Improv in Parenting

Keren Gudeman runs a consultancy called Improv Parenting, focusing on... improv parenting.

She interviewed a bunch of improvisors about how improv has affected their parenting. Patrick Short (hey, that's me!) was one of the interviewees.

Top 5 takeaways?

Listen Actively (NATE SMITH)

Play Detective (JACLYN NOVATT)

Let Go of Mistakes (PATRICK SHORT)

We Are All Storytellers (KAT KOPPETT)

Be Flexible (DOUG SHAW)

Check out the whole piece on Keren's blog.

Happy parenting! Trust me, it's something new every day.

 

 

 

Improv Makes a Difference for Kids, Too

We focus a lot of attention on our offerings for companies, and sometimes we forget the power of what CSz is doing for kids.

Lots of folks come to us because they have kids who are hilarious, future comedians. Check. We've got you covered. Our classes give kids a focus for their budding talents, and they even get to play in shows for their friends and families, as well as halftime appearances in our Professional ComedySportz Matches. 

There's another, possibly more important side to our Youth Education program. This excerpt is from a blog piece on the CSz Richmond site, written by a parent:

"[The middle school years bring] on a tremendous amount of self-consciousness and things about yourself that never bothered before you are now going to doom you to a life of solitude on par with Superman in his icy hinterland. Physical changes make you not want to say or do anything because it will be analyzed and ridiculed by your peers until you are in tears. 
 
‘We got it – the middle school years (and around those years) are horrible! So what…? What’s that got to do with CSz…’
 
My daughter, Audrey, was running headlong into this cycle. The beginning of 6th grade was difficult as she struggled for self-confidence, identity and to find acceptance. To that end, I would tell you that Audrey is the poster child for why middle schoolers should be with CSz Middle School League. CSz teaches kids that no one is perfect, mistakes are to be expected, and not worry about it. Be brave anyway. That message WILL help every kid at that stage in life where they become most self-aware and self-conscious. CSz breaks those negative norms that middle school kids try to impose on one another. A CSz kid says, “Be negative if you want to. But nope, that's not MY world.’ 
 
At first, for Audrey, CSz was just her Friday escape from that world but then she began to realize that those same confidence-building skills she practices every Friday are life skills. She began to bring those practices into everything. Now, she’s teaching those skills. She generous, giving, and hard working as she’s gone from playing tennis to teaching tennis; from helping with plays to being in plays; and from being a good basketball player to being the best teammate."

Greg goes to specify the skills Audrey learned:

  • Confidence
  • Learning from Mistakes
  • Working Together as a Team

Sometimes, these classes can make all the difference. This is a letter we received from the mother of a student who really needed what we have to offer:

"[My son has] blossomed since his first class. He's taken some form of theater arts ever since. I could wax on about how it's helped him develop humor, empathy, dealing with surprise, transitions, how to appropriately interact with others, and built his confidence, but really I just want to tell you that what you're doing is very, very important. Thank you for making this club possible at Grant HS"  - LG, parent.

Improv skills are very important in our volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous world. If our kids learn these skills, they can connect more readily to others and help the team to navigate reduce the volatility. We're proud to do this work and look forward to many more breakthroughs.

Thanks to CSz Richmond and parent Greg Sparrow for their blog piece, and letting us talk about it and reblog it. You can find the original blog piece here.

5 Life Lessons from Improv Class

Reprinted by permission from Caitlin Mendersee.

I decided to take a class. My divorce support group and all the “starting over” books I read said that hobbies would restore my sanity and help me meet new people, friends that weren’t ours. I suddenly remembered that I had wanted to incorporate improvisational acting (“improv”) into my life (think Who’s Line Is It Anyway?). This was one of those ideas simmering on the back burner so many years that the bottom had begun to crust and sear itself into the pan. I took a leap and stirred up the pot.

The first Monday night I was nervous and excited and mostly really happy to be around other adults (as a work-from- home Mom, this is a big deal). Our instructor, Patrick, is an improv guru extraordinaire with almost thirty years of experience performing and teaching improv all over the world. I assumed he would impart some acting wisdom, help us to conjure up comedic one-liners, teach us about scenes and blocking. I had no idea how deep the lessons would be and how far they would branch out into my life.

Lesson #1: Celebrate mistakes

One of the first games we played the first week was called “Zip, Zap, Zop.” We all stood in a circle facing inward and passed the energy around the circle. The first person said, “zip” while looking and pointing at another person in the group, who then did the same with “zap,” and the third indicated “zop.” (The fourth person then begins the cycle again with “zip”).

