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Falling In Love….With Improv

Improv2 Ever since I took two theatre improv workshops a few weeks ago, I've had this fascination and excitement inside. It's a bit like falling in love. 

Things seem new again. My creative juices look for the "Yes, and…" (instead of "Yes, but") in daily life.  I seek out opportunities to bring more improv into whatever situation arises. Photo by House of Sims.

Like last weekend, whMock trial state competition, janet, kayla, and travisen I was hanging out at lunch with my teenage son and the rest of his teammates, during a break from a mock trial competition (think junior attorneys arguing the same case against each other over and over, with new juries and judges each time). They were outside on a sunny March day, in a huddle with their coach. She was giving them a pep talk, about making the best of the afternoon round of arguments, after a day of grueling competition. When I heard the word, "energy", I immediately thought of a warm-up exercise for improv, called Zip-Zap-Zop. The idea is to move the energy within a group, quickly, by speaking one of the words and slapping the hands so that it points to someone else in the group. The trick is to do this quickly, while saying the right word in the Zip-Zap-Zop sequence. The exercise gets the body and mind moving simultaneously.  

Man laughing I suggested Zip-Zap-Zop and within seconds, there was laughter, engagement, and lots of smiling faces. Photo by russelljsmith

I'm asking people who I meet for the first time or friends I haven't seen in awhile if they do improv.  I re-read the book, Improv Wisdom.  And I'm connecting with more improvisers. I particularly like this blog post, from someone who followed me recently on Twitter, about why improv works so well, both on-stage and off-stage. The blogger wrote to me, "Improv changed my life."

I believe her.

Patricia ryan madson Here are great quotes from Patricia Ryan Madson in her book, Improv Wisdom. They remind me not only of Patricia's wisdom, but also how rich life can be when we give attention to being an improviser:

  • The practice of improvisation teaches something that we are hungry to understand: how to be in harmony with one another and how to have fun.
  • All starting points are equally valid. Once a job is under way, you have a new and more realistic perspective. You are inside the problem while looking at it, rather than standing safely at the perimeter.
  • The improviser focuses on making that idea into a good one, rather than searching for a "good idea."  
  • Dealing well with people we like is easy; the mark of a fine improviser is his ability to work skillfully, kindly, and respectfully with those with whom he has difficulty.
  • We are all borrowing heavily from the labors and efforts of others…Never let an hour go by without giving credit to someone.
  • While the critical method sharpens the mind, it dulls the heart…Cultivate a generosity of speech.
  • A constructive response to a mistake is to notice it, acknowledge it, and if possible, use it…99.9 percent of the time, a mistake is just an unanticipated outcome giving us information. 
  • Consummate improvisers are marked by their generosity, courtesy, and ability to watch out for the needs of their teammates.
  • Improvisers are quick to join a player who appears to be struggling on stage. Where possible, they do something to improve the situation.

And finally, this one is my favorite parts of the book:

Hands together In the improv world the working paradigm is one of shared control…[B]oth parties must stay alert and energized and actual leadership is likely to change moment to moment. Both are always responsible, while neither is "in control" in an absolute sense….[A]ll improvisers have the right and responsibility to move the scene forward, adjusting always to what the new reality is. Doing what needs to be done becomes the guiding principle… When this principle is working optimally, ….all are surrendering to the story that is carrying them forward.

Photo by ChrisL_AK

Life is much easier, when I'm not resisting what is, and when I'm allowing "the story to carry me forward." And yet, this doesn't absolve me of the responsibility to "do what needs to be done."

What is the story that is carrying you forward?  And how do you contribute to moving the scene forward? 

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  1. Patryanmadson on March 21, 2010 at 3:24 PM

    WONDERFUL! I can tell that your experiences in the improv class have brought home the philosophy which already made sense theoretically. Thank you for reading the book twice. This is the highest compliment you can pay to an author. The good news about little IMPROV WISDOM is that on March 24 it comes out as an E-book! You can buy it on Amazon.com and download it to a free App on your IPhone or a free Kindle App on your MAC desktop. http://tinyurl.com/yc4bslu
    Thanks for spreading the word about the book and about the value of improvising. It is truly life changing. Go CAROL!!

  2. Gary Stinnett on March 22, 2010 at 5:58 AM

    Nice post. I recently completed Improv I classes and have found the ‘think on your feet’ skills, the totally engaged listening and the ‘yes, and’ approach have helped me with networking. So much easier to network when you listen intently and allow yourself to respond when you have something to say than when you spend your time coming up with a response to something that is no longer relevant to the conversation.

    Thanks for the insights.

  3. Carol Ross on March 22, 2010 at 8:46 AM

    Patricia–thrilled to see that Improv Wisdom is now available in e-book form, as it provides another means of spreading the good stuff. Someday, we’ll meet in person and maybe, just maybe I could see you working your craft. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

    Gary–Fabulous that you are experiencing the magic of improv! Thanks for connecting improv with the art of great conversation and networking. It’s got me thinking about how to bring this point into the Networking Naturally Program. In the book, Improv Wisdom, Patricia covers the improvisation of speech. Being fully present and open to whatever you are hearing not only makes for a better connection, it’s a gift to the other person. (I know that from my coaching work.) Too often, we give only half of our attention to others. And like you said, focus on something to say that is no longer relevant. Well put.

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