Researching applied improv – a project for 2014

December 19th, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven a cursory look at this blog will reveal my interest in improvisation. It started with Playback Theatre and ranged far and wide around different improvisation styles. Most improv happens on the stage, in theatres and bars. I enjoy this type of improv performance AND I’m also interested in how it can be applied off the stage – in communities, organisations and companies.

The biggest misunderstanding about improv is that it’s all about humour, about being funny.

The biggest secret about improv is that anyone can learn the approaches that underpin it.

The biggest fear about using improv is that you’ll look foolish in front of others.

The biggest untapped use of improv is helping people to do their work when they don’t know what’s going on around them.

The biggest question about improv is…

I don’t know.

That’s why I’m starting a research project to uncover some of the questions about applied improv, collect some data through interviews, identify some themes and questions that emerge from that and then see where that leads me. Maybe I’m developing a new form of research: improvised research (though most researchers I know would argue that all research is improvised). My friend Bob Dick gave me this advice: “It seems to me that researching an under-researched area is like managing complex change.  I therefore assume that wherever I start will be the wrong place, because I don’t yet understand enough to know where to start.  That indicates that my best strategy is to start anywhere promising, and make it up as I go along.”

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m starting, and I’ll make it up as I go along.

Feel free to add any questions you’re curious about, or let me know if you’d be up for a free-ranging chat about applied improv.



4 Comments so far

  1. Stuart Reid on December 28, 2013 8:41 am

    Hi Viv – one possible way to start might be for someone else to interview *you* – to help you pull out and articulate some of the hunches that are behind your interest in this topic. If you’re like me, you won’t know everything that you’re going to say until you actually say it out loud to someone else 🙂

    If you’d like me to interview you over skype I’d be glad to.

    Stuart x

  2. Martin on January 2, 2014 7:48 pm

    Hi Viv, Stuart.
    I like that idea. Who will develop the questions? Some ideas could include:
    What’s your experience of improv?
    What do you like about it that makes it interesting to you?
    What’s about it that makes you feel it is useful ? (skill, understanding)
    Who do you know who you admire their skills/knowledge?
    What questions would you ask them?

    plus: the Bob Dick approach to interviewing: Just listen i.e. Just let Viv start talking……

    Good luck with it Viv, hope it goes well, Regards Martin

  3. Viv McWaters on January 4, 2014 3:41 pm

    Hi Stuart and Martin

    Thanks for your ideas – and yes, Stuart, I will take you up on the offer to interview me over Skype. Let’s find a time when I get back from holidays (after Jan 10). And how’s Malawi Martin? Is that where you are now?

    There’s been some exciting developments in my project which means I’ll probably be back in the UK later this year 🙂

    After a long skype chat with Rob Poynton, we agreed that we had some common ground, and might be able to collaborate in some way. The fact that Rob is based in Spain is largely irrelevant (I love this
    technology age that enables me to collaborate with people just around the corner or on any other continent). Long story short – Rob, through his connections at Oxford University, has offered me a mini-sabbatical at Green Templeton College to undertake what we’re calling Pathfinder Research. The idea is to help find the right questions for my research, by engaging with senior practitioners from a particular
    field – in this case applied improv. This will take place in May. Rob describes a bit about this, and his other work at Oxford Uni, here

    To say I’m excited, delighted and surprised would be an understatement.

  4. Martin on January 11, 2014 12:04 am

    hi Viv, Thanks for your interest in Malawi. Yes indeed, that’s the current Big Project. See if interested in stories – work and home.

    Good luck with your BP!


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