By Anthony Francis
As a martial artist for 12 years I can’t help but draw similarities between improv acting and Bruce Lee’s philosophy on what he called Organized Despair.
Bruce Lee said in his book The Tao of Jeet Kune Do,
““Instead of facing combat in it’s suchness, quite a few systems of martial art accumulate “fanciness” that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat, which is simple and direct and non-classical. Instead of going immediately to the heart of things, flowery forms and artificial techniques (organized despair!) are ritually practiced to simulate actual combat. Thus, instead of being in combat, these practitioners are idealistically doing something about combat”
This quote reminded me of my first acting lesson. Where I forgot my lines and my instructor ripped my script in half, looked me dead in my soul and said “There is no script, there are no lines, now do the scene.” I thought I needed to know the lines, but what I really needed to know was the relationship. If I could understand the relationship between my character and my partners character then I could do the scene no matter what. I could expand and contract much like Bruce Lee says to do. To feel the flow of it. It’s not about completing a set of moves in a sequence or a set of lines on a page. It is about doing what needs to be done in that moment.
I want to make it clear I am not saying pre-scripted performance art is in any way bad, but everyone on that stage while they are speaking lines from a page, they have rehearsed it and if for any reason they forgot the lines they could still move the scene forward because they have explored the emotions behind the characters and can now easily improvise if needed.
Actors get to the heart of a scene through the incredible process of rehearsal. Improv teaches you to immediately get to the heart of the relationship and build scenes without a script making it the best way to learn that “Suchness”.