This is not a …

Goal:

• Encourages risk taking and creating a safe climate.
• Develops creative thinking.

Overview:

Participants make a circle around an arbitrary object like an empty water bottle. Each participant gets a chance to step forward and demonstrate what else the object could be.

Time:
10 – 20 minutes

Number of participants: 4 – 12 (if there are more than 12 divide them in smaller circles)

Game flow:

Have the participants stand in a circle. Place an arbitrary object in the middle of the circle. Anything like an empty bottle or a kitchen appliance will do the trick. Tell them that everyone will get a chance to step forward pick up the object and say “This is not a …. (Bottle for example) this is a … (anything else for example a telescope). The participant must then show how the object is used as this new object. For example if it is a telescope the participant can hold it in front of his/her eye and look around the room.

Tips:

Tell the participants that everyone must come up with at least 3 different ideas. This stretches them to really think creatively and challenges their belief of what is actually possible and plausible. Most participants will think it will be impossible for everyone to come up with 3 different ideas. Where in fact there are endless possibilities.

Treat each suggestion as equally creative and encourage the participants to support each other by applauding after every demonstration.

Debrief questions:

• What was interesting about the exercise?
• How did it feel to participate?
• What made it difficult?
• What helped to make it easier?

Improvisation class 1 – The power of vulnerability

Basic human contact – the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words – is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain. If you’re feeling abandoned by the world, interact with anyone you can.
Martha Beck – oh Mrs Beck, how wise you are. For it is in human interaction where life happens.

This blog is the first in a series of 8 to follow after each workshop in the Level One Improvisation Course. It will serve as a space and platform to say things you may have thought of on the way home from class, to share thoughts relating to our course ,that occur when you are at work and also for you to cement the concepts we practised in your mind.

Last week we were a large, brave group embarking on a “Survival of the authentic and the vulnerable” journey. A journey that fosters courage to be yourself in a safe space. I think it’s important to just commend you right here for taking that bold step into the unknown and engaging with themes and activities that may fall well outside of your daily path.

The workshop’s theme was “Play”, but as we progressed I realised it was more about vulnerability. We don’t always see the force hidden inside this gentle word.

First up was “What I need  to say”
This is a simple exercise where participants pair up and each person is afforded an opportunity to state what they need to say to be fully present. In other words… thoughts keep us from being present. Either thoughts of the past or thoughts of the future. This exercise helps bring us into the light and into the present moment. The packing power of the exercise lies in the fact that our partner repeats our exact words back to us and vice versa… So not only can you say what you need to say, but you are ensured that someone is listening.

Then we paired up again and played “ Super Hero Stories” . In this game we ask our partners to tell us 2 things. 1. The story of their name…it’s origin and meaning and 2. Why they joined the class. We as the partners have to listen carefully to what the other person says as we will need to not only repeat the information, but we’ll introduce our partner to the rest of the class…and in addition to this we will add a superhero characteristic to our partner… We make them look good. This is FUNDAMENTAL in becoming a good improviser and a happy human. Focus not on yourself, but on your partner, and make them look good.

Next up was “Name Circle”. In this exercise participants stand in a circle.  One player makes eye contact with another player and walks toward them.  That person must then make eye contact with another player and walk towards them.  This is a great game to learn everyone’s names and react in the moment.

After this we played a set of games all relating to each other… “ 123” , “I failed” and “123 sentences”.

In 1 2 3 participants pair up again and one after the other count to 3. Person A starts by saying 1, Person B then follows with 2 and person A ends with 3… sounds easy, but not so simple… some of us tried to establish the pattern, some of us were rushed and forgot the sequence.. and then to add to the challenge, the nr 1 was replaced with a sound and a move. So now person A make a sound and a move and person B responds with 2, person A ends with 3 and then person B starts with the sound and move. Then more layers were added. We ended up with no numbers, only sounds and moves. This games teaches us to stay put in the moment, to challenge old habits and to focus on our partners.

Inevitably , everyone made a mistake. This brought us to the next FUNDAMENTAL in improvisation… there are no mistakes. Mistakes are embraced and celebrated by accepting them and then building on them. Here Burgert taught us the “circus bow”. In this game participants each get a chance to step forward, say “I failed” and bow.  After each bow the rest of the participants give a warm round of applause.

