TB Agent Holly Stoppit’s experience at the Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium

TB Agent, Holly Stoppit, shares with us her experiences at the Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium, May 2019.

Hello reader!

I’m Holly Stoppit, a Bristol-based facilitator, director and dramatherapist, specialising in playful interactive improvised performance, exploring the human condition. 

I was recently lucky enough to receive a Theatre Bristol ‘TB Agent’ grant to attend the Global Improvisation Initiative (GII) Symposium in London from the 15-18 May 2019; four days immersion in a global community of improvisers, academics, impro teachers and applied improvisation practitioners.

This blog will give you some context and taste of some of the things I learned at the symposium, as I followed the emerging threads of: 

  • Access and inclusion – how can we make our workshops open to all?
  • Embodied / experiential learning – the importance of getting the body involved in the learning process.
  • Exploring how unconscious material surfaces during improvisation.
  • Debating whether or not improvisation is in fact the answer to everything. 

You can scroll down for links to a series of individual blogs, which give a fuller description of my experiences and learning. I hope there’s something for you to take into your own practice. 

The Context

The GII are “…an initiative to explore improvisation globally to validate and cross-pollinate improvisational methodologies, theories, and techniques in all of its various forms” [from their website]. This was the second event of it’s kind, the last one taking place in the States, two years ago. This year, GII teamed up with Middlesex Uni and Improbable Theatre Company (the team who have been organising Devoted and Disgruntled, Open Space theatre networking events around the UK for the last 15 years), to present two days of seminars and workshops, followed by two days of Open Space, make-it-up-as-you-go-along organic improvised conferencing.

The theme of the conference was ‘Awareness’ and speakers came from all four corners of the globe. Their presentations, performances and workshops explored a wide range of topics related to improvisation, including; gender and identity, engaging with elders with dementia, civic engagement, theatre devising, business leadership, suicide prevention, education and artificial intelligence, as well as exploring issues around access to improvisation for marginalised people.

I was excited to have a chance to learn about what other people are getting up to, particularly in the field of applied improvisation. I’m currently on a quest to make my work more accessible, so I was especially eager to meet people who are already exploring the questions around access and inclusion.

I was also hoping to attend some practical sessions around embodied awareness. My work as a teacher / facilitator / dramatherapist is about holding rooms full of people and guiding them through processes, which I love with all my heart and soul, but in order to keep giving with all my heart, I need to refuel by putting myself in places where I’m held and guided.

I was keen to meet the other holders and guiders as it’s been getting clearer to me lately that the key to sustainability in my life (and the arts, and the world in general) is collaboration! So this felt like a great opportunity to sow some seeds for potential future collaborations.

Welcome to The Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium

On a stiflingly hot day in May, in a huge, modern, glass-topped building, on a university campus in London, improvisers of the world unite! The opening panel, representing Middlesex Uni, the GII, and Improbable, are assembling themselves on the stage. They’re late, but hey, we’re all improvisers here, we all know that things seldom happen as we expect them to… They each launch their impro pearls into the arena, here’s some that I managed to catch in my note book:

“Improvisation is at the root of being a fully functional human being.”

“Improvisation encourages collaboration as opposed to competitiveness”

“Together we can always create more.”

“Nobody enters a scene and doesn’t have an impact on it – even if they don’t say anything.”

“Improv is either growing or dying”

Looks like we’re in for a ride!

The Global Impro Blogs Menu

Consider this a choose-your-own adventure, see what jumps out at you and come with me into the wonderful world of improvisation!

1.) My first session was a panel discussion, on Gender and Identity, where I listened to experts in their fields talk about the negative bias, epistemic exploitation, consent in impro, group mind, impro’s ability to be able to foster empathy, the difference between safe space and brave space and the need for a culture of calling in, rather than calling out. To read more about this, come to the Gender and Identity Panel Discussion

2.) My second session was an experiential exploration of three ways that improvised material surfaces; from 1.) chance 2.) the unconscious 3.) social emergence. Do you want to steep yourself in theory and try out some practical exercises to explore how improvised material arises? Then come to 3 ways of surfacing, a seminar by Gunter Losel

3.) Next I attended a seminar which asked us tough questions about originality and plagiarism in impro. Do you want to answer some tough questions about your own work and explore how we can create more of our own original material and replicate less? Then come to The Snake Eating It’s Tail, a seminar by Patti Stiles 

4.) After that, I went to a panel discussion exploring how racism shows up in improvisation and what we can do about it. Do you want to eavesdrop on our conversation? Then come to a panel discussion discussing the challenges faced by BAME improvisers.

