This is our first article from Mexico! And it will be an introduction one, we are going to talk about the group CoIL.
I have just returned to Mexico after an almost two-year absence. Upon my return I was happy to find the theatre improv scene I had left was thriving with multiple shows, new faces, and what appeared to be a growing audience. I started attending the shows to support my friends (many of whom are improvisers), as well as to see how things had changed since my departure. I noticed that, although the amount of people doing and seeing improvisation had grown, as had the number of shows being staged, many of them were very similar to each other, and the technique itself didn’t seem to have developed much.
A couple of weeks in, I attended a workshop given by Omar Argentino – one of the most experienced improvisers, and an important figure in bringing the technique to Mexico – although the workshop was amazing and inspiring, it was so quick there wasn’t time to actually practice the exercises and make sure we had learnt them properly; my fellow improvisers and I wondered, how could we keep developing what we had just learnt?
This seems to be one of the key issues keeping improvisation from developing in Mexico: there wasn’t a space where improvisers could just train. Most improvisers train only when they have a show coming up; and even then, they will only train the exercises required for said show. It is hard to find the time and dedication to train when there isn’t a specific purpose, but unless we do it, we can’t really deepen our skills.
This is what gave birth to CoIL (Collective Improv Lab): a space where improvisers can get together to train while exploring elements of improvisation and their practice. CoIL provides a space to “keep in shape” without the pressure of an upcoming show or of having to fulfill a course syllabus. It provides a group of peers that keep us accountable for our practice and who are as keen as us to develop and deepen existing knowledge. In the end, improvisation is like a sport – we need to keep training to stay in shape and be able to do more and more complex things.
CoIL is a group that is open to anyone with basic improvisation knowledge; we get together once a week and explore the elements of improvisation that we want to, in an accumulative effort to become accountable for our own improvement. A plan is put together every week depending on what was decided on the previous session; anyone can contribute to this plan in advance or during the session with exercises or games they want to try out. The way it works isn’t fixed yet, but as we improve our improvisation skills, we also figure out what working methods serve us best to ensure the lab remains relevant for all of its participants.
The idea of CoIL attracted different improvisers from different backgrounds and levels of experience: from people who see improvisation as a way to unwind, to those who see it as a way to deal with personal issues; trained performers who also improvise, as well as people who found improv in different moments in their life or maybe started it as just a hobby. I wondered what it was that attracted all these people to this theatre form, why they kept on doing it, and what they hoped to get from it, as well as from their attendance to CoIL.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be interviewing the members of CoIL, in the hopes that these interviews uncover a little bit of the history of improv and its development in Mexico, as well as offering up different perspectives to begin discerning what is necessary to further develop theatre improvisation. Perhaps they can open up an avenue of discussion between improvisers here and worldwide to figure out how the form can keep on developing; how we can add a bigger “AND” to the “yes”-es in our improv practice.