Within a few turns I said “zop” instead of “zap.” Moments later a classmate was struck with zip and stared straight ahead with wide eyes, suddenly and inexplicably mute. Pat paused the game and said with a grin, “Ok, here is what we do when someone, inevitably, messes up: we celebrate! As a group we join our arms around the shoulders of the people adjacent to us, and we move into the middle together and exuberantly shout ‘AH-OOO- GAH!’” Belly laughs abounded as we partook in this community celebration of inexorable mistakes.

It was a beautiful reminder to take life a little less seriously. Over the next weeks this small and silly practice in class injected patience and lightheartedness into my treatment of mistakes from myself, and very importantly, my sweet three-year- old.

Lesson #2: Live without self-censure

Pat often repeats what he said the first class: “Leave the judge, the critic, and the editor outside the improv classroom.”

The judge tells us that what we just said or did is not “funny enough or good enough” She needs to stay out of the improv room. The critic takes on others, telling them (or imagining telling them), “That was so wrong, what were you thinking?” He doesn't belong in our improv class. The editor keeps me from saying things before they even travel the short distance from brain to mouth, thinking they aren't "perfect". He is responsible for most instances of "going blank", and doesn’t help improvisors, so he needs to stay outside, too - but can sometimes be useful in other areas of life. 

It is important in the rest of life to go back and edit, use reason and responsibility, consider the impact of our locution and deeds. We must also cultivate spaces for uninhibited creativity and spontaneity.

Lesson #3: Trust my teammates

My romantic partnership of six years recently slowly, painfully crumbled to dust in my hands. At first I had to rebuild my self; developing independence and personal strength was crucial. What with juggling a freelance writing career, my daughter, dating, friendships, exercise and I don’t know—eating—my life is busy. I am finding that when I try to go it completely alone, I easily spiral into a helpless heap of anxiety.

I came into this class envisioning improv scenes as a canvas for funny all-stars to strut their comedic genius. I quickly learned improv scenes are an act of sublime symbiosis: one teammate picking up where the other left off and only together creating a world.

Learning to trust, to really lean in and depend on other people, has been an arduous but truly magnificent experience. I don’t have to have it all together all the time; my team can step in for me where I leave off. And that is a beautiful thing.

Lesson #4: Commit to my choices

Week four we finally started to act. Patrick led a Jill Bernard character creation exercise, giving us four body areas to focus on: head, chest, hips, and feet. He said to go with whatever our bodies wanted to do when he gave the instructions: “Hips. Positive. Go.” Each person had a unique interpretation of happy hips, some wobbling, some sensual, some bouncy: all intriguing. Pat emphasized that our job was to make very specific choices about who this person was. Who were we channeling? What do they sound like? What phrase do they repeat? Most importantly, Pat said, make a decision and commit to it.

In the improv class sans editor, judge, and critic my choices are momentary judgment calls without forethought. In life my choices ought to be tempered by wisdom and cultivated values. I am learning, however, that so long as I listen to my heart, incorporate wisdom, and draw near to beautiful souls who will hold me accountable to a life aligned with my values, I can jump! I can leap and make choices and at almost thirty years old I am finally learning to commit to my choices. See it through, and let it be what it becomes.

Lesson #5: Let things emerge naturally

I know I am funniest when I am completely oblivious. I think there are people who can manufacture a hilarious moment. These geniuses of hilarity and composers of comedy are enigmas to me. I cannot force funny. I also cannot force life (or people in my life) to act the way I want. Improvised acting reminds me to let things develop as they will.

In the game “Hitchhiker” three people are on a road trip and pick up a hitchhiker who is portraying a specific characteristic (physical, emotional, verbal or occupational). Everyone else in the car must then “catch” the characteristic. One guy entered the car and immediately became extremely paranoid. His demeanor alone was not that funny, but he committed to his choice. Within seconds the three others knew what he was doing and watching four people on a road trip going from neutral to paranoid in three seconds was hilarious. It could have not been so, but it just was. It emerged naturally.

Tonight I will return for improv class number six and it feels a little bittersweet (it's almost over.). Life is a series of improvised scenes. Some work better than others. I’m incredibly grateful for the reminder to laugh at anomalies, create spaces without censure, trust my life teammates, commit to my choices, and then let the chips fall where they may.

The link to Caity's blog is temporarily down. We will re-link when she does.

What I learned in My First Improv Class at CSz

From Eric Earle:

  • Mistakes are good. Mistakes are an offer to you and to the world. We love mistakes.
  • People are always making you offers -- and you have to listen to them. Listen closer.
  • Don't plan. Act.
  • Break the rules. Or at least, bend them. 
  • Don't take life too seriously. It's a game. Relax. Have fun. 
  • Don't live your life always trying to avoid mistakes. That's silly. Embrace them. Use them. 
  • Pay more attention to life.

Improv woke me up. I'm alert. I'm focused. I'm alive. 

