The scene opened and two improvisers began the show. They hadn’t looked at each other when the lights had come up, and when they did to their horror, one of them was putting X-rays on a Lightbox and the other was frying something in a pan. What fresh hell is this? Are we in a Doctor’s office? Or are we in a domestic scene? Quick as a flash, one said to the other ‘I see you’ve brought your work home with you, again.’

The power of improvisation to hold contrasting ideas in the same space is a powerful one to behold. When I first started improvising, eighteen years ago, I took the classic mantra Yes And (where you accept the offer of one performer and build on it) to mean we must always agree with the other person in the scene. A sort of chummy, friendly way of being together. We all agree! That is the best way. And indeed, it makes for an easier ride. Except when we don’t REALLY agree, but pretend to agree. Then we start getting into difficulty. We are saying ‘Yes’ with a ‘No’ in the back of our head. We become frustrated, we remove ourselves from the scene by backing away slowly. Instead of accepting the frying of an egg, we say ‘That’s a funny looking X-Ray’ and in one swoop we have undermined our fellow performer’s offer, insisted our offer is the one to go with and put our friend in the position where they now have to try to justify what they are doing with the frying pan motion. Might be hilarious- but will, on some level, be devastating.

Our current landscape of polarisation has us believe there is only a right and a wrong way. That we must take sides and convince the other to change completely to our way of thinking. What if, instead, we were to bring our positions together, accepting them both as a starting point and allowing an exchange that leads us somewhere else? Somewhere we can both reside. Rather than convince the other of your argument, you allow the space to hold the difference and see where it leads us. A willingness to explore, to shift, to play.

The Realisation Festival is in its third year and this year we are looking at Unlearning and Reimagining Difference. I am excited to not only co-host the event with my pal and collaborator, Jonathan Rowson, but to bring improvisation into this space and explore what it might tell us about difference as a resource, rather than a problem. Can’t wait to see what emerges.

Photo – Karla Gowlett

All blog posts