forward motion.

Look at professional golfers, who have taken the science of inhibiting energies in their natural world and used them to their benefit. Tennis players use this dynamic too. They call it backspin. A backspin is the ball or object rotating in reverse - backward - negative energy. Fortunately there is a strong enough force moving the ball forward at a velocity that the backspin seems to have zero effect. But when the ball hits the ground, the value of that inhibiting force is realized. It helps the golfer from suffering the natural result of all the forward momentum he has forced on the ball. When it lands it doesn't just stay in forward motion with nothing to stop it. It hits and the inhibiting energy takes over, now able to overcome the original velocity. This effort gently moves the ball from past the hole more slowly towards it. A much more controlled approach than hitting before the hole and continuing to roll towards it at what will amount to a speed that is too high.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Inhibitors & Promoters

When improvisers begin classes - especially at SAK, but surely anywhere you might take classes, one of the first lessons is the classic "NO Blocking." Its compliment is "Yes, or yes, and."

This is the classic and foundational inhibitor-promoter pair in improv. Many weeks are spent on developing the yes mentality. But generally we start with the "No Blocking."

Something that begins in us very early in life develops this blocking mechanism. I used to think that as children we are free of this and that as we progress through life the pressures and demands of the world and the people around us squish and squeeze the yes freedom out of us.

But when I had kids I realized how early quickly and easily the "no" factor becomes apparent. It seems to be ingrained in us somehow. A core human condition. I believe it is a survival instinct based on fear.

I have observed that there are two basic reasons people give the no so quickly and both relate to a loss of control and generally involve feelings of safety and security.

It seems the no is either a play for power or a play for safety - a survival instinct. The survival instinct is the most common. I'm afraid I won't know where it will go so it is better (safer) to stay put. Many times we even think we are willing to adventure, but the no comes very quickly and very definitively. There is also a lack of confidence that if I let it go somewhere (without dying or getting hurt) that I will have the wherewithal to get out of it or get on to the next thing.

The problem is we end up doing nothing, or vacillating back and forth between doing nothing and almost doing something, but then actually doing nothing.

The power play is actually two-fold, one being equally fear-based. That is the notion that I don't trust where you might go with it, or that it will be fun or fruitful, it is better for me to send us forward.

The problem is we end up doing nothing, because in improv you can't have just one partner making all the moving forward choices. It has to be a partnership between two people. Partner. Partnering. (See the key word?) Unfortunately some think there is partnership in follow me, I know exactly what to do, but there is not.

The other, more unfortunate part of the power play is still fear based, but not survival fear based. I don't want to follow your stuff. I want to follow my stuff. I don't want you to get accolades, I want to get the accolades, the glory, the credit. This selfish motivation is still fear based at its root because it says I won't (or can't) survive if I don't get the glory.

The problem is we end up doing nothing, or we do something but it is very stilted and one-sided, and doesn't look like co-creation (because it's not).

The first thing an improviser needs to learn to do is let go. Relinquish control. Stop blocking. (Isn't it ironic that to progress in improv we have to block the instinct to block?)

Once an improviser learns to do this, the skill will develop into an ability to do amazingly more than they every dreamed, and in fact far more of what they want in the first place.

Herein is described the improv inhibitor of the highest magnitude. An improviser who is able to minimize this inhibitor has made a major breakthrough. The Master improviser, however, will learn to minimize many other inhibitors. What are those inhibitors? Undoubtedly you can think of several yourself. Others will be discussed in future posts. But we won't just focus on inhibitors, although minimizing them will clear a great path for improv success - we will also look at promoters. Skills and techniques that will super charge the improviser and arm them with awesome tools ready to help them advance to the next levels of creativity and improv prowess.

As always your questions and comments are highly encouraged.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Newton's First Law of Motion

Here's the bulk of science behind Quantum Improv. The idea is that improv scenes - starting them, building them, and playing them out mirror the energy transfer of objects in motion in our universe. By looking at that scientific model, not only can we build a wonderful language and vocabulary which we can use to describe and analyze our improv scenes, but we can also see how energy transfer as discovered and studied in our real or natural world mirrors very similar dymanics at work in an improv scene.

This is especially true and relevant for improv scenes that desire to build stories that progress and move forward. For a physical demonstration of Newton's First Law of Motion, check out the accompanying video.
Why Newton's First Law of Motion? And what exactly is that one? As mentioned in the previous post, Newton's First Law of Motion states or suggests that a body at rest will stay at rest until some force puts it in motion. Conversely, or in addition to that idea, is the notion that an object in motion will stay in motion until a force acts upon it to stop it.

As we look at objects in motion, we see that there are many forces that are able to stop the object from its forward progression, once a force has put it in motion. Some of these are natural forces in our universe which we cannot control. The two most prominent and familiar to us are gravity and friction. But there are many other things that can stop, impede, hinder or inhibit forward progression.

