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.

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



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.