CONNECTING THROUGH IMPRO:
FROM ZOOM TO THE ROOM AND BACK AGAIN
Today's guest blogger is Impro Melbourne student Nicole Smith.
“You have legs!” “You have a torso!” In my first week of in-person impro classes, I found myself approaching classmates and pointing out that, to my surprise, they weren’t just floating heads over Zoom. You see, starting impro in April 2020 meant that online classes were all I knew. More experienced peers spoke about their desperation to gather in a room and perform, but for me, Zoom was magical. I met a group of like-minded people, from whom I was never subjected to the hesitancy or the questioning I have grown used to as a wheelchair user meeting people in ‘real-life’. Perhaps this is due in part to my wheelchair being somewhat hidden by the height of my camera.
Online classes increased Impro Melbourne’s commitment to inclusion. It opened classes to those with family and work commitments that had previously prevented them from attending, made classes available to people living interstate and overseas, and made classes accessible to those with disability, particularly those with pain and/or fatigue. Zoom backgrounds and filters add an extra dimension (especially in fantasy scenes!), as does playing with sitting at varying distances from the camera or positioning the camera to obscure different elements of your face. In one scene, an earthquake was performed by shaking the camera, the screen going black and an actor positioning themselves on the floor. So many possibilities! Plus, let’s be honest, it’s great to be on Zoom, smart casual up top, fluffy Betty Boop pyjama pants on the bottom.
My concern about the accessibility or lack thereof, of Impro Melbourne venues had me assuming that my impro journey (in terms of classes at least) would go no further than acting with people contained in boxes. I was fine with that. In fact, I felt I was constantly pestering Artistic Director Katherine Weaver to keep up a stream of online classes regardless of, and beyond COVID-19 restrictions.
Upon realising the rooms used in Abbotsford Convent were accessible to me, I enrolled in classes. On the first evening, the penny dropped. My breath caught in my chest. “I get it now; I understand the desire for in-person classes to return.” The games that had proved nearly impossible on Zoom, ie. those that are ruined by lagging Internet connections, were made possible (though they still broke my brain!). There was an added intimacy to emotional scenes and a rewarding immediacy to audience reactions. I also had not realised the extent to which I would benefit from the social aspects of impro, laughing in a room of people who had quickly become my friends.
I am still an advocate of having online classes as a standard option, however after experiencing the joy of in-person classes, accessible venues, and a cheeky social visit to the pub afterwards, are just as important.