I’ve developed an Active Listening & Collaboration workshop that has proven engaging.
I’ve run this session for a ton of high school students and for multiple cohorts of college programs’ Entrepreneurs and Healthcare Execs in Training. I’ve run almost fifty sessions with accountants and insurance professionals. I’ve even run it in a communal house and with a fresh crop of McKinsey consultants – two very different experiences.
It was awesome! (Oh, and donate to Legal Aid – they MATTER!)
What follows is my preamble to that session which I offer here as a little didactic on why we should care about Active Listening & Collaboration, and learning those skills and more through improvisation can make us, well, better people.
But while I believe in “my way,” it’s my way. In learning improv it’s important to have direction and goals and I believe my approach is useful to improvisers looking to learn. At the end of the day, though, to be worth a damn, an improviser needs to figure out their way of improvising.
The brilliantly funny, Rachel Marsh, told me post-show, “You all did all the things we’re told not to do – negating, transactions, teaching scenes – but damned if you didn’t make it all work.” Again, in learning improv it’s extremely useful to receive guidance that leads us toward choices that are fun for us and the audience and, conversely, away from choices that often lead to real slogs of scenes.
But of course, to really know what you’re doing you need to understand whycertain choices are labeled improv “no-nos.” Then one plays within a world of possibilities, not limitations.
What follows is a dissection of the five scenes that made up Pack’s 6/23/21 Show to answer the question: “Was this a ‘good’ show?”
“Hey, Everybody,” we say as our initiation in some form. Maybe it’s “Team, take a knee,” “Soldiers. Attention!,” or the Zhubin Parang special, “People, people, [important person] is ready for your questions.”
The potential for trouble in a “Hey Everybody, get out here” initiation is high. Players may rush out on stage to support the initiation with disparate reactions that then battle for dominance; chaos ensues and awkwardness follows. Or, though players may rush out on stage to support the initiation, they await to take their cues from the initiator who becomes the facilitator in a stiff and slow series of interactions that typically revolves more around thinking and problem solving than feeling. Hey Everybody game mechanics allow a group to quickly build a focused direction out of disparate parts.
The Keys to success following a “Hey Everybody” initiation are:
Students were taught the 4 Key Lessons for building collaborative improv games on Day One. In subsequent weeks focused one of 4 rubric group games designed to explore the power of each of those key lessons.
At the end of the day – which really is the class showcase – the audience isn’t looking to see a perfectly executed To The Ether game. They don’t know what the hell that is. The rubrics are tools for teaching the players’ tools. All the audience cares about is watching players collaborate in-the-moment to build something together. Players need to follow the ensemble’s moves wherever they go; this is about an ensemble playing their games, not mine.
So now it’s time to put all that’s been learned together in service of Organic Group Games.
I taught my first Patterns & Games class through Zoom.
I had been nervous going into it assuming I’d have to tweak my teaching materials significantly to work within this new world. But as I learned when approaching Silent Games, the mechanics of collaborative pattern play are applicable however Group Games are attempted.
It’s always a mess to start, and then I begin laying in the lessons and with each iteration the group gels that much more. It never fails; by the end the group has built something cohesive out-of-nothing together as an ensemble – and have enjoyed themselves along the way.
The Zoom environment is not conducive to Kick The Duck, Red Rover, but I felt it critical to still have this first class expose students to the 4 Key Lessons that form the backbone of group game work as improv does best.