In my work at Lake Ivan, I don’t use a narrative structure, so, early on in my work, I discovered that it was necessary to find a replacement for the narrative structure. After all, in an abstract performance, if the piece simply meanders from texture to texture to texture, the audience will begin to stop trusting the actors after about 5 or 6 minutes, regardless of how fascinating, surprising, or well-performed the various textures are. The audience eventually develops the feeling that the piece is “wandering around, not going anywhere” and is wasting their time. They have an intrinsic need to feel that the performers are deliberately taking them on a journey, leading them step by step deeper into the heart of something. In fact the scene works best if the audience feels that every moment in it is focused more or less directly on furthering this exploration.

This is actually equally true in a narrative or comedy scene. Narrative scenes appear to have the form of What Happens Next: that is, they continually answer the question “what happens next.” But if all you are doing is creating a long list of sequential events, then the same thing happens that happens in an abstract piece: it begins to seem like the scene is meandering all over the place for no reason. A narrative improv also needs to feel like it is taking you on a journey deeper and deeper into the heart of something.

This is why I developed the concept of Saturation. The idea is that if you, the performer, are like a sponge, your goal is to constantly open up your pores and fill yourself more and more fully with the feeling-state of the piece you’re performing. Note that this concept of getting more and more saturated does not mean that you get more and more “emotional” and it also does not mean that your performance gets louder and louder or faster and faster. After all, if the feeling-state of the piece is one of calm quietness, if you keep opening yourself up to that energy, you will get quieter and quieter, calmer and calmer, not louder and louder. It simply means that with every breath, every phrase, every beat of the scene, you open yourself up to feeling the energy of the piece more fully, regardless of whether that energy is small, medium, or large, emotional or unemotional.

And what is that “feeling-state” which you are opening yourself up to? You don’t have to define it ahead of time, or even understand what it is. It is simply defined as “the feeling-state which the piece has now, in the present.” You stay connected to that feeling-state, and continually open yourself up to feeling it more and more fully, regardless of whether or not it changes. If the feeling-state in a given part of a scene is one of “snooty indifference” and you keep opening yourself up to become more and more saturated with that feeling, it may well be, for a while, that you feel more and more snooty and indifferent. Or, as you open yourself up to the feeling, the snooty indifference may transform itself into rage, or boredom, or it may drop away and leave a calm contentedness. The point is: you never move away from the energy, and you never disconnect from the energy, and you never ever just “sit” in the same level of saturation for more than one phrase or sentence. You always continue to open yourself up, so that you can feel more and saturate more with the next sentence. This is what creates the “narrative feeling,” the feeling that every moment in the scene is taking the audience a step further on a focused journey.

You might use this concept to build a preparation for yourself along these lines:

“The scene I am about to perform is a flow of energy and feelings which already exists in it’s perfect form. My job is to feel each and every moment of the scene. With every phrase, I will open myself up, so that I become ever more saturated with the feeling-state of the scene.”