Beginnings: Laying an Essential Foundation

WOO HOO!
That one principle of improv has transformed the way I see myself as an improviser...as a teacher...as a person.  When I embrace my own mistakes and celebrate them as an opportunity for learning and growth, I am free to learn.  I am no longer internally berating myself--inflicting insults upon an abused psyche.  I am open to new insights and fresh perspectives.

When it's your first improv class and I tell you we'll all be counting aloud as we toss a ball into the air, it's difficult to imagine profound life lessons as an ultimate result.  When you howl with laughter as you forget someone's name and run over to the other circle, there might be a giddy moment, but there is rarely an epiphany.  However, as the ensemble builds, as the principles steep and are practiced and embraced, a  s h i f t  occurs.  Sometimes, this shift is immediate.  Sometimes, it takes a few weeks for the ensemble to gel.  I've taught players who "click in" to a new mindset a full year after beginning their work as an improviser.  No matter how much time has passed, it is the initial foundation and subsequent collective processing of improvisation that allows for a depth of understanding.

Last week, I introduced well over 30 people to improvisational theatre.  Throughout an after-school enrichment class with 5th-9th-graders, a professional development workshop with K-6 teachers, and an after-school class with 2nd-4th-graders, the basic tenet of improv was the core of our work and play: Woo Hoo!  Each session shared the same feeling: initial discomfort with mistakes followed by an jubilant embrace as we said, "Woo Hoo!  I made a mistake!"  Each ensemble made progress toward becoming a cohesive team, and individuals in all three contexts began to relax and take more risks as the class progressed.

Last week's sessions will all lead to very different places.  One might develop seemingly instant trust and commitment to the activities.  One might experience a shift in enrollment and players' ideas about improv...followed by a focus on the principles that will help the ensemble build the trust that is so essential to this form of play.  Another will never meet again as that particular group, but various individual players will take subsequent classes and delve deeper into improvisation.  No matter what the context or eventual path may be, they are all built on a foundation of "failing forward".  We are recovering perfectionists here: bring on the mistakes.

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