Lastly we played “ 123 sentences” , a wonderful game for teaching us to listen and respond in the moment without planning.

And this is only the beginning. Improvisation is a new language that will help you to connect with yourself, others and your own unique creativity.
Looking forward to seeing you at the next class.

Luci

Ps.  Check out this TED Talks by Brene Brown about the Power of Vulnerability


 

Improvisation class 5 – Stories

By Luci and Burgert

The focus of last nights class was story.
As the participants trickled in and we moved our chairs into the habitual circle De Wet shed a little natural light on his story by telling us about his drumming days with a band called Jesse Jordan. I googled “Jesse Jordan Band” this morning…they are on Wikipedia. I am impressed. On their album “Flipside” ( were you still with them when they released this one De Wet?) there is a song titled “ There goes my mind”. This track title has inspired this morning’s blog.

As mentioned, the theme for last night was “ Story” . Normally when people think of stories or re telling stories they make an effort to alert their mind that mental files will need to be pulled up ASAP and that no dawdling or “ absentmindedness will be tolerated. The internal judges stand at the gates like rodeo cowboys ready to bring in that wild idea before it sees the light of day…

This process is not conducive to the spirit of Improvisation. As you step onto the stage with someone… say these words…” There goes my mind”, and then, you play…

Herewith a short list with descriptions of games we played:

Todododo – a word association game with a rhythm.
Word association – simple word associations around the circle
Random sentences – One player thinks of 4 random sentences that another must relate together in a story.
Automatic story – one player has to ask yes/no questions about the storyline of an unknown story that the other player has in mind. What the questioning player doesn’t know is that the person answering the questions is only saying yes to questions starting with a vowel and no to questions starting with a consonant.
What happens next? – In this game one player stands in the middle of the circle and acts out a story that the rest of the group make up one sentence at a time. After each sentence the player asks “What happens next?”
Voices from the grave – 3 Players tell a story of how they all died at the same place at the same time.

Voices from the grave may sound somber and at times the subject matter does twirl on the dark side but it is a wonderful tool for “co creating” a new reality.
Cindy gave an Oscar worthy performance as the disgruntled blind nurse, whilst Manuela provided a critically praise worthy portrayal of a depressed psycho therapist at the end of her tether. Charl gave, excuse the pun, “life” , to the chirpy car salesman and together these three caused for immense entertainment with the rest of the group…thanks for sharing what’s left when your mind goes…

Key concepts:

Free association: Free associated ideas create the material from which a story can be constructed.
Reincorporation: Reincorporation is the recycling or re-using of ideas or situations from earlier in the story. By reincorporating ideas and situations you make sense of the random ideas generated by free association.
Platform: The who, what and where of a scene. Success of a scene often depends on a solid and clear platform.
Breaking routine: A good story that will engage an audience is a series of routines that are broken creating new routines.

More thoughts on story:

Stories are how we make sense of the world. We link random events together to form stories. This is a great skill, but it also has a dark side. The dark side is that we make up stories about ourselves and others that are not the truth. Then we tell ourselves these stories over and over until we believe them to be true. Here is an example of how this happened on a flight from Dubai to Amsterdam. Last year Luci and I went to Amsterdam to present our Improv cooking for couples workshop at the Applied Improvisation Network conference. During our flight from Dubai there were a few men of Middle Eastern appearance standing around in the open space by the bathroom. They were talking and the one young guy looked somewhat nervous. Luci saw them and started making up a story in her head about the men being terrorists and that they were going to hijack the aeroplane. She became very nervous and couldn’t focus on the movie that we were watching. I saw this and asked her what was going on. She showed me the men and told me what she thought they were up to. I told her that what she just told me was mostly a story and that the likely hood of the men being terrorists was very small. So I asked her what other story she could construct about the men that could also be the truth and that was not so scary. So she made up a story about the nervous looking young man that was on his way to get married and that the other men were there to support him. This story calmed her down and made her smile, and we could enjoy the rest of the movie. Who knows what the real story was. The fact is most of our experiences are only stories that our brains construct by linking random facts together. It is important to be aware of this function of the brain. The brain does this as it does not like uncertainty so it would rather create a story to create some form of certainty. However as soon as we start believing the stories our brains make up we become less present and unable to notice facts that do not support our stories. Being aware of this function of the brain is very useful. Firstly, next time your brain starts to make up a story you can be aware of it and just notice that it is your brain making up a story and stay present to notice the truth of the moment. Secondly, you can use your brain’s ability to make up stories to create very entertaining improvised performances.

