Monday, July 04, 2011

A project manager with no plan

My second post on my recent acting training course in London, which featured the most glorious, beautiful bunch of classmates. Hello to those folk if you're reading. If not, you were the one I thought was truly awful.

We did many classes: acting for TV, a spot of Shakespeare, movement, modern plays, voice. The one that had the most impact for me was Impro. Improvised drama and theatre, rather than comedy, though we quickly discovered disturbingly hilarious scenarios are utterly inevitable.

You start a scene, standing and you speak second, never first. You act high or low status (submissive or dominant) and demonstrate with your body a simple emotion, let's say 'joy'. Another character enters, your new friend that minutes before was tasked only with a blueberry muffin. But now your new playmate must speak first to tell you why you're feeling what you're feeling. Up until that point you didn't know, you really didn't know - and neither did he because he didn't know what emotion you'd go for.

You might have your own ideas on why you feel your emotion, but you leave them aside. You accept what he says as fact: you were just promoted to captain on Starbase Alpha and you're looking forward, apparently, to celebrating with the crew down on planet Zorg, except your legs are robot legs and they're a bit unreliable.

As the story unfolds, you discover it at the same time as your audience and at the same time as your fellow actors. You embrace the uncertainty, ride the rollercoaster while it's still under construction, it's you that's building it. Your playmate may misread your original emotion, you might accidentally transplant the scene three hundred years backwards, speak nonsense, dry up completely. The scene always continues.

The story always tends toward stability: the end of something, the resolution, the refusal of the characters to speak with one another, or into complete chaos. Stability is dull. There's no drama there, at the extremes, at the ends. If you've driven into a wall you have nowhere to go, if you've dug too deep a hole you can't get out. Steering it between those magnetic extremes is a huge challenge, a balancing act, rolling a ball-bearing around a wooden maze of holes.

As project manager I plan months in advance. My job is to reduce and remove uncertainty, fight it toe-to-toe in a constant, eternal battle, day after day. I've trained and practised this for over a decade. Supplying coping strategies to corporations.

But here I am naked, no timing plan, no estimate, no scope of work, reacting now to what happened just now. As honestly as I'm able and not even as as me but as a character - a character I only find out along the way. You have to trust your team completely. You can't react to something you've missed so you really pay attention to what they're trying to communicate, verbally and otherwise - and there's no time to anticipate even 2 sentences in advance. Incredibly tricky to do right, but wonderfully exciting and great fun.

More than that, planning or being fully engaged in the present moment - which is the closer match to reality?


Duncanator said...

...whis why you're back at Elvis... :O ;)

Duncanator said...

which! I meant which!!

Pharkie said...

hah, touche