5.) At the start of day 2, I went to another panel discussion on policy and social practice, where the speakers each considered the place of improvisation in the revolution, they spoke of impro as an act of resistance, a bid for autonomy and freedom, education for learning social skills and collaboration skills and how by reducing our intensity, we can tap into our natural spontaneity. Want to hear more? Come to the policy and social practice panel discussion.

6.) After that I went to a chaired discussion, exploring how we can make our spaces more inclusive to people will different needs. Want to find out more? Come to a chaired discussion on access and inclusivity.

7.) Next I was ready to have a holiday from all this thinking and get into my body. I went to the RADICAL_CONNECTOR dance lab, which it’s founder, Marisa Godoy describes as “Active presence and/in motion: Nonlinear dance training for all bodies.” Do you want to move your body? Then come to RADICAL_CONNECTOR

8.) Still not ready to get back into the thinking world, I went to a Feldenkrais, awareness through movement session, where we basically rolled around on the floor for an hour. Do you want to hear my experiences of the impact of Feldenkrais and it’s connection with impro / spontaneity? Then come to Awareness, Social Engagement and the Availability of Choice with Victoria Worsley 

9.) Now I was ready to jump back into my brain, I went to a panel discussion on Future / Unknown. The discussion took an interesting turn of events when the attendees were invited to rearrange the space and the question of whether improvisation can indeed be the answer to everything arose. Come and find out more at the Future/Unknown, Interdisciplinary panel discussion 

10.) I was now totally exhausted, but soldering on regardless! There was so much on offer and I didn’t want to miss any of it! I went to an interactive collective story-making performance where an artist drew abstract pictures, audience members interpreted them and three performers improvised scenes. Want to hear more about that? Then come to Koray Bülent Tarhan’s 6 part story approach to co-created story making

11.) It’s day three and there’s a change of gear. We’ve moved out of the formal conference format and into an Open Space organic conference, whereby the attendees set and take care of their own agendas. Do you want to find out about Open Space conferencing? Then come to the Open Space

12.) OK, there’s still a day and a half to go and there’s so much more to talk about and I’m frazzled. I found a quiet corner with people making fabric dolls and I joined in. In the space of the hour, through participating in this peaceful, focussed, mindful activity, I realise I’m completely overwhelmed and I need to go home right now. Wanna read about that? Then come to Regina Mendes’ Dreams and A Heart session

Back at home I sat down and wrote for 4 days (hence all these blogs). Looking back at them now, I can see the huge amount of learning I experienced. 

  • The conversations around inclusivity have set me off on a trajectory towards scrutinising my own attitude to access and inclusivity, seeking more training and beginning to develop a series of collaboratively facilitated training sessions for workshop leaders and directors.
  • The embodied / experiential training nourished my soul which immediately fed into my teaching practice. I’ve been busting out my version of the RADICAL_CONNECTOR dance lab in my workshops, with hilarious results.
  • Exploring how material arises through 1.) chance, 2.) from the unconscious and 3.) through social emergence, got me thinking about the impact of the audience and how they might draw out what they want to see. Koray touched on this with his 6-part story session, explaining how in his experience, different cultures have different trends when producing ingredients for stories. Victoria invited us to explore through Feldenkrais how lowering our intensity allows us to access our spontaneity and compassion. Changing our intensity will elicit different responses. I’m interested in continuing this exploration.
  • Whether or not improvisation could be the answer to everything remains to be seen, but it’s possible that improvisation could well be playing a part in helping to save the world and if that fails, surely improvisation is our best tool?

Massive thanks to Theatre Bristol and their ‘TB Agent’ scheme, for funding me to be at the Symposium. Thanks to the Global Improvisation InitiativeMiddlesex Uni and Improbable for making it happen and thanks to all the speakers and all the attendees I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from.