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Security is a harmful illusion

November 22nd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Security is not just an illusion, but it’s a harmful one, according to Eve Ensler in the video below. This way of seeing the world has links to the way in which good improvisers make themselves vulnerable on stage.

Security is a harmful illusion

Eve Ensler makes her argument at the very beginning and very end of the video, and in the middle tells some stories to illustrate what she is saying. At one point she says:

we all die, we all get old, we all get sick, people leave us…and that’s actually the good news! Unless your whole life is about being secure

If what you want is to be absolutely secure, anything that might affect you or change you becomes a threat. So your time becomes focused on protecting yourself. You insulate yourself and isolate yourself – the only way I can absolutely prevent my relationship with you going bad is not to have a relationship with you in the first place.

And Eve Ensler points out that this just makes us less secure, as we are less connected to people and the world around us. So she argues that we should actually make ourselves less secure – we should “hunger for connection not power.”

Be changed

One of the basic guidelines that improvisers follow is to allow themselves to be changed – they allow themselves to respond to what is happening around them on the stage. This is not as easy or as obvious as it sounds.

Keith Johnstone is one of the founding fathers of improvisation. He recently returned to the UK to run an improvisation workshop, which I was lucky enough to attend. Keith explained in the workshop how as a theatre director in the 1950s he was puzzled by the way in which some plays had a lot of ‘stuff’ happening – war, death, torture – but he was left feeling unmoved. And in other plays not much ‘happened’, but he found himself emotionally affected by what he saw on stage.

Keith realised that the key difference between these types of plays was whether one character was changed by another. This is what ‘action’ is and it is what drives a story. So improvisers need to actually care about what is happening on stage, engage with it and be changed. It is easier to try to drive a scene in the direction you want it to go – towards the funny conclusion you can see in your mind’s eye for example – than to surrender to someone else’s idea and go with that. That involves being vulnerable and giving up some control. But scenes where two improvisers are fighting for control, with neither being changed by the other, are dead scenes for an audience – there is no development and no action. What audiences love to see is the improvisers taking risks, going with an idea and exploring it, committing to it.

So if our lives are going to have a story, to have some action, to go somewhere, then we need to allow ourselves to be changed by others. That is how we can make a real connection with someone else. And if Eve Ensler is right, this is more likely to give us what we need and want than pursuing the illusion of security.