Surrounded By Energy

I just had the privilege of spending the last three days with the most tremendous energy. At the Applied Improvisation Network World Conference, I was surrounded by 200 folks who use improvisation to positively impact the world. Affecting people in business, education, the medical profession, and a wide variety of other contexts, these incredible coaches and facilitators are bringing experiences that help groups to work together, individuals to find their voices, and creative thinking to flourish.

Here are just a few of the countless incredible moments from this brief period of time:

  • Two hundred people from more than a dozen countries being "the perfect boss"--encouraging each other to give genuine compliments, hugs, and whatever else would bring them joy as the day begins
  • Damilola guiding a group through the activities he uses to teach children in Northeast Nigeria to play--children who are normally not allowed to do so. And then guiding us through some Boal-inspired Image Theater activities and explaining how he uses Forum Theater with people living in refugee camps...presenting to 10,000 audience members in many different camps.
  • Making masks with Paul and our small group of intrepid explorers of what is beyond the surface. Channeling deeper feelings and archetypes using nothing more than paper plates, napkins, rubber bands, our moldable faces, and trust.
  • Brainstorming dozens of ways to play improv games with young children, embracing the gifts of playfulness and discussing strategies for how to manage the unique challenges presented by 5-7 year-old participants. Max's experience with three generations of Spolin, specifically with 5 year-olds, took this play and conversation to an entirely new level.
After so many connections, so many inspiring moments, so many opportunities for true professional and personal growth, I am simply exhausted. It's the happy, blissful exhaustion one experiences after a particularly strenuous and beautiful hike. And as I settle into a deep sleep this evening, I can't wait to dream about how my students and fellow educators get to benefit from all of this. Watch out, folks--lots of new games and experiences coming your way!

Take it! And make it yours.

I just had the privilege to introduce an incredible group of dedicated educators to the possibilities and power of improvisational theatre in their diverse settings. Yesterday, over 30 after-school youth leaders--from the Boys and Girls Club, from Circle of Sisters, from Chops Teen Club, from the Salvation Army, from on-site after school tutoring--came together because they were looking for new strategies for working with tweens and teens. These educators are committed to working with those who oftentimes need the most support in our society... and they were looking for something new.

The day began like most professional development experiences: slow, sleepy, and unsure. Folks straggled in and talked to no one or just the one or two people they already knew. Everyone sat behind tables in rows, occasionally glancing up at the insane woman who was setting up a table full of books, a green ball, a projector, and a rubber ducky at the front of the room. And then I asked the group to do what I love doing with students in this same situation: We. Just. Started.

Five minutes into "Ball," we were loud, teasing and laughing. By ten minutes in, we were goal-oriented. After 15 minutes, we were one group. As Tim Orr would say, we were "in it together."

Throughout the morning, my goal was twofold: to help these educational professionals to think about "their kids" in a different way, and to give them plenty of relevant activities to bring back to their programs. A perky pace was in order! We moved through Ball, through collective counting/movement and singing energizers, through Big Booty, and into Portkey and an introduction to narrative.

One of our participants, Michelle, shared her realization during one of our many processing/debriefing conversations. She explained, "I always love playing games with kids. Like 'Big Booty,' I've played that a bunch of times. But talking about the meaning behind the game and connecting it to these principles [of improv] brings it to a new level." Indeed. The reality behind this sort of processing is that it takes the game out of the hands of the facilitator and transfers ownership to the participants. When players are supported in thinking about how their play is a metaphor for how they work in groups, for how they accomplish tasks, for how they handle challenges, playing and thinking co-create a potentially transformative experience.

As someone who was training those who would later be acting as facilitators with these same games, my most important role is sometimes to STEP BACK. If I continually remind teachers what the rules of the game are, their investment in the activity as a coach is weakened. After explaining and some initial modeling, I pulled back so this incredible group of educators could do what they do best: experiment, communicate, adjust, and connect with one another. In both the high energy game of "Big Booty" and the subdued, yet intense and even intimate "Portkey," our group split into smaller diverse groups to figure it out TOGETHER.

Rich Cox, an accomplished and impressive applied improvisation coach, once told me, "If I do 20% or less of the talking, I'm doing my job right." His ideas resonated for me as I heard one of yesterday's participants asking about the rules of one of our games. Another teacher responded, "We can change the rules and just make it work." Yes, and...