See you all next week!

Improvisation class 4 – Characters

Class 4 was about characters – how they walk talk and feel. We started with gibberish games (Emotion gibberish, Gibberish switch and Gibberish Insults). Gibberish helps one to focus more on how a character talks than what they say. How a character talks is just as important if not more important than what the character says. Gibberish also helps you to get out of your head. Next we did Character Walks. These game shows you how your body can think for you to make up a character by just changing something about the way you move. You can change any part of your body, the speed of your movement or how you fill the space around you. It is amazing how the way you carry your body influence your feelings. We ended the class with a gibberish performance game called Cluedo. In the end it is not about getting it right but about making a strong choice and sticking to it.

Key concepts

Gibberish – A made up language of witch the meaning is conveyed by action, expressions, or tone of voice.

Let your body think for you – By just changing something in your body you can come up with a whole character with feelings, wants and passions.

Make a strong choice and stick to it.- It is not always important what you choose but how you choose

Improvisation class 3. Present in every moment

The third class was all about listening, awareness and being in the moment. We started the class with a relaxation exercise to help us become aware of our bodies. Becoming aware of your body is a great way to get out of your head and become present.

Next we played Mirror Mirror. In this game participants partner up and mirror each other’s moves. In the first 2 rounds only one person is in control while the other just follows. In the last round the two participants must give and take the control. This forces you to be present in the moment. Sometimes when there is a high level of trust between participants control totally dissolves and the two players just flow together.

After that we played a series of group awareness exercises. First one person had to go in the middle and make a move and a sound, give the focus to another player, who had to copy the move and sound and then go to the middle and morph into a new move and sound. We played two other variations of this game. In the first everyone copied the person in the middle and at any point anyone could take the lead and change the move and sound into something else. In the second variation we didn’t stay in a circle and anyone could take the lead. These exercises feel awkward and odd when you do them the first time, but if you can let go and really pay attention to what others are doing and once again make them look good (in this case accepting whatever they are doing and do it with them) it is a wonderful experience of connecting with others and being in the moment. Check out this Ted Talks Video about how a crazy nut is turned into the leader of a movement by someone else who made him look good by mirroring his moves.

A good improviser is aware of everyone in the group and can pick up subtle offers. A good improviser is also aware in every moment, knowing when he/she needs to take control and take initiative and when he/she needs to give over control and allow someone else to take the focus.

After the awareness exercises we played Monster talk (Speaking in unison) which is also a great exercise in active listening and the “give and take” principal. We ended the class with Monstertalk scenes.

Key concepts:

Give and take – It’s all about giving up and taking control, and sharing and taking the focus. To do this well, you have to be aware and present so that you know whether the situation requires of you to take or give up control/focus.

Listening and awareness: In Improvisation this is referred to as “being in the moment” .It requires you to be present, pay attention to what is happening around you and to focus. To do this you need to let go, get out of your head and into your body.

Improv class 1 – Just play

On my way to the opening class in a series of 8 in Improvisation, I came to the realisation that the current series is the 5th since the inception of these classes last year. I felt so honoured that every time I present a class between 6 and 12 people show up and unquestioningly open themselves to the power of vulnerability by letting down their guard and become fully alive in the present moment.

