(Rehearsal notes: 4/26/14)

Here is a recap of the refinements we’ve been making to the concept of saturation or The Prime Directive, along with further thoughts:

The essence of the idea is that, in the Lake Ivan Classic improv form, we navigate through the scene by following its Unfolding Structure, to borrow an idea from Christopher Alexander. This means that, at each moment in the scene, you take the complex experience of the energy of that moment and open yourself up to feel it more fully and more completely, and this brings you to the next moment in the scene.

More fully is shorthand for allowing yourself to feel the quality of the energy in as full a way as you can. Note that this doesn’t mean the energy you’re feeling gets more and more intense. Depending on what the energy is doing at that moment in the scene, it may be growing, remaining the same, diminishing, or changing into something different. It simply means that you are maximizing your own capacity to be filled with the feeling of the energy, at what ever size it happens to be just then.

More completely is shorthand for feeling the moment in more ways, on more levels, and bringing out hidden, latent aspects of the moment. (We discussed this at length earlier.) Both these terms are purposefully kept vague, so you can use them in the actual preparation for your scene, without specifying exactly what more fully and more completely will mean at any given moment in the scene.

(If you find that this formulation of more fully and more completely doesn’t work for you there is an alternative formulation which works better for some people, including myself.)

Note what this clarifies for us about the Prime Directive, and exactly what makes it “prime” in the technique. Previously the Prime Directive was simply defined as “feeling the flow of the scene more and more fully.” It was almost like an extra instruction, something we were supposed to do while improvising, which made the scene better in some unspecified way. We are now clarifying that this action of unfolding is actually the method by which we navigate through the scene. It says that in the scene, we continually explore, discover and uncover. It’s how we get from each moment to the next moment, from the first moment all the way to the last. As such, we can say that the action of unfolding the scene is actually our main action in the scene (in the method acting sense): it is what we focus on actively doing throughout the scene, and it enables us to find our way through all the twists and turns of the scene. It is not “extra,” it is our central action.

At the same time, we can say that we don’t want to navigate through the scene by taking just one level of feeling, for example the musicality and rhythm of the scene, and simply following it along from moment to moment. If we do this, we find ourselves getting stuck in the level of musicality. If we try to navigate through the scene by following a fascinating train of associations, from idea to idea, and from image to image, then we are making the mistake of riffing, of getting stuck at the level of images and ideas. If we try to navigate through the scene by following one tactile sensation to the next, we are making the mistake of getting stuck in the level of tactile sensations.

It is important to note that the experience of following something along still happens all the time within a Classic scene, and it is perfectly OK, so long as we don’t navigate through the scene by following. For example, it would be very common for a long stretch of a scene to follow along a changing rhythmic quality. This is natural and helps to give the scene a clear rhythmic shape, so long as we continue to discover each new moment in the scene by unfolding it and feeling it more fully and more completely. It also often happens in a scene, for a lengthy stretch, that the ideas and images mentioned are all directly connected to each other, and this is also natural and helpful to the shape of the scene, so long as we are not navigating to the next moment by following a chain of associations, but rather by unfolding each moment to find the next moment.

We are already familiar with one very clear way of experiencing this distinction between navigating by following and navigating by unfolding. I’m speaking of our use of dialog moments, where the two characters appear to be answering each other back and forth in a dialog format for a part of a scene. These dialogs sometimes last for one exchange, but they can also last for several minutes. I think we’re both already familiar with how we handle these moments. We don’t navigate through the scene by simply following the dialog, as actors do in standard improvs, where you follow the line of what I say to him, and how he answers me back. Rather, we navigate by continually unfolding the scene, and feeling each moment more fully and more completely, bringing us to the next moment. While we’re doing this, the appearance of having a dialog can last for quite a long while, but we’re still not navigating by following the line of the dialog. Inevitably, a moment comes where the unfolding leads us into saying a line which is not part of the dialog any longer.

So we will now treat all forms of following the scene in a similar way. A musical, rhythmic line may continue for a while in the scene. A chain of associated ideas and images may continue for a stretch of the scene. A sequence of tactile sensations may continue for a while. But, at all times, we actually navigate to each new moment by unfolding. The parts of the scene where we seem to be following along are allowed to occur wherever they are needed, but we don’t use them for navigation.

This helps explain why the warm-up exercise in which we use a piece of recorded music may have been helpful in some respects, but it was a counter-productive warm-up exercise in other respects, as I have dimly suspected for a long time. Using recorded music did indeed give us a general model of the idea that the scene already exists in its perfect form. But the exercise, after all, consists of following the music along from moment to moment. We did concentrate on constantly feeling the music “more fully,” but we nevertheless navigated our way through the scene by following the music along, almost the way one would read a musical score. This is not helping us at all to practice navigation through unfolding the scene.

The newer warm-up is more useful. In the new exercise, we practice the idea that the scene already exists in its perfect form by using the real space we are in, and the real objects around us as the “existing text” from which to build the scene. We simultaneously use our hands and our voice (or words) to feel and experience the energy we find at a particular spot in the room. As we navigate through the scene, we try continuously to feel the energy more fully and more completely. We can either stay in the same spot and use the same object, or we can enlarge the area we’re using, or we can move to an adjacent spot, or even follow a “ray of energy” taking us through the room to a new area. The rule is either stay where you are, or move away, whichever one allows you to feel the energy more fully and more completely.

This exercise allows us to practice the Unfolding Structure. Using our hands and voice (or words) together helps us to feel that we use our vocal line as an active tool to explore the space, the way we normally use our hands. Using the real room and the real objects allows us to experience that the scene is something which already exists in its perfect form. We are practicing throughout how to navigate through a scene by constantly opening ourselves to feel the energy more fully and more completely. We are also get to experience that through unfolding each moment to find the next one, we sometimes find a more fully realized version of the same place where we’ve been, and sometimes it takes us to a new place, and reveals a new facet of the scene. Both are fine, and we use whichever one gives us a fuller, more complete feeling.

This new information also helps me personally address the problem of following the curve. This concept was originally developed because I would sometimes panic, in the middle of a scene, and worry that the scene was wandering around aimlessly, and that I no longer knew if the material we were doing had any relation to the earliest parts of the scene.

In the new unfolding paradigm, this image of following the curve obviously no longer applies, because our action of navigating through the scene is decidedly not one of following a curve. It’s the wrong image. If we navigate to each new moment by unfolding the present moment, then clearly the next moment will always be related to it, because the new moment is always an enhancement of the previous moment, bringing to light its latent and hidden aspects. It becomes clear that the best method for ensuring that all of the material in a scene belongs together in the same scene is by using the navigational tool of unfolding at every moment. The scene is all one connected whole, just as a quilt is, once you have fully unfolded it. It is worth noting that when we used this image, in our last rehearsal, I experienced no panic whatsoever about the scene wandering around or becoming disconnected. Looking at the videotape afterwards confirmed that that material was indeed highly coherent when we used this technique.

The implications of this technique for Landscape Form are explored in the next entry.