Blog > Gifts from Improv Theatre

April 22, 2009

Today I was privileged to present at the Australian Institute of Training & Development Conference in Sydney. My session was about exploring six of the key improv ‘rules’ that I’ve found useful when using improv in workshops, for training, or for my own development.

As I’m no good at preparing notes in advance, I promised that I’d put some notes here on my blog. Oh, and if you missed out on a set of improv cards, just email me and I’ll send you a set.

The set-up
You don’t always have to improvise. In fact, often, everything goes as planned. However, I find the ability to improvise takes the stress out of things not being as you expect (for whatever reason) and avoids the blame game. Accept the offer, breathe, and move on.

To be able to improvise, create with what’s at hand, you need to flex and exercise your spontaneity. Being spontaneous means using your existing knowledge and skills PLUS the resources available in the moment to improvise. Improvising a meal when friends drop in unexpectedly is a good example: you use your knowledge and skills of making a meal with whatever is in the pantry and fridge at the time. And if that doesn’t work you’ll probably suggest Thai from the local restaurant!

And there’s two different but complementary aspects to using improv in training. One is the obvious – using games from improv as activities to explore reactions, concepts or as a platform for a debrief. The other is for your own development – exercising and flexing that spontaneity muscle builds skills to respond ‘as an improviser’ even when you’re not improvising.

These gifts from improv theatre are particularly relevant when all you have left to draw on is yourself. And after all, you are your best resource.

The Gifts

Be Present: Show up. Be attentive, alert, listening, feeling…

Let Go: Let go of judging, yourself and others, and allow ideas to grow and evolve. Be surprised by where they end up.

Be Average: Do the obvious. Say yes to yourself and your ideas and allow your natural brilliance to emerge.

Accept Offers: Say ‘Yes, and…’. Let others know that they have been heard. ‘Yes, and…’ is about acknowledging and building on the offer.

Do Something: Solutions lie in actions – move your body! Try something. Anything. Follow your instincts.

Make Mistakes: Mistakes are the flip side of creativity. Try something new. Acknowledge and celebrate your mistakes.

The Games/Activities

During this workshop I played the following games – just click on the game to see process notes for each one.

Quotable quotes

Keith Johnstone wrote the classic book ‘Impro’. He says lots of insightful things. This is one of my favourites:

There are people who prefer to say ‘yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘no’. Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.

My challenge to you

When you next train a group, consider how much adventure and safety you provide for your participants, and how much adventure and safety you need for yourself.

If you want more adventure, you can start by using these six principles anywhere, any time to flex your spontaneity muscle.

Useful Resources

The Applied Improvisation Network (AIN)

The annual AIN Conference is an absolute must for me. The 2009 conference is in Portland, OR, USA November 13 – 15. See you there?

Impro by Keith Johnstone

Everything’s an Offer by Rob Poynton & Garry Hirsh of On Your Feet fame ( a sensational web site)

Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson

Playing Along by Izzy Gessel

And just for fun, Improv Everywhere. Check out Frozen Grand Central and Food Court Musical

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