Warm Ups

An excerpt from
TWO WORLDS AT THE SAME TIME: Full Spectrum Improvisation for the Theatre and Life
By Joya Cory

“Warm ups prepare the psycho-physical self for creative activity. We move the body, voice, and psyche into a state of relaxed readiness. The effect is to:

· Expand sensory awareness

· Open and energize the body and voice

· Prepare our selves to respond intuitively to stimuli from outside and impulse from within.

You can do this on your own any time you want to relax and get out of your head.
Take the attitude of “moving for the pleasure of it.

Melt down into your mat and stretch out on your back. Relax and release, letting your weight sink into the mat. Take a moment to check into your body with a sensory body scan. Let your awareness move through your body from head to toe and toe to head. Where, in your body, are you released? Where held? Where warm? Where cool? Really notice the changes in your body and thoughts from moment to moment.

Focusing on the breath, notice that the exhalation is the release breath, the relaxation phase of breathing. Let the exhalation be longer than the inhalation. The inhalation is more of an energizing breath. There are three parts to your breathing: the in, the out and the pause before the new breath. You can let this pause be as long as it wants to be and the vacuum action of the lungs will draw in the new breath. This can be deeply centering.

Then try this meditative movement:

On your back with eyes closed, arms over your head, stretched out, begin very slowly to lift both arms together up in the air making an arc on either side of your body as the arms move from above your head to the mat near your thighs. Control the speed of the movement to keep the arms at a constant pace.

Do this as slowly as you can and you’ll feel how gravity works on your muscles. Exhale on the lifting movement. After several arcs up and down, play with the tempo a little.

Then try the arm movement opening to each side with arms floating up from the mat to above the center of your chest where your palms can meet in a prayer-like pose.

Knowing this movement has a ritual quality helps you decide when to do it. It works well to do before toning or chanting.

Then, at some point, play with the range of motion of your arms while on your back.

Now, keep moving in a way that is very slow and continuous. Let a part of your body always be in motion. Either the whole body can be in motion, or one part can be in motion and then another can pick it up. Don’t worry about trying to get it right. It’s really about how you drop into the direct experience of physicality, the sensation: The sense of heat on the skin, the sense of energy that’s moving thru you, the sense of motion through space. Remember the breath.

Enjoy.”

Purchase your copy of Joya’s book here or in class for half price.

Here’s part of the introduction to my book, TWO WORLDS AT THE SAME TIME: Full Spectrum Improvisation for the Theatre and Life, about

Full Spectrum Improvisation, due out by 2017

It’s late December, 2014, and I’m driving across the Bay Bridge in heavy traffic & even heavier rain.  Cars are speeding by me, going too fast for the wet road. I’m nervous.

I turn off the news on the radio, not wanting to hear more about the housing crisis and income inequality in San Francisco, where I live. I’m all too familiar with these troubles.

I’m cursing the pain in my aging body and obsessing about all the unwelcome events in the last year; my husband’s injuries and illnesses, (requiring a lot of caretaking) my frequent migraines, not enough time for my work, canceled travel plans. And forgetting, as I do, about the good stuff; loving family and friends, gorgeous grandson, a nice house to live in, work I love; teaching, directing and performing Full Spectrum Improvisation.

I arrive in Berkeley, sour as Scrooge, and enter the dance studio we rent for improvisation practice. As soon as I’m in the door I see the large, open space, the smooth wooden floor, the high ceilings and light flooding in thru the skylights. I feel my shoulders release their clutch. I greet and hug my beloved and inspiring colleagues.

We warm up individually (I lie on a mat, stretch and breathe) and together; sound and movement fill the studio. Then we watch each other. Craig is up first with a solo about his childhood on the Bayou. He begins with movement: shaking his hands in front of him, tiptoeing about the space, making gasping, anxious sounds. Then his words come; rich language integrated with the movement. I thoroughly enjoy his piece and tell him so.

When it’s my turn to get up, I’m the third (come- in-later) actor in a trio with my partners, Owen and Martin. The piece starts with the guys doing some kind of bizarre, off kilter workout routine in what may be a gym or club in some nether world. They lunge and recover, grunt, and run in place to some rhythm only heard by them. Occasionally they fall into one another, push the other down and help him get up, blurting out a few lines like “Hey buddy, watch it”, “Go-go-go.”

