Postcards provide a window to the world


June 13th, 2012

Probably not the sort of postcards you’re thinking of.

These postcards are made of people, creating a scene from nothing but a suggestion. We started with Southern Cross Station (Melbourne’s main train station) – people posed themselves as commuters, trains, signs, rubbish, ticket machines, aimless people, newspapers. Ian David, from Melbourne Playback Theatre Company, was leading the activity. He kept asking for something that was missing. He didn’t rush.

We were then invited to do another postcard, this time someone suggested the Serengeti. There were lions, and tourists, and pop-up vans, and acacia trees, and giraffes…you get the picture. And this is where Ian added another element. He asked people in the scene to finish this sentence, from the perspective of their role: “The world works best when…”

So the lion said (for example): “The world works best when there’s lots of prey to eat.”

We were at The Hub, Melbourne at a regular Meetup of The Collaboratory Melbourne, hosted by David Hood of DoingSomethingGood. The Collaboratory is a group of people from diverse fields exploring socially innovative and collaborative solutions to our most pressing social and environmental issues.

Ian and I had been invited to explore creating a culture and practice of collaboration through applied improvisation, and we’d opted for a hands-on experience for the 40 or so people who turned up.

Back to the Postcards. Someone suggested a scene in Damascus. There was a dictator, an arms dealer, a dead body, a photographer, a journalist, a crying child, a communications satellite. Again, Ian invited us to add whatever was missing. And then for the players to complete the statement: “the world works best when…” And then he added yet another element. Those not in the scene could go and take the same pose as one of the characters and also complete the sentence “The world works best when…”

It was extraordinary.

Talk about building connections, creating empathy, providing a visceral experience of what it might be like to be one of the elements in the Postcard. Brilliant.

This is an example of what applied improv can do. We can write about what’s happening in the world, we can talk about it, watch movies, read books – yet without actually putting ourselves into a real scene (which in a lot of cases is completely impractical) this seemingly simple exercise provides an opportunity to step into the shoes of others, to explore their motivations, their emotions, and experience multiple perspectives.

It was emotional, moving and eye-opening.

What else can provide such an experience to a group of people who barely know each other, and in a short amount of time?

This is the power of applied improv.

1 Comment so far

  1. Beth Cregan on July 10, 2012 11:24 am

    Thanks Viv – I love this idea. I run philosophy and writing workshops for kids and I can see lots of appications for this type of improv activity. Love your blog!

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