Life is happening all around me. And I have to be there for it. Creatively. 
But most of all improv is just fun. Life is fun. And I think sometimes we forget that. Improv reminds you.

Improv gives you presence because it puts you in the present moment. It teaches you that you have to focus and listen harder than you ever have... yet softly, with a sense of fun.
...
After improv I went shopping. 
There were these huge jars of fruit. (Normally there are smaller ones out there.)
"I don't know if I can eat this whole thing," I said, picking up the big jar and showing it to the worker. (I normally would have just been quiet and left.)
He laughed.
"Oh I can bring you one. The cooler is off ... let me run to the back and get it," he said. 
...
Earlier in my shopping, I had been thinking about an Odwalla juice, but I had forgotten.
Then I walked by and saw this girl getting one. 
"Oh! You reminded me I was going to get one of those!"
Then she asked me a question and we started chatting. Improvising.
I've started conversations in the past, countless times. But this felt more natural. I wasn't trying to start a conversation, I just did
This one I didn't think about. I just did. It's like I was living in real time and just flowing. Shopping was improv. 
Life is improv.

Eric Earle started our CSz 101 on April 7. His blog is here.

Positive Outcomes

From Bill Evans, now a ComedySportz Player with CSz Portland:

I was on the phone with mom on a Sunday evening in early April 2008, lamenting my lack of friends in my new home town, when she reminded me that I had always wanted to take an improv class.

Always began in 1987, in Chicago, when I saw Second City perform a sketch revue during a college visit to Northwestern. That show, and the improvised set that followed, made being on stage look so much fun.

A mere 21 years later, prompted by mom’s gentle reminder, I Googled ‘Portland Improv.’  Serendipitously, I learned that the CSz 101 class began the next night.  With no time to talk myself out of it, I signed up for my introduction to improv.

It was a blast! I didn’t realize it at the time, but the eight-week class was a life-changing experience. There was no ‘eureka’ moment, just two hours each week being present, laughing, exploring and connecting with like-minded people.

When the class ended, I began coming to weekly Minor League Classes, where I met even more people who enjoyed this form of connection. I had found my tribe. Almost instantly, I had a new circle of friends who were not only hilarious, but also agreeable, positive and extremely generous people.

That’s no coincidence. Those are all traits of good improvisers. Turns out these skills, practiced for the sake of good scenes, mold even better people. What a fortuitous turn.  And what a great group of people to help keep my head up during difficult times … my break-up … the loss of a job.  Improv always gave me something to look forward to, even when life was difficult.

How did it change my life? I am a happier, more positive person. I’m rich in friendships. I’m involved in the most satisfying romantic relationship of my life with a like-minded and generous improviser. I’m creatively challenged and I’m living life actively.  Improv has opened so many doors, allowing me the confidence to perform in front of audience, host shows, write and perform stand-up comedy, study sketch writing, teach, perform dinner theater, and write and perform scripted stage shows. I’m probably forgetting something.

All of those personal accomplishments, I dare say, were beyond my wildest dreams six years ago. None could have been achieved without walking into that introductory 101 class hoping to meet new people and have a little fun.

Mission accomplished.

Bill Evans plays ComedySportz. And Hockey. And works in social media and communication. Follow him on Twitter: @bevans10

The Yes, And Controversy

Yes, And has been the mantra of the improvisational performance community for a long time. By default, it became the mantra of the Applied Improv training community, too.

Along the road, improv performers discovered that what they know and the theories they put into practice are desirable in business, so we began offering what we knew to the corporate world. Many companies are trying to find the best ways to put improv into their own practice; the benefits are numerous:

  • People become more adaptable
  • People become more cohesive members of their teams
  • People develop more empathy
  • People treat each other better
  • People treat customers better

And so on. Each company that embraces it discovers how improv culture and skills have a positive impact on their people, in many different ways. These impacts can result in better employee engagement, lower turnover (which saves a ton of money), happier customers, better products and services and more money made. Sounds great.

Most of this training revolves around (or at least includes) the concept of Yes, And.

With Yes, And, we say "yes" to whatever our partner says, and then provide the "and", building on their ideas. They say, "yes", to us and build on what we say.

Improv nirvana results. Except when it doesn't.

Like everyone else, I fully embrace Yes, And. I teach it in performance improv classes. It's a centerpiece of many of the corporate engagements I lead. Yet, both my understanding and teaching of it have evolved.

On the performance side, I teach that PERFORMERS need to play using Yes, And. The CHARACTERS they are playing do not.

By that, I mean if their character thinks an idea or offer is misguided or wrong, they can say, "No". Performers don't have that right - they don't get to judge what another player is doing in the middle of the scene. What that player has offered is REAL and needs to be played with, even if that "playing with" means "NO, I won't do that".