The theme of the first class was “play”. We started the class with an introductions game called story exchange. After everyone was introduced we played a couple of name games (Name circle, Bang bang and superheroes)to get better acquainted with everyone’s names. We then played Bodyguard. In this game each player picks 2 other players in his/her mind and assign them with the roles of bodyguard and enemy. When the game starts each player must make sure that his/her enemy is always between him/her and his/her enemy. This causes a lot of playful running around and laughter. I remember the first time I played this game I felt the freedom of being a child again. I think what makes this game so much fun and creates so much laughter is the fact that you have a very simple goal that you can never completely attain without moving. Another reason why I think the game is so much fun is because you can see how your movement impacts everyone else and that gives you an exhilarating sense of belonging. The next game we played is called “Bunny bunny”. This game is too wondrously absurd to explain on paper. It requires a constant focus and being present. Our fear for failure is often what prevents us from being present. That is why we say in improvisation there is no such thing as a failure or a mistake. In improv everything is an offer, even a so called “mistake”. An exercise that I use to illustrate this is very aptly called “I failed” or also known as Circus bow. In the game every participant is given a chance to make a large bow and say anything along the lines of, “I failed” or “I made a mistake”. The rest of the group then gives a big round of applause…as though this failure was a beautifully constructed success.

The last game for the evening was “Yes lets!” In this game any one can make a suggestion like, “Lets play soccer” or “Let’s howl at the moon”. The others then respond very excitedly with the words, “Yes lets!” and mime doing what was suggested with enthusiasm. It’s amazing how much fun this game is if you really commit to it. It is not very often that people accept our ideas with so much enthusiasm and not just say they support it but also do it right away. This is absolutely the spirit of improvisation – contributing and appreciating. What a great way to end our first class. Thank you for everyone’s participation.

Improv Class 5 – Make up your own story

Story was the focus of this week’s class. We started the class with an exercise from Imago Relationship Therapy. In this exercise each participant gets the opportunity to say in a few sentences what they need to say to be fully present. One of the others must then mirror that persons exact words back to them. The exercise is not so much about saying what you need to say to be present, but being listened to fully without judgement. When we listen to people like this we help them to become fully present. In essence what we are doing is accepting them and showing them that they are welcome and worth being listened to.

The next exercise was a game call Todododo in which we had to make word associations keeping a rhythm. This illustrates how much easier it is to come up with ideas if you stop trying so hard. This is why in Improv we say “be average”. If you stop trying to be perfect and get everything right , it helps to lower anxiety and your brain can relax and function better so that your creativity can surface. After that we played another word association game in which we just made associations around the circle. This game illustrated how our minds automatically make links between random words. In the next game everyone paired up with one other person. The one had to come up with 4 unrelated sentences that the other had to connect together to create a story. Relating random events together is what makes a story. At first it sounds like a difficult task but as I mentioned earlier the brain does it automatically. Our brains are wired that way. Relating events together and making up stories is how we make sense of the world.

Then we played Automatic Story. In this game one player has to ask yes/no questions about the storyline of an unknown story that the other player has in mind. What the questioning player doesn’t know is that the person answering the questions is only saying yes to questions starting with a vowel and no to questions starting with a consonant. The person asking the questions is therefore making up the story without knowing it. This game illustrates how easy it is to make up our own stories. Isn’t it interesting how in life we also often think that someone else is in control of our tale, while we are actually the authors of our own life stories?

The next game that we played was What happens next? In this game one player stands in the middle of the circle and acts out a story that the rest of the group make up one sentence at a time. After each sentence the player asks “What happens next?” To improvise a good story in a group there are 4 important guidelines-

• Free association: Free associated ideas create the material from which a story can be constructed.

• Reincorporation: Reincorporation is the recycling or re-using of ideas or situations from earlier in the story. By reincorporating ideas and situations you make sense of the random ideas generated by free association.

• Platform: The who, what and where of a scene. Success of a scene often depends on a solid and clear platform.

• Breaking routine: A good story that will engage an audience is a series of routines that are broken creating new routines.

I believe that if we want our lives to be good stories we must become aware of routines that are limiting us and break them and create new routines. And when the new routine starts to limit us we must break it again. Routines can be anything from a mindset, to a hab it to a physical space. The harder it is to break the routine, the higher the risk and the better the potential for a really good story.

As a footnote: Sandra Lee Schubert co – facilitated a writing program for 10 years where participants would weekly share immensely personal pieces of some aspects of their lives. In a conversation, her co-facilitators asked why they had to be so personal. She asked, “ Why not? “There is a deep, deep desire to be heard. People want to stake their claim in the landscape of story. Intimacies are shared because we want to take the power back. Why should someone else define your story?

