The focus of Improv leads to conversers being present, meaning they exist in the here and now. The acceptance in Improv leads to the speakers’ connection, meaning each becomes part of a co-creation team. The distance between the communicators is thereby no longer a gap to be closed. It becomes a connector, filling the space between bodies like a see-saw connects the two riders on either end. Each is dependent on the other for flow and movement. This synchronicity of focus and acceptance is what results in full body listening.
– Izzy Gesell
We sat in the breakout section of one of my courses yesterday. Once per week, small sets of students from the course sit with Teaching Fellows from the class to look into the readings and ideas of the week more completely than we’re able to in a larger lecture class. For an hour-and-a-half, we delve more deeply. Not quite a study group, the time still pushes my thinking.
Thus far, it’s been a way for me to better hear the plurality of views in the room.
Yesterday’s was the first of of the student-led sections. In pairs, we each have a week during which we’re responsible for leading 45 minutes of the conversation.
Yesterday’s leaders reminded me of one of the more difficult rules of improvisation, “My idea is good, and I like yours better.”
We each took three notecards.
On each card we wrote a quotation from or question inspired by the readings.
When everyone was ready, someone in the group started by stating their question and throwing the corresponding card into the center of the table (whether what was written on the card was relevant or not).
Whoever responded did so and threw one of their cards into the center of the table.
Conversation continued according to this system.
If there was a lull, someone would read a fresh question from the cards remaining in their hands.
If you ran out of cards, yours became a job of listening.
Often, people had selected quotations that could easily shift and be re-purposed to fit into the flow of the conversation.
Sometimes, though, the cards and what people wanted to say were out of sync. In these moments, folks were faced with a choice.
Enter, the rule of improv.
In grad school, like any other school (or any meeting of more than one person, really) conversations are often peppered with unrelated remarks. Though I’m as guilty as the next person of occasionally moving things to my point rather than appreciating and building off of others’. It’s a tough skill and not something completely in line with rugged individualism.
Yesterday’s process required us to make some choices. We were forced to evaluate which of our thoughts was worth sacrificing in exchange for access to the contribution – “My idea is good, and I like yours better.”
In an improv scene, two people enter a scene, often with only a single word as a suggestion, with the purpose of building of a narrative that looks effortless. In good improv, Person A will speak a line and Person B will edit whatever was about to come out of his mouth and speak to build on the idea of Person A.
In great improv, the whole process takes a fraction of the second and the audience has no idea.
It’s not a negating of a person’s idea, but a shifting of purpose. I could cling to my idea or I could work to build up another person’s equally valid proposition. If it’s about good ideas and the building of understanding, my plan can easily be abandoned so long as we’re building something.
And, if there’s a fire to my idea and what I’ve written on my cards is imbued with passion and inquiry – then I spend that card as is.
This is something we could do well to teach the children in our care, the adults at our sides and, most importantly ourselves.