‘Do you remember when the UK finally went into lockdown?’ will be the question our future selves nostalgically ask. I was on a Zoom call with nine others for a makeshift improv class, pondering connection, freedom and how to overcome the time-lapse – so we missed the announcement. But it was a fitting moment to learn of our new reality, as phones buzzed and the UK as we knew it retreated.
While our world has momentarily shrunk, it is also opening up in new and exciting ways. Learning to live entirely in the sanctuary of the home, wherever that may be, will be harder for some than others. It is not that different from the adaptation travellers make when landing in unfamiliar territories – navigating every-day life is fraught with the unknown. But in what feels like no time, weary travellers slip into new routines and begin to blend, embracing new ways of being. But to make the most of their new environment, they need to do more than accept the need to adapt – they must embrace it.
Leaping into the unknown is what improv means to me. Improv is an abbreviation for improvisational theatre, which by definition means a performance that is spontaneous and unplanned. It requires being present in the moment and being deeply connected with both yourself and those around you. As we weather a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, focusing on the now is so important for personal well-being. Connecting more deeply with ourselves will help us to take better care of ourselves, our families, colleagues and clients. Being ready to read the situation now and to pivot to changing needs is more essential than ever. It is a skill already nurtured via agency life and both cultivated and integrated with daily life at H+K. Now it is being put to the test as our work and home lives combine.
As friends reunite for quiz nights on the ‘House Party’ app, artists livestream workshops and gamers unite in safer realms, we see that people are adapting quickly and creatively. Meanwhile, at H+K we are coming to terms with the fact that Microsoft Teams is actually really great – with curiosity leading to the discovery of new functions never previously needed. Virtual coffees, lunches and after-work drinks mean team morale remains high. In a world turned upside-down, we’re doing pretty well so far.
But isolation is an awful word that evokes loneliness and for many people, the struggle cannot be sugar-coated – especially as dramas unfold in hospitals around us. If improv classes have taught me anything so far, it’s that freedom is to a large extent a state-of-mind and that we as human beings are already equipped with the liberating ability to exercise our freedom through play. From the safety of our homes, we are still able to laugh, to travel on instincts and imagination, and to create new, bearable realities.
What makes our experience so unique, compared to previous pandemics, is our ability to connect using digital technologies. Rather than being socially cut off, we have the opportunity to build upon and innovate with digital interactions. As TikTok booms and all generations jump onto video calls – whether it’s via Facebook Portal or a WhatsApp call – we are more connected than ever before. Our digital lives are being consolidated as the nation’s streets stand still.
There is a small irony in the fact that the UK officially went into lockdown as my improv class trialed its first session on Zoom. Within this digital meeting room, we exchanged stories, tested ideas and shared in the comfort of human company – just as we historically lost our liberty. Yet, I felt so free. As we head into the next few weeks, taking advantage of our ability to reach out to one another, remembering we are all improvising and above all being kind will be crucial. We want to look back at this moment and feel proud of our shared humanity.
*Learn more about improv with Imprology, founded by Remy Bertrand in 2005 – bringing light and laughter to fellow Londoners ever since.