Group mind is the crowning achievement of improvisational theater. It is when all of us on stage are connected and participating and none of us are leading and the piece moves forward to it's inevitable conclusion, that no one saw coming. Our mirroring neurons are synched up and we are all thinking the same way. It is a rare event. Even when it does happen, sometimes it is just for a moment, or maybe a scene or if we are lucky we may reach group mind for a whole set. It is when we are on stage and feel like every move made is precipitated by the move before it. Everyone's choices are in flow. These are the moments of legends and legendary groups.
Group mind is much deeper than just an organic group game. Organic games get us all flocking or adding to something together, but even then I can be in my head and judging what we are all doing. Displays of group mind astound audiences, invigorate participants, and inspire other improvisers. Everyone watching knows that the players are in it together, no one is taking the reins and somehow the horse still gets in the barn even though we didn't even see a barn there. Everyone is supporting everyone else and building on each others choices and it seems that they almost anticipated each move. The players are fully committed to the moment together. The audience is witnessing the magic.
We don't necessarily need a flowing structure either. I love playing with 'The Heirs of Hogwarts', 'The Big Noir' and 'Geek Out'. Hogwarts has a pretty structured beginning, The Big Noir is extremely unstructured and Geek Out uses a Harold and an Armando form, but I love them all because I never know what is going to happen and I trust my fellow players to not know too. We have rehearsals where we talk about the nuances of the show. We have shows where it all comes together and we never know how we got there, but that was how it had to be. We also have shows that we get to the end, but there is no group mind. Those are still good nights, but not amazing. I am in this for AMAZING!
There are some things we can do to promote group mind:
- We have to be committed to playing together. We need to rehearse and more, we need to know each other. There has to be a comfort level needed to transcend the everyday. I have to know what style improviser you are and how you play. You have to know who I am. It helps if we see each other as human beings. Maybe hangout together. A group of All-Star players is not enough to get group mind. We have to play together and often to get each other.
- We all have to serve and take care of the moment more than we take care of ourselves. If I am out on stage to make myself look good or if I don't go on stage to avoid making a fool of myself, I have inhibited group mind.
- We have to fell free with the form. If I go back to "Scene 1, Beat 3" because that is what the "form" calls for, even though a different choice seems to be better, I am inhibiting group mind again. I have to let go and trust myself and everyone else and do what comes next, not what "should" come next.
- I have to be with a group (duh). If I am performing with just one or two other people, yes, it has it's own challenges, but I can't get that thrill of attaining group mind with just one other person. I can have fun, but it is easy to get on the same page one or two other people. We make eye contact, boom. Getting a group of people all moving forward and all being interconnected is something totally different. It's this type of network bonding where one choice effects all of us that is the most fun, freeing and engaging.
- Get notes, take notes and talk. After a rehearsal or a show, chat about what felt good and what felt forced. We all make forced choices, even if that choice is inaction. Understanding how our moves are seen by the people we play with help us be better players.
- Understand that group mind is special. We will have nights that we struggle to connect, but on those nights that we all let go together, it will be worth the effort. And, the more we touch it, experience it and know what we need to do achieve it, the more often we can find it together.
Letting go of our ego to connect and serve every time we get on stage is hard. Getting everyone in the group to let go is even harder. But, if we are all focused on taking care of each other and trusting each other, huge joy and magic are the rewards.