We have a syndrome in long form called ’sticky feet’. It is the player who is thinking on the side so much that they don’t jump into edit the scene. The thinking stops the body and shuts it down. It can paralyze players.
What a lot of people don’t get is that the body and the mind are one. When you are thinking your body stops. It’s sort of the same reasoning behind body language showing us what you are feeling. Thinking on stage is usually accompanied by no object work or where work and sometimes no movement.
But if you move your body it will unlock your mind. Just move. Break out of your head and into your body and you are free again.
Get into the where and you are into the moment. You stop thinking if you are actively doing something in a scene. If you are doing something repetitious you may fall back into thinking. If you are doing something that requires attention, emotion then you are free.
Try it next time on stage. Get into an activity that requires your attention. Explore the where. Move your feet without knowing why. You will make your time on stage much more fun.
Improvisation is about being connected in the moment. There is no right or wrong way to be in the moment. But if you are not in the moment if you are not present on stage then you are trying to get it right or trying not to get it wrong and you are thinking and not playing.To get past this you must have a honest reaction to every moment on stage. Actors call it listening. You must hear what is said and react to it honestly. If you don’t you are not improvising you are thinking, planning. plotting, but not playing.
There is only one way to play a scene and that is to react to your partner in the moment. You can make any emotional choice you want (or your character wants) as long as it is authentic, but once you try to manipulate the audience or try to get the laugh or push plot or give us exposition, you are in the wrong mind set, you are not playing.
My favorite Spolin quote is “Approval/disapproval is keeping you from a direct experience. Success/failure is a side product of the approval/disapproval syndrome. Trying to succeed or giving to failure drains us.” I would go one step farther saying that giving into the approval/disapproval syndrome almost always guarantees failure in improvisation. This does not necessarily mean failure in front of the audience, you may get laughs, but you are not improvising anymore. Thoughts that are not generated out of the scene, they are from the actor, which means you are no longer present in the scene you are ‘in your head.’
“So how do I get in the moment?” Listen on stage. React to what is said in an real manner. When I play a gay character who is in love with another man on stage, I try to be in love with that person. I look at them and want to touch them and hold them. I love them. My character loves them. I will do what lovers do, because I am there.
Next time you’re playing and you start thinking, planning, plotting, excusing, just shut your mouth, look the other player in the eye and listen with your body and your heart. You will get back into the moment fast and then you are in a field playing.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” Rumi.