global impro 11 - Open Space

May 23 2019

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: GII

11.) Open Space – Devoted and Disgruntled; What are we going to do about Improvisation?

This blog is the eleventh of a series of blogs, charting my experience as a Theatre Bristol agent at the Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium, May 2019. If you'd like to get a little context, start here. Otherwise, welcome to in introduction to Open Space.

Day three was the beginning of two days of Open Space, a kind of organic self-organising conferencing, where the participants get to set the agenda. How it works is simple, there's a blank wall with times and places and anyone who has a burning issue they want to discuss or an action they want to carry out, proposes a session, by writing the session title on a piece of paper and placing it somewhere on the timetable.

“There are Four Principles and One Law which serve as guides to the leader and all participants. The principles are: Whoever comes is the right people. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Whenever it starts is the right time. When it is over, it is over.” [From the open space website]

All the participants (including those who have called the sessions) choose where they want to be, moment to moment:

“The One Law of Open Space....The Law of Two Feet. Briefly stated, this law says that every individual has two feet, and must be prepared to use them. Responsibility for a successful outcome in any Open Space Event resides with exactly one person -- each participant. Individuals can make a difference and must make a difference. If that is not true in a given situation, they, and they alone, must take responsibility to use their two feet, and move to a new place where they can make a difference. This departure need not be made in anger or hostility, but only after honoring the people involved and the space they occupy. By word or gesture, indicate that you have nothing further to contribute, wish them well, and go and do something useful.”

I love Open Space, I love how it empowers people to make their own choices and take care of their own experiences. I've been going to Improbable Theatre's Devoted and Disgruntled Open Space events for years, and was excited to attend one that was specifically about improvisation. It felt like a very suitable form for discussing such a nebulous topic, giving us a chance to continue the discussions from the formal conference, as well as raising any issues that hadn't already been covered.

I began the day in my standard conference mode, thinking back to what Victoria the Feldenkrais practitioner had said earlier on; "when we approach life with our own level of intensity, we can't help but fall into our habitual patterns." I see know that I still trying to extract every drop of learning from every moment. I remember having a faint awareness that I was resisting my urge to drop it all and play, which is what I wanted to do. There were play sessions on offer, other people clearly had the same urge, but for some reason, I wasn't allowing myself to join them. Instead I was wondering around, trying to connect with the big conversations around access and inclusion, but feeling too full to take any more in. 

This happens to me when I'm around people a lot. I lose connection with myself and my needs and find myself getting strung out. I forget to eat, I forget to drink water, I start listening to the "should" voice in my head, but without my usual grounded filter that lets me know if the things I "should" be doing are for my highest good, I end up running on automatic. I wasn't even able to get myself to the allocated quiet space to ground myself. I was all out of shape and unsure what to do.

This is why I offer so much quiet reflection time in my training, I can't believe I'm the only one who gets pulled into this kind of group mind soup. I teach on sharing our authentic uniqueness, so it feels crucial that my students have time to reconnect with themselves throughout the training days. Otherwise, what they'll be drawing on is what they think is expected of them, rather than what they really want to say.

In the afternoon, I was drawn into a quiet corner, where a small group of people were stuffing wadding into dolls. I drifted over to find out what they were doing...

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