I got quoted by author, blogger and teacher Pam Victor in her discussion of Yes, And, in which she claims that she doesn't even teach it any more (I think she does, but terminology IS important):

In a discussion online, General Manager of CSz Portland, Patrick Short, helped me further refine this subtle distinction in my mind when he said, “A character may say, ‘No,’ if that fits their character in that situation. The PERFORMER should not say no, which usually comes from panic, pushing their own agenda, or ignoring others' ideas.” 

I love this differentiation between the improviser’s mind and the character’s mind. The character can say no, if that’s honest to their point of view. The improviser must say yes to the reality of the moment – this is exactly what “Yes, and …” means to me! (I bold faced it, so you know I mean it.) But saying yes to the reality of the moment is a subtextual, unspoken affair; which is why a blanket, out loud “Yes, and …” to every offer is so clumsy and ineffectual, because... it is like a dentist using a hammer as her only instrument.

The whole Pam Victor blog, a bit NSFW, can be found here.

So what does this mean on the Applied Improvisation side?

Yes, And means something different than "You're right!" My favorite distillation of the meaning comes from Sue Walden, who, in a workshop, summed up Yes, And as RESPECT (Yes) and INSPIRATION (And).

  • YES = I respect you as a person and I respect your idea(s)
  • AND = I will be inspired by your ideas and build on them

The power that our Yes, And training gives companies is that their people are very well-trained in "No" and "Yes, but...". Like our improv-performing friends, co-workers often respond with "No" out of panic, fear of the unknown, politics, status battles and agenda pushing. Working in Applied Improvisation training gives groups a chance to exercise their "Yes" muscles. Most of us are really ripped and toned with our "No" muscles. Yes, And gives us a chance to work on our "Yes" muscles. (Thanks to Andy Crouch for that analogy!)

And here's a wild thought:  There's a time and place for Yes, And.

Design Thinking folks use a double-diamond chart to define a process.  Starting from a point, they ideate and widen the diamond to discover the challenge. Then, they narrow it to define the problem. Development of potential solutions are another widening of the diamond, followed by a narrowing as we deliver the product or service.

The periods where we EXPAND the diamonds are the times for Yes, And. Accept all ideas, no matter how off the wall or wrong they may seem. You never know when one of those crazy ideas spurs a much better idea in another team member's head.

When we have reviewed our ideas, and are narrowing them down, we don't need to invoke Yes, And directly, except the connection to respecting our teammates. Companies are sometimes afraid of Yes, And turning into GroupThink and sending them over a cliff because no one will say, "No!" That's reasonable. There is still a place for standing up against bad ideas. It's just not in the Discover and Develop phases.

(The chart is from a cool article on design empathy, from Business 901. Check that out here.)

Yes, I still teach and lead with Yes, And.

On the performance side, working in CSz 101, I want to use Yes, And to help people get past the panic of "my mind is blank". Yes, And focuses you on responding to your partner. Saying yes first gets you started and away from the blank mind. It's also cultivating an attitude that your scene partner is a huge set of gifts to you (and you to them), just by being there and focused on THEM.

In Applied Improv, we need Yes, And just to get to a place where we are truly listening to and respecting each other. Past that, why not use Yes, And as our code of recognition? We can be secret agents representing a new way of thinking and getting things done. We can be Heroes.

Patrick Short has worked a lot recently with companies involved in sustainability. Because, Portland.

 

Improv for Music Educators

CSz Keyboard Player Mark Anderson approached me  and asked if I would be interested in teaching improv skills, theory and music to the regional meeting of American Orff-Schulwerk Association. Mark teaches in elementary schools and got involved with the Orff Approach several years ago. Mark sees a lot of connections between the two disciplines of Orff and Improvisation, and he's even taught us at a team practice.

We had six hours to play with, including lunch. The morning was devoted to improvisation theory, culture and skills - all experienced through games, and then reflected upon. All of the teachers took to it like ducks to water.

In the afternoon, we shifted gears into creating songs using improv. Most of it was fantastic, but there seemed to be some elements of hesitation. I was at a loss to understand it, given how well the previous work had gone, until Mark explained it to me: Words. Orff teachers aren't used to inventing lyrics!

In or out of comfort zones, beautiful music was created. Connections between the forms were clearly made, and lots of fun was had. Read Mark's terrific blog piece on his experience.

Patrick Short has been writing songs since he was 8. Find some of the more recent ones at shortboule.com.

 

 

LEGO

What do you learn from building with LEGO?

They're just pieces of plastic that kids play with.

In April 2013, I participated in a workshop led by Aneta Key, Chief Executive Muse from AEDEA Partners, LLC (aedeapartners.com) in the Bay Area. One portion of it was devoted to building a "library" using LEGO pieces. A group of us had to share a bag of bricks and other parts, while each quickly designing and constructing our own library.

