CONTEXT and FORMAL AGREEMENTS
Even though some practitioners use the term, it is useful to understand that in principle, there is no such thing as a ‘free improvisation’. Each improvisation always happens in a distinct context (space/people/tacitly agreed types of interaction, etc.) whether that context is named or not.
The idea of ‘free improvisation’ doesn’t acknowledge the fact that always tacit agreements exist in a social context.
Of course, as an improvisation practitioner with a certain goal in mind, you can improvise (and invite others to improvise with you) while neglecting the here proposed formal agreements. A goal could be that your interest goes towards a certain type of social experiment (where the context is consciously kept cloudy).
However, assuming we are practitioners who want to reflect clearly about our discipline, it is important that we realize that a so-called ‘free improvisation’ is not exactly what the name implies.
In general, if the context of an improvisation is not named and clarified beforehand, we will always make our own assumptions about the rules, guided by the ‘group culture’ we mean to perceive, which most of the time translates during the improvisation into a general and polite way of interacting with each other. Or it results in the opposite: rash behaviour of some performers and complete confusion about the context with the rest. Either way, it is not helpful.
The idea that something like a ‘free improvisation’ exists (no rules, no context given) clouds our awareness as performers (as there is always context, and there are always tacit rules) and makes our interaction effectively pretty ‘unfree’. Crisp and open interaction does not happen without a shared, transparent context – a common ground.
SETTING UP AN IMPROVISATION (CLARIFYING THE CONTEXT)
There are many ways in which to prepare performers for an improvisation (exercises, rituals, assignments, or no preparation at all) and there is also a gliding scale in how much or how little rules are given for the interaction on stage. But apart from anything else you do in preparation, there is always the necessity to at least clarify the FORMAL AGREEMENTS for the improvisation that is about to be played.
FORMAL AGREEMENTS should be simple and clear. If it goes beyond that, we usually talk about creating Common Ground or Structures/Rules.
Yet again, formal agreements can be few or many. The four aspects that should always be considered are:
SPACE (How is the performance space defined?)
TIME (beginning, duration, end)
INTERACTION (What type of interaction is asked from the performers?)
(are we forgetting any other important formal aspect? Please fill in by commenting on this page.)