Improvisation class 3 – Make your partner look good.

We started the class with a relaxation exercise to help us become aware of our bodies. Becoming aware of your body is a great way to get out of your head and become present. Next we played a series of mirroring exercises. First just one person creating a sound and a move which is mirrored by another player, then everyone mirror’s the person. Finally everyone is mirroring everyone. It takes a lot of awareness of the other players to adapt to whatever they are doing. Mirroring your partner is a great way to make your partner look good. Check out this Ted Talks Video about how a crazy nut is turned into the leader of a movement by someone else who made him look good by mirroring his moves.

Luci commented about how it was easier to just follow the men in the group than the woman. Is this because the men made louder noises and bigger movements? Or is it because of social conditioning? A good improviser is aware of everyone in the group and can pick up subtle offers. A good improviser is also aware in every moment, knowing when he/she needs to take control and take initiative and when he/she needs to give over control and allow someone else to take focus.

After the mirroring exercise we played a game called “Gifts”. In this game a player gives another an imaginary gift without having to know what it is. The one receiving the gift must say what it is and accept it like it is the one thing they’ve always wanted. This game illustrates how physical gestures can also be offers. The one receiving the gift accepts the physical offer and builds on it by saying what it is. By accepting the gift with so much enthusiasm he/she also make his/her partner look good.

The last game for the evening was “Blind offers”. In this game one player starts with a physical movement, another player then enters and says something that accepts the first player’s movement and justifies it. The first then replies in a way that builds on the second player’s comment. eg. First player makes a physical movement that looks like someone scrubbing a floor. The second player enters and says, “John the deck better be spotless before we set out on our voyage.” The first replies, “Ai ai Captain!” Antoinette made a very important statement after the class. She commented on how difficult it was for her to come up with a response to the first player’s movement. She realised that the reason for the difficulty was that she thought that she needed to say something funny. She realised however that if she just focused on the other player and tried to make them look good, it’s much easier to come up with something good. Jacques also mentioned that it was much easier to just go on and start making a physical movement because he knew his partner will accept it and build on it.

So how often do we do this in real life? How often are we focused on making our partners look good rather on just making ourselves look good? How often do we block others in an attempt to make ourselves look good?

Improvisation Class 2 – Listening and awareness


The theme for last night’s Improvisation class was listening and awareness.
Listening and awareness is fundamental for improvisation. Like I mentioned in the previous class, everything is an offer in improvisation and the more offers you can become aware of, the more you have to work with. Mayah remarked on how MacGyver is a good example of this. The character could always get himself out of life threatening situations by just using whatever he could find in his immediate surroundings. A quote from Mr MacGyver Season 2: ” I say we trust our instincts, go with our gut. You can’t program that. That’s our edge.” That’s why I always say Improvisation skills are crucial, because it could save your life.

We started the class with a classic Keith Johnstone exercise, that I call “change 3 things”. Participants pair up and observe one another. They then turn back to back and change 3 things about their appearance, like loosen one button or role up a sleeve. They then turn back to each other and try to identify the changes. I repeat this with 6 changes and then 10 changes.
The more challenging the game gets the more participants become aware of the other person.

The next exercise we played is an Augusto Boal walking exercise that I call “Stop go”. In this game all the participants walk around spreading themselves evenly across the space. When I clap they must stop and when I clap again they must walk. I do this for a while and then I tell them that they have to stop and go together without me clapping. In the first round everyone just had to focus on my clap, but for the second round you had to be aware of everyone else. Instead of being individuals just walking around being controlled from the outside, they now became a self organising system
– Everyone aware of everyone else, giving and taking control amongst themselves.

The next exercise we did is also an Augusto Boal exercise that I learned from Adrian Jackson. He calls it a “group meditation”. In this exercise everyone stands in a circle and observe one other person in the circle. Any movement the other person makes must be copied and accentuated a bit. It’s not long before everyone is jumping up and down and waving their arms recklessly. Then I tell them to, instead of accentuating the other person’s movement, to tone down the movement, ie. make it a little smaller. Astonishingly, before along, everyone is standing motionless. Pierre commented on how much energy was created by just building a little on the other person’s movement. This is a very good example of the “yes and” principle that we discussed last week.

