Experiment # 4
Playing with an image
Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and simply think of a moment in your life that was important to you. It can be joyous and happy; like a graduation from high school, or sad; like discovering you did not make the basketball team, or dangerous; like the time you nearly drove off the bridge. It does not make any difference so long as it is one of those important moments from your past that crops up easily.
Next, you see just one picture of that moment like a snap shot.
Just close your eyes and relax with that snap shot image. Do not try to find it and think: there it is I am done.
Relax and move into the image by focusing on the details and the details within and around the details.
Once you have the snap-shot image firmly in your mind, open your eyes and hold the image before you. Even though your eyes are now seeing the walls and pictures of the physical room, hold the image in your mind.
As you are holding the image, allow it to play through the memory.
Whatever image you have chosen will want to move and develop through the whole action. Just let it move through and watch it as though it is a movie.
Move through the experience as though you are sharing it with another. Hold it as long as you can.
Here is a video of the students of Independence High School in Wisconsin working with “being” in a workshop. View all of the workshop segments at The Virtual Workshop Page
The difference in the directions for being and relaxation practices, such as meditation and self hypnosis, is that in playing with image the resulting relaxation is not an end in itself. The calm that comes with playing with image is not the end point, but just the opposite. It is the beginning or starting point to becoming playful by bridging your image.
If you can only feel relaxed and playful in your bath tub alone…what good is that? Once you have created and are holding an image, is when the fun begins. Now you begin bridging the image into the next moment. You open your eyes and hang on to the image, bringing it back into the conceptual world, even as you see the room around you. In projecting the image from the within out into the world, you began to build the bridge between boredom and being. As you open your eyes, the room has not changed, the faucet is still dripping, the walls are the same color, but you have changed. You are not experiencing the room in the same way you did before. That is the bridge!
As you practice and cross back and forth over the bridge you will be able to do so with greater ease. You will not need to sit in your tub in the bathroom, you will be able to make the crossing at work, driving to the store, or raking leaves.
Learning to play with image and then bringing it back out into the conceptual world is the core of improvisation and meeting your playful self. The act of bridging boredom into being and then – being into playful – is the very dynamic that energizes improvisation into a performance that delights audiences. These skills are absolutely necessary for improvisation to work, and they are skills you can learn to bring into your life. This is powerful stuff that can lead you to a whole new awareness or release as realized by Ann earlier in the book.
As you make the move in and out of playing with image you are learning to be playful and discovering skills to play with others. Do you remember a category on a report card; plays well with others? This is a good thing!
How can we play with others unless we are present to play? If your conscious mind is full of the emotional residue of the conflicts of the day, you cannot be present as a player. You will merely be walking around presenting the anxiety of your day. You are carrying all the stuff from your recent past, be it an argument with your mate, a car that won’t start, a sprained ankle. How playful is that?
So, playing with image moves you out of the irrelevant emotional baggage of your recent past and puts you back in touch with your playful self.
Playing with image can seem tedious and unreachable in your first attempts. Remember you are learning a new and foreign skill. Just as you would approach learning to dance, ski, or golf, you can practice this exercise until it has become a skill you can accomplish with ease in just a few moments.
How might your life be different if, when you feel overwhelmed and out of control with family and friends, you could turn to a simple skill to connect you with your lighter playful self?
The ends will justify the means.
Playing with image is as simple as it is profound. This realization, which seems obvious in retrospect, did not become obvious to me until some years of work and observation of players and performances. In the course of experimentation, I finally was able to explain being in a way that others could duplicate the experience. The result was an exponential leap in the quality of work of the players since it kept them in the intuitive tract with much greater consistency.
Playing with image continues to prove a valuable skill in acquainting people with their playful self, even more effective than yes…and… It is a skill or practice that remained out of my reach for many years. In the earlier years of working with improvisers, and experimenting with various forms of yes…and… , we discovered inconsistencies; something seemed to be missing in the process. Yes…and…was often hit or miss as a tool for bringing players into the intuitive, playful moment. What was missing? Why did yes…and…seem to go playful at some times and fall flat at others?
In hours of observation with this question circling and darting in my head, the answer finally became clearer; it is because players can do yes…and…while staying locked in their heads trapped on the conceptual plane. Even when done well, yes…and…could fall flat when it rode on a purely conceptual level. The question became; what was the root cause of this inconsistency? Then it became clearer. The exercise led to a playful place – ONLY when the emotional life of the players was carried with the interaction.
In workshops we began practicing yes…and…in ways that would strengthen the emotional underpinning. We began by raising the stakes within the scenes we evolved, and called it as: going for the meat! We focused on making emotionally charged comments directly about our partner: You look like you are about to cry – rather than – That is a new shirt. We discovered as we would go for the meat in our observation statements the scenes and conversations would tend to move into a more playful place.
So it became clear that yes…and…would lead to playful place when the emotional underpinnings were raised, but even then, the scene could easily shift back to a flat conceptual place. What were we missing? How could we locate and focus on the emotional engine that allowed yes…and…to move into playful? Was there another way to get to the important emotional underpinning of yes…and…?
The answer was: Shut up, to put it bluntly – or to be quiet – to be silent.
The answer: If talking was influencing our track into a playful place, what would happen if we discarded words completely? What would be left? ————sharing an image to arrive at being.
The awareness of being through the simple directions above is the hub, center, and foundation to which all of the other exercises are connected and built. Earlier in this book we talked about what is left when the script, props, costumes are all stripped away and I quoted the words of two great teachers Viola Spolin and Sanford Meisner and the specific words they used to point to intuitive awareness; Inner impulse and responding in immediacy.
How do we begin to locate our inner impulse and how to respond in immediacy? Just follow the directions for playing with image above. It is through that process you will experience inner impulse, responding in immediacy, and being your playful self. I do not mean to suggest that the work and direction of the great teachers should be dismissed or ignored, but that the playing with image exercise offers a simple, practical path for discovery of the basis of their teachings.