We had to begin and complete the project with very little instruction
Each of us had to decide what was meant by a "library"
We had to use what was in front of us
We had to deal with sharing limited resources
Some of us even had to negotiate trades for the pieces we needed

Following the building, we were given some time to "present" our designs within our groups, and then to respond to each others' presentations.

In my own small group, we had interiors, exteriors, whole libraries, parts of libraries and a a representation of a "digital library" - someone built a computer server with their LEGO pieces.

  • What different approaches did people take?
  • What can we learn about people from the approach they took?
  • What did each of us bring to the process?
  • What did each person focus on in their presentation?

It took me a couple of months to get my LEGO kits together; I convinced my teenage son to part with his bucket of LEGO pieces (delivered to my office with a laugh). After a couple of hours of sorting and dividing, I headed off to the store for a set of "plain" bricks to give the sets enough pieces so that 4-6 people could share them. (Do you know how hard it is to find plain LEGO bricks?  If you want to build Hogwarts, you are in business, but just old school bricks are hard to find.) I persevered, and found a 650 piece set. Later, I found out about a used LEGO store, so Alex Falcone and I went there after a nearby corporate workshop and bought a bunch of flat pieces - bases, if you will.

So I'm set - we have 8 big Ziploc baggies with a variety of pieces in them.

We used this exercise 5 times in the first week with wildly different groups:

  • College textbook salespeople
  • Property management maintenance guys (yes, ALL guys)
  • A gathering of the Applied Improvisation Network Portland Local Group
  • High school grads in a "pre-work" program sponsored by the public schools
  • Middle schoolers in our CSz Summer Camp

In one amazing week, we witnessed colleges, apartment complexes, restaurants, places to work and tree houses being built. Many tree houses included pools, flying ability, an aquarium and amazing ways to climb aboard. My favorite college looked like a microscope. One of the apartment complexes featured an unpaved part of the parking lot - "we haven't paved that part yet."

All we did was play with LEGO, but we also learned about:

  • Imagination
  • Cooperation
  • Making do with what we've got
  • Recapturing a sense of play (even a couple of middle schoolers needed help with that)
  • Just starting and seeing what happens
  • Designing improvisationally
  • Failing often
  • Presentation skills
  • Building on others' ideas
  • Sharing experiences from our selling stories
  • What's most important to us in doing a good job
  • Gibberish skills - expressing our design without real words and seeing what we're able to communicate

Is that all?

What have you learned?


Patrick Short has been teaching applied improvisation for business since 1989, used Duplos (large, little kid LEGO pieces) in an exercise he's always called, "LEGO", and now he has a naming problem. Follow him on Twitter @patrickshort4

Why YOU Should Take An Improv Class

This is a repost from Courtney Pong of CSz-San Jose, one of the 25+ CSz Companies around the world producing the ComedySportz Show (as well as teaching classes and leading corporate workshops in Applied Improv). Find the original piece here.

When Saturday Night Live announced Sasheer Zamata as their newest cast member to join the venerable late-night institution, we were floored to discover that not only had she gotten bit by the improv bug after seeing a ComedySportz show, but followed that urge by taking a chance on enrolling in a weekend workshop. Her first training course in improv was with ComedySportz Indianapolis (est. 1993) and the rest is comedic history/NBC’s future.

Zamata discovered improv because she was curious about comedy (it is what we do, after all), but that got us thinking about the (almost!) 30 years of teaching in the ComedySportz training centers. We asked ComedySportz playerz across our 25+ different locations and confirmed what we suspected: Improv is kind of for everyone. But why?

1. Because it scares you
“Getting out of your comfort zone is a scary concept yet also something many people wish they did in their lives, and an improv class is the perfect chance to seize the opportunity!  It’s a safe environment where taking chances, engaging risks, and being free to fail is encouraged.” – Jeff De Leon, CSz Quad Cities, player since 1995

2. To become a better friend, neighbor, parent, stranger
“As a teenager I started improv, something that I will be grateful for the rest of my life. I have grown to a person who has travelled the world with the mantra of ‘Yes! And’ but also respect for others and myself. Sounds sappy, I know, but I would not be the person I am today without improv.” – Rachel Wareing, CSz Manchester,player since 2001

“Thanks to improv, I have friends – good friends – in America, France, Australia, Switzerland, Bangladesh … all over the world. It gave me a forum to meet them, and the confidence to make friends with them.” – Sam Al-Hamdani, CSz Manchester, player since 2007

“You learn how to be a better parent. I kid you not – I would have been a disaster as a parent without improvisation training. I’m better at building frameworks, responding rather than reacting and I can recognize game-playing by children (and other parents) when I see it.” – Patrick Short, CSz Portland, Owner, player since 1987

