Want to get back into improv, but worried that social distancing will just make things too awkward, unnatural, or even potentially dangerous? Then here are some tips which may help you make that transaction back into playing with others in real life once again in a safe and responsible way.
With all improv, you have to understand your own boundaries and know and respect the boundaries of others. The biggest difference between now and then, is that now our boundaries are not just set by ourselves, but also by scientists. Real scientists, not just the ones in a scene. On the negative side, it means that there's potentially a lack of intimacy from the performance, but on the plus side, it means that the dental hygiene of other players is no longer a potential issue.
At the start of a jam, workshop or performance you want to be clear that everyone is aware and comfortable with the safety measures that are necessary. It's best to make these things unambiguous and clear from the start so that everyone involved feels comfortable with what they're getting into. For example, I began a recent workshop with the following:
Try to stay at least 1.5 metres away from everyone at all times. If you feel like someone is a bit too close, politely remind them to keep their distance. If you're in a scene, you can even do so in character, e.g. "Hey, back off, buddy, I need my space!"
Keep your hands clean, if you want to go sanitise your hands at any point then feel free to do so.
Try to be conscious of touching your face, especially if it's been some time since you cleaned your hands last.
If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask, then do so. Also, if someone's wearing a mask, then please respect that and don't start each scene with "Hey, I can't understand you with that mask on".
If there's ever a point where you don't feel comfortable, please mention it as soon as it's happening, and we can talk about what we can do to address it. We want this to be a fun, safe and supportive environment, and so if that's not the case for you, then the sooner you mention it, the better.
Once these things had been made clear, we could move on knowing what our expectations of each other were. Rather than letting these things potentially disrupt the whole session, they were made clear upfront in order that they wouldn't need to be explicitly discussed again. You've got to do your chores before you can play your games.
With socially distanced improv, there are some games which don't work any more. Helping Hands, for example, is impossible without being close to someone. Even if you're Mr Tickle, your arms are still going to be too close. Perhaps some of these games were your favourites, perhaps most of the ones you know aren't possible with these restrictions. Rather than lament what's not there, see this as an opportunity to try something new and to learn new things. If there's anyone who should be flexible to adapt to these changes, it should be improvisers. Focus on the positives, "Yes, And" your way to the new realities. Limitations inspire creativity, so let these changes inspire you to find new and clever ways to express yourself.
It's unclear how long these measures will be in place, so it makes sense to adapt your behaviours as though this is how things are always going to be. You can either embrace the change and continue thriving or enter a state of hibernation until things go back to how they were. I know which one I choose out of those. See this as an opportunity to think about your boundaries and what you feel comfortable with in improv and elsewhere too. These are things which we sometimes don't think about, happy to lose ourselves in the moment, but you can see this as an opportunity to know what you're happy with, and to be mindful of the changes and how you feel about them.
With mutual support and respect, we can continue improvising in a safe way that is still fun. The more times you do it, the more normal this way of being will become until you reach the point where it's second nature, and the preamble almost becomes redundant. These changes don't have to be a burden, there's still fun to be had while staying safe. As Men Without Hats proved with the song Safety Dance in 1982, safety can be fun.