A “possession” improvisation is the name I am giving to a particular variation of my improvisation style which I have been exploring this year. I call this style “possession” because it is somewhat analogous to the kinds of trance states which celebrants enter in possession cults, whether that is in a Santeria ritual, a Wiccan ritual, or some related tradition.

In these improvisations, the underlying metaphor is that the performer “surrenders” himself to a force, which “possesses” him and speaks through him. The goal is to surrender as fully as possible, and to make oneself into a vessel through which the force can manifest itself.

This metaphor emphasizes the intensity and completeness with which the actor surrenders to the voices speaking through him. The main point of interest for the audience becomes the feeling that the actor is completely transformed, that he is turning himself into a gateway through which normally-hidden forces are able to make themselves known.

Of course, this could potentially dangerous technique, especially for those who enter trance very easily. One could invite forces to take over which are not very friendly, and potentially get into trouble. The main way I’ve been guarding against this possibility is by strictly requiring that these improvisations remain fully verbal, and be performed with real English words. By remaining inside the verbal part of the brain, I am putting a brake on the danger of going too fully into trance without being properly prepared. It also helps that neither myself nor Ian W. Hill, the actor I’ve been working with, have a tendency to go into very deep trances.

A major contrast between “landscape form” and the “possession form” is that Landscape puts no emphasis at all on continuity and connectedness. Each moment is simply itself, and one does not need to pay any attention to how the present moment relates to any previous moment. Whereas Possession is much more like the “Lake Ivan Classic” form, in that in Possession, just as in Classic, continuity and connectedness are the central, most important feature of the scene.

Watching the tape of some improvs in this form, I clearly perceived that the most interesting thing about the form was to watch it as if it was telling the “story” of One Force and how it transforms over time. In other words, it is as if there is A Force in the scene, and first one of us radically opens ourselves up to surrender to the Force and become possessed by it (while the other one shares in this experience, but nonverbally), and then the other one does. (And on certain occasions, we do it by both vocalizing together.) So the interest in watching the piece is precisely to see how this “force” develops and evolves over time, as it passes back and forth between us.

Note: “develops and evolves over time” does not mean that it must be “different” in quality with each person’s speech, and it does not mean that we are actively looking for changes in the Force. Just as in Classic, what it means is that as the piece continues, we keep on opening ourselves up and fully surrendering to become possessed by the Force, and at each moment we continue to discover “what the Force is like right now.” So at each moment, we might be discovering that the Force develops by changing, by remaining the same but just possessing us more fully, or even that it continues in more or less the same way for a while. Therefore, “discover how the Force develops over time” simply means “see what happens to it over time,” and not “look for constant changes in it.” This should be a very familiar concept, since it is exactly what we do in Classic form. This is similar to a traditional piece of music, in which one listens to how the overarching line of the music “evolves and develops” over time, even though, at certain points, that “development” may consist of having a similar quality for an extended period of time.

Note: “telling the story of One Force” does not mean that the Force, at each moment in the scene has only one single quality to it and that we must both be feeling the same quality and rhythm as each other. Just as in Classic, the One Force is a complex, multi-faceted force, so that while you are speaking and becoming possessed with a certain emotional quality, I can be surrendering to the Force nonverbally (or verbally) at the same time and feeling a contrasting or musically complimentary quality. The “one force” is the complex entity that consists of your energy-state and mine (and the room’s) all taken together. This is similar to a piece of orchestral music, in which you feel that the music always has one overarching unity to it, even though that texture is often made up of several complementary or contrasting textures from different sections of the orchestra.

In other words, I discovered that the Possession form is really very close to Classic form and is a small variation on it. The variation is that Classic uses the image that the Prime Directive is “saturation” which makes it a more musical, poetic form, and often in Classic therefore the specific use of language becomes quite detailed, precise, and poetic. Whereas in Possession we use the image that the Prime Directive is surrender and becoming possessed by the force, so the emphasis is more on the depth, commitment and completeness of the transformation of the actors and the trance-like state of the performers, and therefore the verbal expression can be at times less precise and is less of a focus.

Approximate preparation to use for Possession Form:

“There is a Force in the space, a complex Force which may have many aspects to it. My job is to open myself up and allow this Force to possess me and speak through me, either by using words or silences. Throughout the piece, I will open myself up more, so that I ecstatically surrender to the Force more fully, then I open myself up even more, and surrender to the Force even more completely.”

“Generally speaking, it takes a certain amount of time for a person to fully open up and surrender to the Force, so when my partner is speaking, I will generally give him enough time and space to surrender to the Force and get a strong connection going. I will continue to feel that I am becoming more and more possessed by the Force, by living inside of his voice. I will only add my voice to his voice on those occasions when the Force that is speaking through us really demands to speak in two voices at that moment.”

“When he has finished speaking, I will then open myself to the Force using our mutual silence. When I need to use my own voice to surrender more fully to the Force, I will start using words. I don’t need to worry about word choice, I can just grab any words that come along, as long as I am ecstatically surrendering to the Force more and more fully and allowing it to speak through me.”

“At all times, I will follow the story of the Force, and see how it evolves and changes over time, as it passes back and forth between our voices and our silences.”