Using Improvisational Theater as a Learning Tool
Improv can provide an understanding of how to live more effective, confident, and in-the-moment lives. The modern form of improv was developed to help actors solve problems on stage by listening to others without prejudgment, accepting what is offered by others, trusting that the group will solve a problem, and letting go of one’s own need to control situations or predetermine outcomes. Improv players gain confidence to allow their own spontaneity to flow without self-censorship, poise to allow the spontaneity of others to flow without criticism, and belief in their ability to solve problems. This is why everyone: sales people, trainers, factory workers, managers, nurses, teachers, and homemakers can all benefit from experiencing improv.
Here are guidelines to make Improv effective as you work with groups.
- Don’t be concerned about getting it all perfect. Just jump right in and give it a try. Because much of improve is physical, stretching and other preparation for physical activity will be helpful. Include vocal warm-ups to stretch vocal cords and encourage enthusiasm and exuberance. These activities also reduce self-consciousness.
- To reinforce the understanding that the group is involved in theater, position yourself as the emcee or master of ceremonies as much as possible and refer to the participants in the session as players and audience members.
- Don’t push people to perform but encourage them. Ask players to volunteer and inform them that they will not be pressured to participate. Large group activities make it easier for reluctant players to get involved.
The only rule that must be followed is the rule of agreement, which states “I agree to accept any reality offered within a structure and will commit to that reality without a moment’s hesitation.” Suggest your participants:
- Accept any offer that is given to you as player or emcee. It is improve etiquette to use the first suggestion you hear.
- Make unusual choices. If you have two options, choose the unfamiliar one even if it seems uncomfortable. Unusual choices make for great improve.
- Make large actions and overt gestures (called playing “big”). Make “big” choices
- Use conflict and action make scenes interesting.
- Don’t think about what to do next. Instead, become silent, take a couple of deep breaths, and focus on your body position. Allow your body position to guide your next action.
The following ideas are helpful if players seem to be floundering:
- Make active statements rather than asking open-ended questions. For example, if you pick something off the floor say, “What a beautiful diamond” instead of asking your partner, “What do you think this is?” The statement helps your partner and allows the action to move forward.
- Don’t think about what you will do.
- Don’t anticipate what others are going to do.
- Don’t worry about making mistakes because if something doesn’t work, we just move on to something else.
- Solutions lie in actions, not words. Cry rather than say they are sad, drink glass after glass of water rather than say they are thirsty.
A final reminder: the concept of fun is not to be underestimated. Improv is a lot of fun. If you are having fun, then your participants will be having fun.