Improvisation master and Stanford University professor Patricia Ryan Madson describes improv as a training ground for acting with generosity, awareness of the needs of others, and willingness to jump in and share the struggle with others on the stage of life. Her
|by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP|
TIME magazine reports about new research on what happens in the brain when jazz musicians improvise, showing that the give and take is "grounded in the same neural processes at play in every one of us when we engage in spontaneous self-expression, like a conversation with a friend."
Because of the risk inherent in human interaction, there is some degree of fear. One of the other relationship-building dimensions of improv is "following the fear." Follow the fear of rejection, failure, humiliation, or whatever other emotional nightmares that are always possible in an improv situation. Take it right to the edge of the abyss. In improv, we may follow the fear right into the abyss but we will not go there alone. And in going there we gain a kind of psychological "muscle" to engage creativity when we need it most, which is when we are at the end of what we know. When old habits fail to meet the demands of an urgent, evolving need. When all else fails.
Emotional competence grows when we push past our preconceptions about what is possible for us and endure that discomfort in service of a higher goal. The higher goal can be that the conversation we are having right now goes in a positive direction, no matter how much we may disagree with the other person. It may be that we support another person just because the relationship is that important. The higher goal can be the communication of an idea. In improv we may sacrifice getting a big laugh to help another player out of a "brain freeze." What we get out of this is a kind of indescribable magic that can transform even an ordinary encounter with another person into something transcendant.