Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Improvise

Concentrate on the things that grow in the garden of your mind and don't play with imaginary toads.

Dana Bate
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Hello Jon
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Years ago, when I was preparing an Off Broadway play in New York, there was a director who took much fiendish delight in playing stupid games with his actors. Some directors, unfortunately, are like that. This was a serious play about drug addiction called "A Hatful Of Rain." My intuition told me that I probably didn't want to work with this director but the two younger actors in the show were very sure that I was the one they wanted for the role, so I signed the contract.

All of the other actors had been working on the play for several days and were familiar with the script. I had only read it once, but the director wanted us to start off improvising. Now improvisation is an old technique in theatre but it is only useful if you know something about the story and the character you play. It is unfortunate that a lot of English teachers don't understand that principle.

One of the actors in this play was a very good improvisor and took up about a half hour treating us to a long and involved scenario which was very interesting but had nothing to do with the play. When my turn came I had nothing to say since I wasn't that familiar with the story. The director pushed me to do something and I came up with an improvisation that was of no use to me or anyone else. Finally I insisted that we were just wasting time. We had 2 weeks before opening and I needed to learn the lines and study the script. The director had no choice but to relent.

The human being is an endlessly fascinating creature. We are capable of understanding great ideas, of making elaborate plans and carrying them out, of creating great beauty and contributing great value to the society in which we live. And what do we do? We fret. We worry about tomorrow, we think of all the things that could go wrong, we imagine complex but totally fictitious scenarios and let them fill our thoughts, we get caught up in strange rituals which govern our daily activities for the sake of a false sense of security, while at the same time we ignore the things that are really important until they insist themselves upon us. We play with toads and let the garden go.

Mental discipline isn't all that difficult. It just takes a choice. And it takes focus. I admit I can fill up my thoughts with all sorts of slimy things hoping around in my mind. Who can't? It seems to be a law of nature that if you leave something alone long enough it will disintegrate. The correct therapy to cure a disintegrating mind is to start using to think in a positive and disciplined manner.

Good conversation is another healthy activity, but it has to be "good" conversation not the negative, down focused junk talk that some people like to engage in. When you witness an exchange of ideas slowly morphing into a toad change the subject or walk away. That's an improvisation leading nowhere.

Projects that occupy your mind are excellent therapeutics against toads. I find it in writing, painting and lately rearranging my new home. It isn't hard to find something to do to focus your mind out of the cobwebs of low level toad mentality onto a higher plane of experience. If in doubt read a good book.

An actor has to have intense concentration when he is on the stage. Whenever my inner monitor told me I was losing concentration I would ask myself a question about something that had just been said or done in the play. It gave me a fresh approach to what I was doing there and what followed was like new to me, an improvisation.

DB - Vagabond Journeys
Never Give Up

3 comments:

Jon said...

I'm reluctant to admit the fact that I've often spent time improvising with toads. Thanks for reminding me that there is a wealth of wonderful gardens to cultivate.

FrankandMary said...

It think it may be the hoping the toad turns into a Prince thing.
Doesn't happen. ~Mary

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Fortunately, I have never been one to really fret. If I have to deal with an issue, I mull it for a day or two, make up my mind, and move forward.