When I was teaching improv acting classes on a regular basis, I was part of an ensemble of instructors who each coached a youth performance team. We’d divvy up rehearsal space and everyone counted themselves lucky that we were able to use the two giant classrooms and the stage. This way, no one got stuck in the tiny classroom – Classroom #3.
Classroom #3 wasn’t exactly tiny, so much as it had a different layout than the other two. Those two were big and open and spacious rectangles with plenty of play area and audience area and room to spare. People loved those rooms. Classroom #3 on the other hand was thin, narrow, leaving one with either plenty of room to play without much space for the audience or plenty of audience room but not much play space, depending on whether the instructor set the action lengthwise or width wise for the class session.
During a performance, however, I realized the actors in the team I coached tended to stand long distances from each other when doing a scene. There was this big gaping chasm of six or more feet in between them – you know, just like when we speak to someone in real life and choose to create a wide gap, right? Something told me the wide open spaces we rehearsed in perhaps granted permission to be timid with spacial relationships and it might be time to switch it up. I decided to try an experiment: we’d voluntarily rehearse in Classroom #3.
There was much bemoaning this choice. It’s too small, it’s too constricting, it’s not free enough. The trade-off with the larger rooms, of course, was that with freedom of space the students ended up having non-genuine scenework. Seriously, who stands twelve feet apart when they propose? So we practiced performing scenes in which the actors were forced to be within close proximity to each other. It reached the point where one of our main goals of the next performance was to, at some point in each scene, touch the other actor to accentuate intimacy and spacial relationship.
The rehearsals went a lot better than the students thought they would. And so did the show. Scenes were more intimate, more genuine, and new visually. They were forced to try something new. By trading up one kind of freedom for another kind of freedom born out of constraints, they learned. Something new for their tool belt.
Which classsroom do you prefer? Which classroom challenges you?