“The learned elements of improv are woven into every fiber of my day to day life — I couldn’t be more grateful for my time studying with CSz. Confidence. Compatibility. Being a human being that people enjoy being around. That’s what you get from training the improv muscle in your brain.” – Andrew Pauly, CSz Milwaukee, player since 2009

 3. Improve your work life
“Improv classes improve public speaking ability and foster creative thinking. These are fundamental skills that are applicable not only to the stage, but also to many business and civic functions. If you want to gain an edge in the job market, make a better impression on your boss, or increase your visibility or networking, improv classes are excellent resources.” – Andrew Busam, CSz Twin Cities, player since 2007

“Improv is a great life skill for business and relationships. You never know when you’re going to get caught stealing office supplies, and being able to smoothly talk your way out of it in an instant could be a real game changer.” – Aaron Miller, CSz Philadelphia, player since 2013

“Whether you’re an actor looking to breathe more life into your performance, or a freshly-minted CFO who wants to be a more confident public speaker, improv can be life-changing. I’ve been doing it since I was an awkward teenager, and it’s made me the person I am today: a markedly less awkward adult. I’m a working actor, instead of a weird shut-in.” – James Moore, CSzTwin Cities, player since 1995

“You’d never guess how well improv skills help you to communicate in the corporate workplace. Learning to stay positive, accept the ideas of others, and then add your thoughts to enhance discussions all lead toward better relationships with co-workers and a more positive experience at work. I swear I wouldn’t have survived working 15 years at the same company if I didn’t have improv.” – Mickey McGee, CSz Portland, player since 1999

“Improv can make you fearless in ways that can give you an outstanding advantage in a classroom, a board room, a sales floor or a job interview.  Improv can grant you the power to say what needs to be said, to get done what needs to be accomplished, to pay attention to what really matters, and to figure out how to make just about anything fun, and those are skills that translate to nearly any walk of life.” – Aili McGill, CSz Indianapolis, player since 2004

4. Spark creativity
“One reason I took improv classes was to reconnect with my imagination as a young adult. Learning how to be playful again led to a perk I didn’t originally consider – developing deep, long lasting friendships with fellow classmates.” – Yvette Rebik,CSz Chicago, player since 2013

“Everyone is creative, whether they know it or not.  An improv class is a good way to find out how to let it out. We spend our lives being told to behave like everyone else, let’s take a look inside and see what stories and characters you’ve got to bring to life, what’s special about you.” – Jill Bernard, CSz Twin Cities, player since 1993

“I took improv classes to to learn a new way to make people laugh, and to entertain.” – Matthew Bistany, CSz Boston, player since 2013

“Improv classes train your brain to get out if its own way when you need creativity. Also, taking an improv class reduces your chances of watching reality TV and therefore guarantees that you will be smarter in the long run.” – Michael Wilcoxen, CSz San Jose, player since 2009

“I first saw a show in 1993. It took me until 1995 to take my first improv class and it changed my life. I wanted to become famous. However, I found that making people laugh at any level is worth it. It is a gift I can give to total strangers and that makes me feel so good.” – Sam Whittington, CSz Portland, 1997

5. Meet people

“As a long-time teacher of improv, I’ve seen: business networking which led to employment. Friendships established. One wedding that I know of (one couple met in the class and got married.) And of course there are several weddings that have happened because people took our classes and made into the show where they met their future spouse.” – Jeff Kramer, CSz San Jose, Owner, player since 1985

6. Be a better listener

“Improv will train you to look for the best ideas that are already around you. When you’re making it up you can’t afford to throw anything away. Before I took classes I was shutting down good ideas left and right without realizing it. Now when I hear it happen, it hurts. That’s how instinctual it becomes. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who clearly wasn’t listening to you? Improv classes will make sure you’re never that person.” – Ben Gartner, CSz Twin Cities, player since 2007

“Improv can be so energizing. To discover a creative relationship with like minded people is such a cool and exciting experience.”- Mike Kauth, CSz Milwaukee, player since 2001

[Credit: Flickr Commons, Doug88888]

Credit: Flickr Commons, Doug88888

7. Relieve some stress
“Improv is a huge stress-reliever for me! In 1986, I was managing a small non-profit theater company, working 80 hour weeks and making very little money.  Improv classes saved my psyche!” – Dianah Dulany, CSz Houston, Owner, 1986

8. To overcome obstacles
“Improv is very freeing.  When I’m on stage, I can be anyone from a pilot to a toddler, and I’m not limited by other people’s conceptions or misconceptions about me. Here is a blog I wrote about taking improv classes as a person who uses a wheelchair.” – Katrina Gossett, CSz Indianapolis, player since 2013