We ended the class with 2 focus games. In the first we passed around imaginary balls and in the second we created 3 different patterns that we had to continue without dropping any pattern. In both these games you have to constantly switch between focusing on one person and being aware of everyone else. Later it starts happening simultaneously and you go into a state of flow. This state is very playful and you start losing yourself in the activity, becoming less self conscious and more aware.

I’d love to hear your comments.
Thank you for everyone’s participation. I look forward to next week.

Improvisation class 1 Gifts, Acceptance and Gratitude


Last night another group of brave souls embarked on their journey into the “spur of the moment” …the magical world of Improvisation – a world filled with mystery, secure uncertainty and spontaneity. The class got under way with a game called “the story of my name”. In this exercise everyone is afforded a chance to tell the story behind their name. This game introduced some fundamental principles of improvisation , namely 1. ) listening and 2.) Creating a story without planning.

This was followed by a name game in which you have to say someone else’s name in the circle and walk towards them, the named person must then say someone else’s name and walk towards them before the first person reaches them. When people play this game for the first time they are often anxious about making a mistake. This anxiety usually results in a perceived failure. Our fear for failure is often what causes us to fail. In improvisation we do away with failures and mistakes. They simply seize to exist in our world. Everything that happens is seen as an offer that can be used. This is encapsulated in the phrase “make your partner look good”.

To elaborate on this improvisation fundamental we played a game called “Circus Bow”. In the game every participant gets a chance to make a large bow and say anything in the line of “I failed” or “I made a mistake”. The rest of the group then gives a big round of applause…as though this failure was a beautifully constructed success.

For the next exercise everyone paired up with another participant and counted to 3, each time alternating who counts next. After a while the number one is replaced with a sound. Then 2 is replaced with a move and 3 is replaced with a word. After the game Mayah commented that what made it difficult was that you have to listen and remember to speak at the same time. That is very true about improvisation. In improvisation you always need to balance opposites – listening and speaking, being aware of yourself and being aware of others, taking control and giving up control. The only way to do this is by being present and doing whatever is required in the particular moment.

The next exercise called “mirror mirror” built on this idea. Participants paired up again. One participant moved while the other participant mirrored every movement. Then they switch. Whoever was leading now follows and vice versa and in the third round both lead and follow at the same time. The aim of the game is to move exactly at the same time – in sync. The only way to do this is if you are really focused on the other person and aware of yourself at the same time. Pierre also mentioned that you need to be very playful about it. The best part of this exercise is when you don’t know who is leading. It’s as if you are both thinking exactly the same thing. In improvisation we call this a group mind.

The next improvisation fundamental was accepting offers and building on them. In improvisation this is described by the phrase “yes and”. It means that any offer that is presented is accepted and built on. The opposite of this is called “blocking”. The phrase we often use in life to block other peoples’ offers is “yes but”. To practice “yes and” everyone paired up with someone else and planned a vacation. In the first round all had to respond to their partner’s idea with a sentence that started with “yes but” and a reason why the suggestion wasn’t a good idea and then give another idea. After that everyone had the same task but instead of starting the sentence with “yes but”, the participants had to start their sentences with “yes and” – accepting the other player’s idea and building on it. When you accept you bond with your partner, you create wonderful new ideas and you build positive energy. When you block, you get frustrated, nothing creative results and you build negative energy. Why is it that we more often block than except in life? Some reasons that came out of the group are: ego, fear and laziness.

The last game for the evening was “Yes lets!” In this game any one can make a suggestion like “Lets read a book” or “Let’s sit on a pyramid and howl at the moon”. The others then respond very excitedly with the words “Yes lets!” and mime doing what was suggested with enthusiasm. It’s amazing how much fun this game is if you really commit to it. It is not very often that people accept our ideas with so much enthusiasm and not just say they support it but also do it right away. Antoinette made a comment about what a huge gift it is to have your ideas accepted like that. So this game was like a big Christmas party, everyone just showering each other with gifts. This is absolutely the spirit of improvisation – giving, accepting and gratitude. What a great way to end our first class. Thank you for everyone’s participation and I’m really looking forward to next week.