One actor in my company was confused by two different directions I was giving him. I told him that, with each phrase of a scene, he should go into his “center,” (meaning his solar plexus, his emotional center) to find the flow of energy which constitutes the scene. I was also telling him that he should experience the scene with his whole body, and to have as physical an experience of the scene as possible, feeling the energy in “every cell of his body.” When he thought about feeling the scene with his whole body, he often forgot to go into the emotional center, and when he concentrated on looking for the source of feeling in his center, he sometimes didn’t experience the scene with his whole body. How are these two requirements related to each other? Which takes priority? Is the source of the energy in the scene to be found in the center, or in the body as a whole?

The larger question is about the actor’s use of her intellect, her emotions, and her physical sensations as resources to find the material of the scene. Almost everyone is very, very used to using their intellect, their ideas, to “think up” material for an improvisation. It isn’t necessary or helpful to remind actors to incorporate ideas into their work; people generally have such a strong habit of listening to their own ideas that no force on earth can stop them from doing so. The actor’s ideas will end up a part of her work without any conscious effort on her part. The two resources that actors are not used to using, and must constantly remind themselves of, are emotions and physical sensations. (This is especially true for language-based improvisations.) Telling yourself that, with every phrase in the scene, you will go into your center and open yourself up more, in order to feel the scene more fully, is a way of reminding yourself to use your emotions as a resource. Telling yourself to feel the flow of the scene in every cell of your body is a way of reminding yourself to use physical sensations as a resource. (The image of feeling it “in your cells” is a way of accessing sensations without feeling you are required to perform particular movements in order to feel something.)

So how are these two requirements related to each other? What you need to find is a non-hierarchical relationship between the elements of what you experience during the scene. This is one example of the larger requirement of improvisation technique: that you use everything you feel at every moment as the source for the scene: your physical sensations, your emotions, the energy and presence of your scene partner, the color and light and ambient sound in the playing space, your sense of the rhythmic flow of the scene, etc. These many elements are experienced holistically, that is, as one complex entity, not as a huge list of separate components. The improvisation space is a boundaryless space in which everything you experience is part of one complex whole moment.

The magic word that can help you (in your preparation) to find this boundaryless, complex whole space is “includes.” To make sure that you cover the two most important resources, physical sensations and emotions, you can remind yourself to feel the scene with every cell in your body, which always includes the emotional center. But this word can also help remind you of any part of the complex whole of experience for which you feel you need a special reminder. An actor who keeps her eyes closed too much of the time can remind herself to always include the space she is in. An actor who has a dull, insensitive and repetitive sense of rhythm can remind herself to always include the rhythmic qualities of each moment. An actor who doesn’t pay enough attention to the physical relationships between actors and props can remind herself to always include an awareness of spatial relationships.

Even the Prime Directive of the technique, the requirement that I open myself up more with every phrase, in order to feel the flow of the scene more fully, is based on the concept of “includes.” The more I open myself up, the more feelings I can include as resources for the scene. All difficulties I experience during the scene can be solved by opening myself up more, so that I can feel, that is include, more of the scene’s source.