“Taking improv classes is important because there are less fortunate children in other countries who don’t have any improv classes to take.” – Graham Tordoff, CSz Seattle, 2013

9. If you’re not all stocked up on fun yet
“Learning improv reopens a person’s mind to the idea of play; a concept we embraced as children and often have to suppress as adults. Play leads to creativity, imaginative problem solving, and the acceptance of ideas no matter how silly or crazy! We all need more play in our lives.” – Doug Neithercott, CSz Twin Cities, Artistic Director, player since 1994

“You know how people are always saying ‘dance like nobody’s looking’ or ‘sing like nobody’s listening?’ Learning and performing improv is a chance to be like that all the time. It’s a rewarding way to live.” – Benji Cooksey, CSz Houston, player since 2012

“Once we “grow up” and become adults, there are so few opportunities to just play. Improv is a fantastic opportunity to let yourself be silly, flood your body with endorphins and shake off stress.” – Olivia Brubaker, CSz Philadelphia, player since 2007

“Taking an improv class exposes you to a variety of people from all different walks of life, but they’re all there for one reason — to have FUN.  Even if your goal isn’t public performance, the laughs and support you encounter is amazing.  The friendships I’ve made in the improv community have been some of the most rewarding I’ve had.” – Chris Duval, CSz Seattle, player since 2013

“Laughter is such a positive force – taking the opportunity to think on your feet, communicate/cooperate/collaborate with others,” – Stephen Bennett, CSz Houston, 1998

“Improvisation is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life. People from many walks of life can benefit from this skill, not just comedians.  It’s the most fun thing that can change your life.” – Brainne Edge, ComedySportz Manchester, Owner, 2001

10. Because life, man

“Improvisation teaches you to embrace your failure, rather than fear it, helping you learn and grow from the times you fail, both on the stage and in life. So that next time, you’ll take that failure and turn it into an even greater success.” -Travis Williams, CSz Richmond, player since 2006

“One of the greatest gifts I get from improv classes is the conscious reminder of how good the word ‘Yes’ feels, to give and receive. Saying ‘Yes’ to all dialogue, situations, and personalities costs nothing and encourages brave acts of creativity and kindness. I am more daring in my offerings to the world.” – Anjl Rodee, CSz Seattle, player since 2012

“The basic rules of improv, which you will learn in any improv class, can be applied to every aspect of your life. The idea of “yes, and!” will transform your life for the better. If you do not take a class, you will never know.” – Nicole Devin, CSz Milwaukee, player since 2004 & CSz Chicago in 2012

“One of the great things I have learned is getting rid of my preconceived notions about how things should go. By accepting a yes, I open myself to greater possibilities. I also learn to place trust in my partners.  All of these translate to other areas of life other than the stage. I find do much joy in being a part of the creative process with other people. We’re capable of so much more when we are active participants in creating with others.” – May Yera-Smithwick, CSz Houston, player since 2004

“Life is all about making connections. I have learned how to truly connect with people, moments & basically life. There is such beauty in that.” – Jennifer Lewis, CSz Richmond, player since 2012

“In my ComedySportz classes, I get students who want to become professional stage actors or improvisors, but I also get students who want more confidence or need improvement in their communication skills for their jobs or businesses.” – Andrea Lott Haney, CSz Indianapolis, 2001

“Taking an improv class creates opportunity.  If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you always got. Improv creates new experiences and new outcomes.” – Patrick Adamson, CSz Quad Cities, Owner, 1996

11. You are new to a city!
“On five occasions, my career required moving to a new city. Four times, that meant struggling to meet people and make friends. The fifth time, I took a 101 class at CSz Portland. I’ll never fear moving again. I know where to find my people.” – Bill Evans, CSz Portland, player since 2012

“I first took improv classes at college when I was doing my degree at NYU. I think it helps me to be a better communicator, listener, performer, and thinker. I get excited when I meet other improvisers. I always assume that I’ll like them and they’ll be easy to talk to. It’s what I imagine it feels like when one friendly dog meets another friendly dog across the street. They just want to play.” – Kate McCabe, CSz Manchester, player since 2011

12. Learn how to problem-solve like a superhero

“What a lot of people don’t know is that being involved in improv is the single best thing I have done to improve my work life. I get stressed less easily, am able to better find solutions to difficult problems and can think creatively on my feet, faster than ever.” -Maria Bartholdi, CSz Twin Cities, player since 2011

“Improv has the ability to reshape your mindset from a negative to positive outlook and transform you into a superhero solution finder. Improv does for regular folks what bionics did for Colonel Steve Austin – it makes you better than you were before. Better, Stronger, Faster!” – Kelly A. Jennings, CSz Philadelphia, player since 1992

