I sat in a folding chair in a high-ceilinged room in an old building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I signed up for my first improvisation theater class (many years ago), I didn’t know what to expect.
As I waited for the “leader” to arrive I felt more than a little apprehensive. The room was spare, with a wood floor and 20 chairs, most of them filled with a motley group of people, ranging in age from 18 to 65. It was very quiet. A few people were talking in low voices. I was still, staring at a point on the floor about 10 feet in front of me. I didn’t know anyone in the class. What had I gotten myself into?, I wondered. Could I sneak out before the leader arrived?
Then the door opened and a bright confident woman of about 35 swept in, looked us all over while smiling, asked us to stand up, and led us through a rapid-fire series of “theatre exercises”. We scrunched up our faces to relieve tension, and played an unusual version of follow the leader to experience the relationship between how we hold our bodies and how we feel. We listened to people have a conversation in “gibberish” and learned how much communication happens with tone of voice, pitch, and gestures rather than the words we speak. We played out various scenes with team members to learn to listen, think, speak, and react in the moment.
The 2-hour class was over before we knew it, and we left talking and laughing together. For those two hours I had been in a “flow state”. All the cares of my day-to- day life had vanished and in their place I had experienced being in the present, and creating with others.
As I walked to the bus stop I felt buoyant, hopeful, and elated. In just 2 hours time I had learned skills that would stay with me for a lifetime, and had a lot of fun in the process. I had learned how to watch and listen to other people, how to “read” a situation intuitively, how to make decisions quickly, and communicate my ideas clearly in words and in actions. I had learned when to be a leader and when to be a follower, and how to pull a team together.
Now it is many, many years later. With knowledge about research in psychology, 30 years of teaching and leading seminars and workshops, and several years of theatre “under my belt”, I am very excited to be re-creating that experience I had all those years ago for others. I’m now offering the Insight Improv workshop: Take proven improv theatre exercises, mix them with research on psychology, a group of people (you or you and your team) and a workshop leader (me), and you have fun and insights at the same time.
People ask me what the insights are that I learned back in Cambridge, and what the insights are that they will learn when they come to a workshop. And of course I have to answer “It depends!” After each improv exercise we stop to talk about what the psychology research has to say on the topic, for example, when we do the exercise called “follow the leader” I share the recent research that shows that when you move your muscles in a certain way it can trigger a release of hormones which then affects your mood. Recent research shows that when men puff out their chests more testosterone is released and when men cave in their chests the testosterone is lessened. When you frown chemicals are released in the brain that lower your mood. Conversely, if you smile then endorphins are released that make you feel better. This is just one example of the psychology research that we talk about after each improv exercise.
In addition to talking about the research, different people share some of the insights that they have. Everyone reacts differently to each exercise, so this is where your personal insights come in. For example, one person talked about an “a-ha” moment she had in one of the exercises – she tends to feel the need to be the leader, and she always thought that being a leader took more skill than following. But in one of the improv exercises she realized it could be hard work to be a follower. She had a choice about following without caring, or following well, and that it was not necessarily easy to follow well. For her, following had meant not caring, or being weak, and now she was going to have to re-evaluate that in her day-to-day work.
What did I learn those many years ago in Cambridge? Here are just a few of my learnings and insights:
- How to think quickly on my feet; how to make quick decisions when I need to
- How to listen to what people are really saying by watching what they do with their body
- How to listen to what people are really saying by hearing their pitch and the emotional tone
- When I should be a follower and when I should be a leader
- How to get a team or group to bond quickly
- My interaction styles that are effective and those that are not
- And how to have fun with a group of people I don’t know at all!
I’m excited to be offering these workshops. What do you think? Any questions or comments?
And if you are interested in sponsoring, hosting, or attending, send an email to InsightImprovInfo@gmail.com.