“When the rational mind is shut off, we have the possibility of intuition.” – Viola Spolin
Group mind, in my opinion, is one of the coolest things in improv.
When group mind is present, you don’t steer scenes: you’re compelled to move, together. It’s about letting go of consciously thinking and being in a state of flow.
If that all sounds a little “woo-woo” for you, here’s a true story:
When Cameron worked in advertising, he was part of a small creative department. They worked together, ate lunch together, and generally hung out together.
One day Carla, an art director, looked up from her layout and asked,
“Who’s that painter guy?”
Without hesitating, Cameron’s partner Matias blurted “Ansel Adams.”
Carla smiled and said, “Right. Yes, thank you.” Then she went back to her layout.
Cameron spun around, speechless. He kicked his chair over to Matias and said, “I was gonna say Ansel Adams!”
Now, if you asked me, or, oh, probably a million other people to name a “painter guy,” they’d probably say “Da Vinci” or “Warhol” or pretty much anyone other than Ansel fucking Adams.
Cameron and Matias knew Adams was a photographer, but they didn’t give their brains a chance to override their response with “That guy’s not a painter!”
Is that an example of group mind? I think so. (And if not, then what the hell is it?)
I’ve seen and experienced group mind many times, on stage and in rehearsals.
Devon Hyland and Matt Folliott did a show where Devon stepped out to initiate a new character. He’d barely gestured when Matt stepped in, and – knowing the move that was in Devon’s head – fleshed out the scene in just a few words.
To those of us in the audience, it was stupefying. We could see from Devon’s reaction that Matt had articulated what Devon intended, but how?
When I asked Cameron about that scene, he said, “I don’t remember. We were all so in the moment.”
That, for me, is the essence of group mind.
It’s like a school of fish, or a flock of birds. They’re so connected, so seamlessly entwined, it’s impossible to know who moved first. They could only be moving together.
In fact, scientists have built computer models that prove birds in flight are not merely watching and responding to one another. Their moves are so flawlessly synchronized, they could only be coming from some deeper, intangible level within.
So how do you cultivate group mind?
There really is no substitute for spending time together. Not just rehearsing and performing, but hanging out socially as well.
Go bowling instead of rehearsal one night. Take a road trip together. Host a potluck. Or just get drunk and play board games. The more experiences you accrue as a team, the more you’ll bond.
On the other hand, if you don’t like, trust, and respect each other, you’ll never achieve group mind; at least not on a consistent basis.
“Good chemistry is worth 100 practices.” – Will Hines
When you’re starting out in improv, chances are you’ll be thrown on a team with a bunch of random people. Some you’ll click with. Others you won’t.
When that team is dissolved (as most teams are), don’t let those relationships die. If you need to, form your own team with the people you clicked with, and keep playing together.
Chemistry lets you shorthand things. It makes things effortless. It’s why Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill and Judd Apatow keep doing projects together. The same goes for the cast of Anchorman, the UCB four, and countless other ensembles.
Like twins or couples who finish each other’s sentences, you can develop an almost psychic rapport with your…giraffe. (Turns out Sally was gonna say “teammates.”)
Del Close described group mind as “One mind, many bodies.” The Caligula exercise can be sweaty and exhausting, but it’s great for connecting non-verbally.
Count To 20 is a good warm-up for quieting the brain and feeling the next move. (If you really want to swing for the fence, try counting to 50 or more.)
“Fall, then figure out what to do on the way down.” – Del Close
When you tap into group mind, you step into the unknown and enjoy the act of falling, together.
What’s your view on group mind? Have you had any interesting experiences? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear them.