The Improvised Life


November 13th, 2007

Today I did a workshop with David Matthew Prior at the improv conference in Banff. He introduced us to three principles for living an ‘improvised life’:

1 – Take a chance

2 – Effort over effect

3 – Sing your self

This story from my friend Geoff Brown epitomises all of these.

… through a bit of improv I managed to reframe a very negative mindset this morning. I had Kinder duty and months ago agreed to come in and play some kiddy songs for the group. Woke this morning with a very croaky voice and unable to sing. Ingrid suggested I pull the pin but decided to “accept the offer” … “throw out the plan” … just do something.

At 11am Sue (Kinder Teacher) assembled the mob of 4 year olds on the mat and introduced me with my guitar. I said “Hi Kids … I lost my singing voice last night and it’s time have some fun! At that point I had no idea what I was going to do next … so I just “did something”.

I drew on some inspiration from the Wiggles, last week’s Crowded House concert and my trust in be spontaneous. Here’s what I did:

1st … I asked the group if anyone had seen my pet Dinosaur? “No!” they all shrieked. After some banter and laughter I convinced them that it was hiding inside my guitar.

2nd … I said “We had better wake him up and to do this we all need to sing … can you help me out?” … “Yeesss!” they all cheered. At this point I was away and had them in the palm of my hand.

Every step (for the next 15 minutes) was completely improvised and spontaneous. I was completely present … responded to all offers … and when faced with the unknown I just trusted my instincts and “did something”. I also “let go” of where the gig might end up and celebrated my many mistakes (including poems that didn’t rhyme and stories that made no sense) with the kids. In fact the mistakes ended up being the funniest moments.

As for the dinosaur inside my guitar, one child asked “Is your pet dinosaur awake?” I had no idea how to respond so I pretended to fall asleep myself. I began to snore. The kids were wondering what to do. The Kinder teacher finally “got it” and said to the kids “I think we better wake Geoff up” … 1 … 2… 3… “Wake up Geoff!”

As in Open Space … it’s over when it’s over. They applauded … I took a bow.

3 Comments so far

  1. Geoff Brown on November 14, 2007 1:34 pm

    I have never responded to my own story before but on re reading it I have realised some other stuff.

    Oh … incidentally for those who are unfamiliar with the Wiggles, one of their members (Geoff) always falls asleep and the other Wiggles are always calling out “Wake up Geoff!”.

    So why did this time with a bunch of 4 year olds help me to reframe? One theory inside my head is that by going into an improv space I consciously flicked on the “presence-switch”. In other words, I went from an unconscious state, dominated by negative thoughts/self talk … to a state of consciousness and awareness of the moment. As time progressed I became more and more “in that space” – fundamental to Improv.

    It is now 24 hours later and my negative self talk has not returned. Positive thoughts, a new perspective on life and compassion have remained. Maybe when we allow ourselves to be “in the moment”, even for only 15 minutes … we learn something there and bring it back to our normal (largely unconscious) state? Impro must be “endorphine” producing and “Cortisol” blocking!

    In future I will seek out opportunities to Improvise when feeling low. Geoff.

  2. lenny on November 16, 2007 7:04 am

    Geoff – I loved the story. As a way to keep those endorphins flowng, maybe we all ought to try to find ways to spend some time with a bunch of 4 year olds – who are totally present and open to many offers. lenny

  3. More about Improv and Yes!And | Yes and Space on April 17, 2008 10:43 am

    […] My own story about Improv in action – posted by Viv McWaters […]

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