The 4 Stages of Impro
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
It's funny to see how certain patterns are repeated. How certain behaviors replicate beyond our cultural, social or situational differences. How, in our field, so reluctant to repetition, we can't escape the same proliferation system of improvisation.
Based on this observation, I found these four stages I witness in every impro community I know.
Stage 1. Usually, there's always one "guilty" and everything is born out of one person that comes with the novelty, the new toy, that different way of doing theatre: impro. This person concentrates all the power through the creation (and direction) of the first impro group in town, gathering a group of curious enthusiasts with more attitude than experience. With a simple and effective format, the group becomes more and more popular in the eyes of the audience. After a while, the relative success and egos play a fundamental role.
Stage 2. The group starts tumbling when facing the first problems and the artistic (and personal) differences become evident. The first break-up is produced and the group splits into two (or more) parts. Competition is born. Now, both groups must compete for the same audience and this competition makes them better. Differentiate becomes a matter of survival. Adapting. Reinventing. With time, these two new companies develop their own particular style, their own school, and their own students that will eventually, replicate the formula.
Stage 3. When students are multiplied and improvisers need space to grow, we reach the atomization stage, a Big Bang that expells groups -some more ephemeral than others- with different expectations and results. Impro is expended quantitatively (and perhaps not qualitatively) until some of them realize (usually later than earlier) that strength is found through unity, and they start to wonder what would happen if they would break that paradigm. They ask themselves what's outside of their reference groups, out of their comfort zone.
Stage 4. Stable and rigid companies leave their place to eventual groups. Improvisers start to get together by affinity and show begin to gain theatricality. Commercial success is not that important anymore and research deepens. We improvise with people that search the same thing we do. The growth is more qualitative than quantitative. This is my favorite stage.
It's important to clarify that these observations are completely biased by my own point of view and experience. However, these kinds of investigations are fundamental in order to theorize and deepen in the peculiarities of our environment. Observation and later analysis of these facts will allow us to move forward in the development of improvisation as an art form.
Impro keeps being born in different latitudes, and while these growing patterns keep replicating we will see it taking steadier, bigger steps.