“I took my first improv workshop hoping it would help me to better perform standup comedy. I had no idea that improv itself would prove more rewarding for me then solo performance could ever be. Stumbling upon those lessons in teamwork, listening, adaptability and acceptance of new ideas–I had no idea how much I would get out of that. Now I’m a billionaire superstar and the King of Mexico!” – Mookie Harris, CSz Indianapolis, player since 1989

“Improv changes your entire perspective on the world around you. Suddenly, problems have multiple solutions and you see opportunity in even the tiniest scenarios. An improv class shows you how to take care of yourself and the people around you, which is just what this world needs.” – Camille Mitchell, CSz San Antonio, player since 2012

“If you can improvise in life, you can solve problems and isn’t that what life is mostly about?” – Melissa Kingston, CSz Milwaukee, player since 2005

“Not only is taking an improv class the most fun you’ll have, it also helps sharpen your mind for everyday life.” – Ethan Selby, CSz Boston, player since 2013

“Improv classes give you a chance to forget formal ways of thinking and truly let your body and mind respond in the moment. By actually listening to and not filtering your gut instincts, you’ll be amazed at the sheer joy of giving your mind exactly what it wants.” – Chad Woodward, CSz Indianapolis, player since 2006

BONUS THING (because I didn’t count them properly the first time, but maybe it’s a bonus because it’s the most important reason that needs no reason…)

Because you want to
“If you see an improv show and think, “I could never do that,” that’s a great reason. If you’re the funny one your friends keep saying should do stand up, that’s a great reason, too. I saw it as the first step on my road to SNL (I was an ambitious little thing), and so far I’ve ended up with wonderful opportunities and adventures as well as incredibly supportive friends I proudly call family.” – Jessica Carson, CSz Spokane, player since 2005

“A good improv class is like bungee jumping. It’s a safe way to do something absolutely terrifying.” – Nate Parkes, CSz Portland player in 2002 & CSz Chicago since 2009

“Everyone knows there are thoughts and ideas inside you that don’t have the chance to manifest. Improv is the tool and the exercise that brings your ideas to life. You’ll find yourself and all the inner angels and demons through improv classes…And don’t you owe yourself that?” – Sam Hansberry, CSz Twin Cities, player since 2010

“I came to CSz at a time of great personal upheaval and I knew I needed to do something just for me (“you do you”). I instantly felt surrounded by warmth, humor and acceptance. The big bonus: I found something I excel at and take great joy in performing and teaching.” – Amy Milshtein, CSz Portland, player since 2010

“If you want to be more confident, more outgoing, a more well-rounded actor, a stronger communicator, a better team player, a more effective leader, or if you simply want to feel more comfortable in your own skin, you should take an improv class. It will change your life.” – Jon Colby, CSz Indianapolis & Chicago, player since 1998

Interested in taking an improv class now? Contact CSz Portland at office (at) cszportland.com or call us at 503.236.8888

Improv is the Opposite of Bullying

In the improvisation world,

  • it’s OK to be creative
  • it’s great to take risks
  • it’s OK to fail. And to fail again.
  • it’s good to lead, and then to follow
  • we understand about taking turns
  • we give each other “gifts”
  • we look for the good in other people
  • truth is found in agreement
  • there is a safe space

In the bully world,

  • you’ll be called out if you stand out
  • bullies pile on your failures
  • bullies take the lead and never relinquish it
  • bullies don’t take turns
  • bullies give away nothing
  • bullies look for weakness
  • the truth is what bullies say it is
  • there is no safety

Bullies are fighting a status battle*. They are usually wounded people with low self-image, and they were usually treated badly themselves. They try to make for it in the only ways they feel they can; they tear other people down to their level or below, or they deflect attention off of themselves.

Improvisors become adept at working with these approaches onstage, using the energy of a status battle to build tension and create interesting scenes. People playing bullies can generate a lot of energy and fun. In real life though, it’s so damaging.

Offstage, confronted with bullying, even many improvisors can forget why it’s happening and get caught up in the drama. When you think of it like a game, you can understand it, keep your balance and sometimes, short-circuit it.

More important, though, is the creation of safe space. All working groups – companies, schools, churches, meetings – need a safe space where all ideas and approaches are welcome. At some point, decisions have to be made, but decisions can happen after all ideas are on the table, and they can happen without derision or undue criticism.

For kids, it’s important to have a place where kids can be kids – free to follow their interests, and free to play their way.

Bullies can’t do their thing in safe spaces. Improvisational space – listening, accepting, supporting, taking risks and celebrating failure – is safe space. It doesn’t have to be on a stage.

What do YOU think?

* We talk about Status in Jill and Patrick’s Small Book of Improv for Business in some detail (it’s a quick read – there’s not that much detail). Every interaction between people can become a status battle – someone is trying to raise their own status and/or lower the status of the other person(s) involved.