My yoga teacher starts each class the same way each time by instructing us to set our intention for our practice that day. In Yoga one sets one’s intention focus his energy. If, for example, I set my intention to “be at peace” then during yoga and for the rest of that day I will direct my energy towards being at peace. Putting your intention toward something like peace does not guarantee that you will have a peaceful day, but just like an archer aiming an arrow, you are more likely to hit a target at which you aim.
This is true of improv as well. If I set an intention each time I go to improv practice, or perform in a show, then I have a way to direct my energy.
This is different from an “acting” intention. As an actor or director I often search for the intention of a character in a scene. Actors are taught to state those intentions as infinitive verbs, “to provoke” or “to seduce” for example.
This “acting” intention is similar in that it can be stated as an infinitive verb, but it is not a character choice, it is the improviser deciding how to direct his energy for the day.
In Robert Moss’s book “Active Dreaming” he suggests stating an intention each night before going to sleep. He explains that this intention can be specific dream intention (“I want to go to Hawaii”) or can be very general (“I want to have fun in my dreams and remember”). It doesn’t matter what the intention is as long as it has power and interest for you. By setting this intention clearly in your conscious mind before sleep, you aim your unconscious in a direction while you sleep. The conscious intention is the bow; the unconscious energy is the arrow.
This same practice is an excellent way to approach improv.
How often in the past have we had completely unfocused practices, classes, or even shows. We are like hot air balloons, blown around by whatever energy is swirling around us. I am not suggesting that we try and control the energy of a scene or practice, but it perhaps we should not just be tempest tossed twigs.
If I begin a practice or a performance with the conscious intention “to discover,” and I state that intention clearly for myself, then I will direct my energy along that path as it presents itself during my improv. I find when I do this, that I have a much more focused and mindful practice. If you want to try this, make your intention something positive that holds power and interest for you: “tell the truth” or “be open to change” might be interesting choices. Hold that thought in your conscious mind before you begin, and come back to that thought whenever you are feeling stuck or don’t know what to do next.
I just hope that someday my intention in yoga practice will be something other than “don’t hurt myself.”
Today’s Improvmantra: State your intention. Don’t make it too grandiose (“I want to be the best improviser ever!”). Just make a simple intention for your day and discover what happens next.