This is a great lesson for our improv work. If our scene is the "object" we desire to be in motion, "motion" for us means a scene moving forward, progressing, building.

There are things we can do which inhibit the forward progression of our scenes - our most common and familiar is "blocking." There are also things we can do in our improv work to promote forward progression or movement in our scenes. The one we all know so well is "Yes!" followed closely by "...and."

The scientific logic behind Quantum Improv suggests that we can reach the greatest potential in our scenes (and as improvisers), converting that potential energy to kinetic energy (action, progression, etc.) by minimizing those choices that inhibit forward progression in our scene.

[Blocking is only one such inhibitor. More will be discussed in subsequent posts]

If we did only that, logic suggests our scenes would build and progress faster and more efficiently. If we add to that practices that maximize the promotion of forward progress we can do so even faster and even more efficiently.

Quantum Improv does both of these things to empower an individual to transform into an extremely dynamic and successful improviser. Not only one that engages the audience and brings pleasure to an improv performance, but one who other improvisers will kill to work with. An improviser who not only gives, but one who grabs - not the attention, but the potential. An active, exciting, dynamic, playful and imaginative improviser, never at a loss for ideas, connections and creative imagery, masterfully weaving in and around stories. Wouldn't it be great to improvise with that kind of gusto and confidence all the time? That is what is meant by Quantum Improv - using the science of Quantum Mechanics for Improv Success!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More Quantum Background

We are in the second term of the Quantum Improv workshop. There is some great work being done and some great learning, not just for the students, but for me as well. Last post describes what exactly is meant by Quantum Improv and its connection with science (and physics) thus, the Quantum in Quantum Improv.

To give a little more background on what Quantum Improv is all about, I will describe further a scientific theory that is at the heart of Quantum Improv.

Much of this work began to fester in my head several years ago, while considering and analyzing what makes improv work - and more importantly what makes it work well.

I kept hearing a phrase in my head - "nothing but potential..." From motivational speakers we hear all sorts of encouragements to reach your maximum potential, or highest potential yield. I remember hearing the phrase in movies - "that kid's got nothing but potential." It made me think of the improv scene. That too starts with nothing but potential. I then remembered a high school science lesson about the transfer of energy from potential energy to kinetic energy.

Again my mind was drawn to the improv scene. This is our ideal of the improv scene - something that goes from potential to kinetic. As we progress our scene, we strive to find action (something that moves, in other words kinesis, or kinetic) in the scene. We make offers - something happens. We say yes to the offers - something else happens. If nothing happens the scene is boring. If something happens, it is interesting and again ideally, exciting. If not exciting in content, exciting in how the improvisers worked together successfully to build something out of nothing.

In my next post I will discuss a scientific model that wonderfully parallels what we are trying to do in improv scenes. This scientific model is base on Newton's First Law of Motion which basically states "A body at rest stays at rest until a force puts it in motion," and the other side of that natural law, which posits "A body in motion will stay in motion until some force stops it." This is a scientific parallel to the basic improv 'rules' "Yes, and..." and "No Blocking."

I'll explain more next time...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What is Quantum Improv?

Quantum Improv suggests we can become better improvisers by studying some of the smallest elements at work in an improv scene. These boil down to the choices improvisers make. It is true and I agree with the opinion that if you get too technical you lose some of the spontaneity of the work and that's what it's all about, isn't it? There are no rules. If you make hard and fast rules that improvisers are supposed to follow they will not be "in the moment," as an improviser should.

I'm not sure I totally agree. I believe it is like learning and playing a sport. There are techniques and skills that are learned, relearned and drilled every day, even during seasons of performance.

Everyone agrees that the beginning improviser needs to learn to build with their fellow improviser. We call this the yes, and rule. We teach beginning improvisers how to open up their spontaneous minds so the creativity can flow, and then how to say yes.

But I see 4, 5, even 6 year or more veteran improvisers struggling on a stage to build a scene with their partner(s), to keep a scene going, and to move a scene towards a conclusion - let alone be interesting and/or entertaining enough for themselves and especially for an audience.

Quantum Improv concentrates on developing skills and techniques the improviser can use to do all of those things, starting from some of the most basic and simple building blocks of scene work.

This blog will be a place to generate and develop theories and practices that can help this happen for the improviser. I will use it as a forum to introduce techniques for better improv, discuss and comment on topics I see and hear in the improv community, and whenever the energy hits to rant and rail about this or that choice I see improvisers make and habits they form.

The first several posts will introduce a scientific model as a foundation for the work to be discussed and developed in Quantum Improv. This model will not only serve as an analogy for the work to be done, but it will also suggest some correlation between natural laws in our world and their effects on objects in our world, and natural laws of energy in improv that shape not only the work accomplished (the outcome) but the work set forth (the beginning).