Why Improv is Like Hypnotism
My mate Matthew told me one afternoon that he was going to do an improv course at a place nearby. I was looking for ways to improve my comedy hypnosis stage show and on a whim I said I’d come too.
I thought it would be about being witty and good with words.
What I found has been better, totally unexpected, and it has a great deal in common with hypnotising people.
It may seem obvious but you cannot hypnotise a person by arguing with them. Whatever they say and do, the hypnotist has to go with it. “Yes, you don’t think you can be hypnotised, and and that means you’ve already begun to think about what that will feel like when you go under.” I got my money’s worth from the stage one course on day one with “yes, and”. The rest has been a bonus.
A Safe Place
Most of what I do at the start of a show is to create a safe space for people to volunteer. It is for many a huge risk to step up onto the stage and do anything at all (not helped by the antics of some of my less reputable, ahem, colleagues). So much of what I do is about creating an environment for people to step into and be themselves. This is so much like the team environment in improv that I noticed it within the first hour of the course.
The safer people feel, the more they relax and get into it. The opposite is also true.
“Don’t try and make it happen, don’t stop it from happening, just let it happen”
I say that line several times during the hypnotic induction at the start of my show. Yesterday was day 7 of our level 1 course, and Andrew Strano said the same thing in about 5 different ways. Just be yourself in scene. Something will happen. You don’t need to do anything for that to occur. When it comes up, don’t resist, just go with it, whatever it is.
Relax and Focus
Hypnotic trance is not really like sleep although it can look the same. It is not a loss of focus, it is a heightened focus. I work with my volunteers to help them to relax and to focus. To let everything else go.
Much of what we are learning at level 1 is to relax, and to focus. To be aware of what our partners and teammates have just said and done, and to relax and go with it.
Utilisation - Everything is a Gift
We use the term “gift” in improv, and to treat everything that happens as a gift. One key technique to hypnosis is to use everything that happens as part of the induction. We call this “utilisation”. Someone in the audience drops a glass during the trance induction, and the hypnotist might say “that’s right, everyone drops their glass when they fall asleep”. This turns an unwelcome noise into a validation that everyone can understand.
We support each other to succeed unconditionally at improv. We want people to “go for it”, and no matter what they do we think it is great that they did it. It is never wrong. It just is.
During a show I will say the phrase “that’s right” when I see someone doing something about which they may be uncertain. “That’s right”. You are right. What you are doing is good because you are doing it.
It Is About Intimacy
I think the word that best describes where Andrew is taking us is “intimacy”. Not in a sleazy way, but about revealing who we really are, what we really feel and to interact from that place.
The highlights of my show always happen when one of my volunteers reveals a part of their character that they had kept hidden - a glimpse of who they really are. “Into me see”, intimacy. Everyone has hidden depths, and they are beautiful.
People Are Funny
People being their real selves on stage are funny and interesting. That is why this works. Be yourself, comedy is simply a side effect.
Check out The Improv Conspiracy for more about the course I am doing.