On the 14th November I was invited by community business organisation Power to Change to deliver a break out session at the Locality Convention in Manchester. If you were there, hello! Public speaking workshop. storytelling workshop
Big thanks to Claire and the team at Power to Change for inviting me along. It was really quite inspiring to be around so many community leaders, people who ‘get things done’ for the betterment of their local communities.
The session was about providing practical techniques that would get their voices heard at local authority level, to gain funding for their projects. It was a bit whistle stop as I tried to cram in a lot from what I’ve learned over the years; being confident and comfortable speaking and sharing to developing empathy in a narrative. I was aware these attendees probably had their own story to tell, and indeed they did. Everyone I spoke to over the afternoon and evening reception had an incredible story to tell. Choices they had made, often selflessly, to make things better for those around them. Events they had made happen, goals achieved or journeys that had just begun with a sentence along the lines of “…so I quit my regular job to go do this instead”.
The strength of character in the room was tangible ( I even shared a bit of my own story) and I was pretty humbled at the end of the session when co-organiser Charlotte showed me the feedback from attendees while I sold some of my books.
Power to Change put on a great evening reception, highlighting the history of community business with a book launch and a play by the Manchester Shakespeare Company.
I was about to tweet back with an answer when I realised I didn’t have one. Why did I draw all the acts with no eyes? After tracing it back to 2012, or thereabouts. I remember took over from another artist on the festival who drew everyone with no eyes, so I was just continuing on the tradition.
It still didn’t feel like an excuse, so even though it’s not on the brochure I thought I’d oblige…
Last week I joined 30 other performers taking part in a thirty three hour long show that was completely improvised. It had comedy, high drama, songs and characters including a space pirate, a giant slug and a Cyberman (from Doctor Who) – that was me.
You’d be right to wonder how this is relevant to proper ‘work’, but when you strip away the theatrical of Liverpool’s 8th annual ‘improvathon‘ you’ll see a very impressive model of project management played out at speed.
Improvisation isn’t making things up. There are rules and constraints that help unlock the creativity for high levels of collaboration and achievement, for example a six person ‘safety song’ and dance that was ‘slip, trips and falls’. Impressive not only in line and verse, but also as it was a great metaphor for good improvisation. Safety culture in the workplace aims for interdependence over independence, and so does improvisation. If we have each others back, we do good work and we look great too.
I’ve recently become interested in agile development. An approach to project management that favours interaction over process, and responding to change over ‘end goals’ to achieve a more satisfying outcome (and a happy client). I’m not an agile developer but I have been a web developer for twenty years and an improviser for ten.
The improvathon is played out in two hour ‘episode’ chunks with performers creating and discovering stories through interaction. Over the course of the show new cast members join, some leave and some stay awake (and present) for the entire duration fuelled by adrenaline, coffee and the buzz of the show. A 15 minute break between these episodes is just time enough for the director, overseeing the scenes, to gently highlight the more compelling stories from the previous section and suggest new points of focus. Moving events forward towards a rewarding outcome.
During the show, I failed in my many evil attempts at ‘conversions’ turning other characters into cybermen – to create and army of robotic cybermen – that’s just what they do. I was reminded of a chat with a scrum master (Paul Goddard) who used the term ‘conversion’ to refer to the moment when a newcomer to improv clicks with the ‘yes and’ principle and comprehends the wider implications and values. Improv isn’t just for actors or extroverts, it’s for everyone in or out of the workplace.
It’s also much better than being turned into a cyberman.
In this episode I recap what I’ve called ‘series 2’. The last eight interviews with some great people who use applied improvisation (improv, impro…that particular way of thinking and responding, and using mental agility). Beginning with Paul Z. Jackson and culminating with Pam Victor. There’s a wealth of information to be had, on a load of different topics, and I thank all the wonderful guests who gave their time.
Bring a Brick series 3 will be coming soon, after a short spring break.
Paul Z. Jackson is one of the founders of Applied Improvisation Network, we talked about his work and digressed on the topic of improvisation on television.
Mary T. Curtis works in behavioural health, coaching people with issues such as stress and anxiety and the YES AND, accepting and building in therapy.
Neil Mullarkey didn’t need any introduction. We chatted about the business of improv, story structure, character comedy and how to bring improv into a training session by giving examples. Loads in this one.
Adam St John Lawrence is a Customer experience consultant, who uses improv to generate ideas, break them and get better questions. Loads of great content here about understanding the world you’re selling to.
Dan Starkey is an actor appearing in television series such as Doctor Who, and insode No.9. We chat about how a foundation of improv can help an actor approach a role.
Cathy Salit is CEO of Performance of a Lifetime. Among the many thinks we talk about, Cathy explains her view on ‘performative psychology’ and how everything we do – our life – can be seen as a performance.
Paul Goddard is a coach in agile development and certified Scrum trainer. We touch on the geographical differences in recognition of improv in the US and UK and how improvisation can be applied to agile development
Finally I interviewedPam Victor onher ‘Zen of Improv’. Her mission it is to make the world a happier place through improv.
Pam is the founder of Happier Valley Comedy whose mission it is to make the world a happier place through improv. She’s co-author of “Improvisation at the Speed of Life“, with Chicago’s TJ & Dave and uses improv to teach personal and professional growth.
She has her own podcast, Conversations with Funny Feminists. We chat about honesty and authenticity in improv, facts versus belief and using improv for personal development to overcome fears and increase learning opportunities.
The Zen of Improv
TJ and Dave.
Honesty and authenticity
Improv for personal growth
“I suck”. The evil mind meanie – The voice of unhelpful judgement.