Last Sunday, my team Five Seven Plus won the C3Something Five-a-Side at the Nursery Theatre.
Say what, I thought improv is about playing to play, not playing to win?
Competitive improvisation can have a surprisingly positive effect on our attitude towards our own performance and our team . . .
Theatresports is a form of improvisational theatre developed by Keith Johnstone in the 1970s, inspired by professional wrestling and cage matches.
At the Five-a-side, much like in football, 8 teams battle it out (played scenes) in 3 rounds. Like at a sports event, there are commentators who remind the audience of the most brilliant moves that teams made, and strict rules for stage-time. The competition is judged either by the audience or by a panel of expert players. There is also a prize for the most valuable team player.
Some teams are veterans who know what works for them, others are newly formed teams of experienced improvisers who are trying new things, and for some teams, this is one of their first few performances ever. A wonderful mix of players!
The audience - forgive and appreciate
My favourite thing about this event is that the audience is usually full of improvisers and we tend to go by the rule of thumb of 'be the audience you want to have'. That means that when a team does really well, we cheer and roar and whistle and make them feel loved! When a team doesn't do so well that night, we still cheer and roar and whistle and make them feel loved, only with slightly less amplitude.
An audience full of improvisers can be hard to please (they watch a lot of improv), yet it is also the most forgiving of failure and most appreciative of success.
After the show, everyone congratulates each other for playing. We tell each other which scenes or moves we particularly enjoyed and what about their show made us love improv in general.
This is a fantastic way of giving feedback for what worked well and telling teams about their strengths, regardless of how far they made it in the competition. There's no need to tell them what didn't go so well because they already know they didn't make it through to the next round and a live audience gives immediate feedback by being silent. When you're on stage, those moments can feel a lot longer than they actually are.
It can be a lot harder to pinpoint what it was exactly that the audience did enjoy, especially when you are so focused that you forget that there are lots of people watching you. Sometimes it's a particularly funny and well placed line, another time it's that one hand gesture that said it all.
Letting someone know what you liked that they did and making them feel good about it, increases the chance of them repeating it and creating more scenes you like. This is true on and off stage.
The game - play to play
By creating an environment where it's ok to try and see what happens, and where it's equally ok to do really well and shine, we allow people to enjoy the growing process.
So really, it's not about winning the 5-a-side - it's about supporting the courage to go on stage and make up scenes based on audience suggestions, testing new material, forgiving what didn't work, connecting with teammates and friends, celebrating what works well and revelling in laughter.
Here you can find upcoming Five Seven Plus shows.