After about a minute I feel drawn to enter their world, so I saunter in and join Martin in his running and leaping in place. Martin keeps moving and without looking at me says:

“ How did you get in here?”

“(pause) Uh, I came in through the side door.”

Owen: “That door is supposed to be locked”

(pause) Me: ”Well, it isn’t”

Martin, to Owen “ I thought you’d talked to maintenance about that”

Owen: running slow circles around me: ”Oh, yeah, I talked to them all right.”

Me: “Well, I’m glad it was open, cause the front door was locked.”

Martin, (pause) “It seems you don’t understand”

Me:  “ I don’t understand?”

Martin “This is a private club. Private”.

Owen  “ Yeah, private,”

Owen and Martin, nearly simultaneously, stop in their tracks and look at me. I freeze. The atmosphere is charged. My character is scared. The movement re-starts, though new patterns emerge. My character is clearly having trouble keeping up, as am I.

It feels like a story from my life, though I don’t remember ever having done these kind of movements with two men in a locked athletic club.

The scene develops and a story emerges about who belongs and who doesn’t. There’s discussion about the fact that I’m a female, in which my character stands up to the men, explaining that providence has led me to this spot and I have a right to be there. After doing what they can, short of physical contact, to eject me/ her from the gym (it’s assumed a gym, not stated) Martin, (Owen names him Arnold) and Owen’s (not named) characters, who apparently have known each other since high school, end up fighting for dominance. After 14 minutes the piece finds an ending with my character languidly stretching while the two guys lay bloodied (not literally) by each other, one panting, one whimpering, on the floor.

Craig (our audience) claps. Martin, Owen and I smile at each other, acknowledging the pleasure in our connection. We sit down. Craig, tells us he was entirely engaged and shares what he liked best about the piece.  In this case, there’s very little he didn’t like. If it hadn’t worked, he would have told us his thoughts on why that is. We, the actors, agree, we really enjoyed the work, felt we were all “In the Groove”.

I feel transformed. Life looks fascinating again. I’m not aware of any pain in my body. A wave of gratitude washes over me. The theatre piece that just emerged from our collaboration is not what anyone could have expected. It’s a mystery. It’s Full Spectrum Improvisation.

So what happened in the piece described above? How did Martin, Owen and I devise a  spontaneous theatre piece that we all agreed worked as art and as therapeutic play.

What about Craig’s solo? What made it successful? What happens to cause an improvisational theatre piece not to work? (a frequent occurrence) What do I mean by “works” or “successful”? You will read responses to these questions in this book.  You will also read of reasons for non performers to learn/ practice improvisation.

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.” ~ Carl Jung

There is a word of ancient Greek origin, metaxis, which means belonging to two worlds at the same time: the inner world of the psyche and the outer world of material reality. It is the simultaneous awareness, and the merging of these realities, that I find most exciting about theater, especially improvisational theatre. From within this heightened state of aliveness we have full access to our imaginations, our intuition, our most resonant dreams and stories.
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Behind the Work

Some attitudes and principles that are helpful for creating Full Spectrum Improvisational Theatre & many other art/ life activities:

  • Trust your own impulses and intuition and don’t worry about what you think the world, (or the class or the teacher) expects of you.
  • Think of the activity as an experiment and be good-natured about the whole process.

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Creating theatre from scratch is a great adventure that requires skill and an open heart, mind and body. One of the ongoing questions we embrace is: “How do I express myself authentically while connecting and co-operating with my partners?” This, of course, is a question that is alive in every relationship, on stage or off. Emotional safety is always an issue.

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Stage Fright

Most of the students I’ve taught and many of my professional colleagues (including myself) have suffered from stage fright at some point in their lives. So, dealing with this phenomenon is essential in any performance or public speaking training.

The fear of being witnessed is the fear of being judged and found inadequate. People talk about wanting to disappear, to become invisible, when in front of an audience. We’re desperately afraid of “making fools of ourselves.” There is a profound and corrosive sense of shame that we have not lived up to our own or others expectations of us. It’s a fundamental human need to be accepted by our community.

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