We often find ourselves thinking ahead about the future. Improv theatre is an activity where you have to be in the moment, you never know what will happen next. You have to work as a team and help the people you are playing the improv games with. I have done some classes with Dave Bourn in the past (great fun) and I met him again a couple of weeks ago and I thought it would be good to publish an interview with him for my blog.
For you who are curious there is an Impro festival in London next week, check out the website: www.improfestuk.co.uk. And I love to go to Comedy Store in London on Wedneday and Sunday’s, great Impro Stand-up shows.
How long have you been doing improv?
The straightforward answer is I started impro classes in the 90s however we are all improvising every day of our lives from birth.
By the way – I usually shorten “improvisation” to “Impro” (the name of Keith Johnstone’s book) but lots of people say “improv”.
Why did you start with improv?
Personally, I started as an attempt to deal with anxiety. I’d had a little therapy to help it (and some was good, some was AWFUL) but I wanted to do something more practical. The therapy was often sitting in a room intellectualizing – and I generally spent too much time thinking about things already, so I wanted to do something to get me out of my head/worries – and impro was a perfect fit for me. Scary but also challenging and fun.
How do you think you can use improvisation as a tool in the corporate world?
I have never encountered a better tool for team building and making connections amongst people. Take a group of strangers in the morning and after a days impro session they will be talking like old friends. Improvisation is also great for improving presentations which are in essence a performance. Impro helps all kinds of communication skills (focused listening etc) and a foundation of improvisational skills will help any kind of group creativity.
Adults learn better when being relaxed and you use humour. What kind of feedback and reactions do you get when you finished a day of improv training?
Being relaxed is the best state to do anything. You should be alert and focused but also relaxed and certainly not stressed. Laughter releases all sorts of tension. At Sprout Ideas we usually teach in pairs and when we start our sessions our light hearted banter helps set the agenda.
We try to give the impression we’re focused and know what we’re doing, but we’re gonna have a laugh along the way too. People are often quite nervous at the beginning of a class so the sooner they are laughing the sooner they are ready to start taking on board the skills we are going to show them. We’re lucky to be teaching something fun but that is also very useful. The feedback we get usually reflects these two things – “I learnt a lot, and I had fun”.
Is improvisation as a training tool something new? Or has it been used for decades?
The form of impro we base our work on was developed by Keith Johnstone in the 50s and 60s. More and more organizations are using and developing the principles he crystallized. His work on Status and the principle of saying “yes and ..” go a long long way.
When you are training improv do you become a better story teller? If yes, do you have any idea how?
Whether you are writing a novel, or telling a friend a bit of gossip, we can all tell stories and enjoy doing it. (No one loves a gossip more than me.)
A story is simply a connected series of events. The brain loves to create meaning from everything and the more you improvise the better you become at noticing connections and meaning in the scenes you create – it’s pretty instinctive.
Also the ability to creative a narrative lends weight to any message. For example to be topical – You may notice many politicians and spokespeople trying to create a narrative from the London riots to support their own message. They’ll emphasise the events that support their message to create their own story and ignore the events that don’t. The reality is there are probably many little narratives rather than one overriding one.
The ability to create stories is another powerful tool in the corporate world because stories make a bigger impression in the mind.
What is most important to think about when doing improv?
At the “Intro to Impro” – our beginners weekend class we hope people leave with the following messages
1 – Go with the first idea. Everyone’s ideas are valuable and equal.
2 – Once you have your idea, say “yes .. and” build upon it (The words “no” and “but” are very destructive … and so easy to say ☺)
3 – Be in the moment – if your mind is worrying about the future or dwelling in the past you won’t be fully able to deal with the present
4 – Don’t fear failure – failure is okay and can be fun (some impro games are designed to make success impossible)
Can anyone do improvisation?
Yes absolutely anyone! I suffered from massive anxiety so I should know. You name an occupation and we have had them come and do a weekend with us. From doctors, to bankers, to secretaries, to teachers, to counsellors, to beauticians etc. And you can start at any age. Most people who come to our weekends tend to be between the ages of 25 and 55 but we’ve have people from 18 to people in their 70s.
Do you have any top tips for people who might find improv and speaking in front of a small audience daunting and frightening?
The place where you need to be when improvising or public speaking (or doing anything at all actually) is “in the moment”.
Look around for a friendly class and go practice – I tried lots of classes when I started and some were more welcoming than others so go and try a few, and meet a tutor you can connect with.
Thank you Dave Bourn for being such an inspiring person!