Applied improvisation is where we use improv as a tool to teach and learn. The Bring a Brick podcast interviews professionals from all over the world who use applied improvisation in their work to discover how they use the ‘how’ of improvisation. I take the role of curious student, to learn how people teach and benefit from the unique values of applying improv. Teaching improvisation.
Jim Ansaldo is a Research Scholar at Indiana University Bloomington, a member of Comedysportz Indianapolis and an instructor at Camp Yes And, which teaches improv Teenager on the Autism Spectrum.
“Improv gives us a means for everyone to bring their life experience to the table”
I had the chance to catch up with Jim earlier this year in San Jose, California. We talked about his approach to teaching, and his work bringing improvisation to with children and teenagers with autism, and how it can be used to highlight and aid communication and interaction. We also touched on the broader aspects of improvisation as a tool in therapy, Jill Bernard mindfullness in improv workshop that we both attended and the legacy of Keith Johnstone.
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.