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WHAT WE FEAR IN AN IMPROV SITUATION IS WHAT WE FEAR IN REAL LIFE - and that's why it is therapeutic in the best possible way

  WHAT WE FEAR IN AN IMPROV SITUATION IS WHAT WE FEAR IN LIFE ALL THE TIME: that we have to look good. Be right. Have the answer. Perform. Hold back. Stay small. Win the fight or give up the fight depending on our personal history. That looking stupid is a kind of death but looking too smart will make us a big show-off, and a variety of other stories we have living inside our heads. Defenses and internal structures to avoid awareness of these fears are a natural and necessary part of being human, because in many situations it makes more sense to simply compensate for and cover them up. We count on these internal structures so much that our subconscious believes they are the truth - and will scare us when we violate these internal set points.

  Improvisation violates these ingrained beliefs as well as self-protective needs to control
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
our interactions with the world and to know what will happen next. In Applied Improvisation situations, we can examine the ways we edit, censor, or hold back and apply that learning to real life relationships and stresses. Through the commitment to both not-knowing and the other players in the action, an almost-unavoidable tension is produced that at the same time develops skills that help us do something new with it. These are skills that redirect our focus from self-protection to engagement, from managing the fear by hiding it in whatever way has worked over time to channeling it into the creative process. Continued practice of this creative redirection can gradually foster a new internal belief about what works best for navigating the outer world, where change is constant, will throw curves to our best-laid plans and in many cases cannot be controlled.
  Because the creative process requires some degree of uncensored, unedited interaction with other human beings, we will rapidly and sometimes uncomfortably encounter our
defensive thinking and internal mental “postures” when trying to improvise. Applied improvisation has the potential to help us know ourselves and work through creative blocks to a greater experience of life and realization of potential, if the group provide sufficient psychological safety. 

Just as a baseball game has a high degree of tension - because we do not know from moment-to-moment what will unfold on the field - it is manageable because of rules and structures about which everyone agrees. Improv works in a similar way. When we agree to play within the rules and boundaries of an exercise and ingrained mental habits emerge, a psychologically-supportive group will process them so they become very conscious. Getting flustered or having a brain freeze is rewarded in this situation because it means defenses are doing their job and we have an opportunity to get to know them. If even one person processes their defenses openly, this creates safety for the entire group because we all know this can and will happen to anyone. And in an applied improvisation setting, we can give one another the opportunity to return to the structure and try to use newly-acquired insights and self-knowledge to pilot through the disconfort and use it creatively.

FREEZING, FLAILING AND FAILING are the best things that can happen in improv – these characterize the most unscripted, unpretentious, unguarded and authentically human interactions we can have with others. When we FREEZE, FLAIL AND FAIL in an interaction with another person we allow them to make us an offer – and accepting their offer is an
act of deep connection that we have earned by giving up the effort to control.
     Improvisation guru and master trainer Kat Koppett writes about an activity called Word Drill on her blog writes about a "process only" activity - meaning it has no focus nor importance with regard to content - designed to quiet the editing, censoring functions of the mind. It is simple and subtle but more challenging than it seems because of the persistent role of self-protective mechanisms that look for ways we might be viewed as wrong, foolish or missing something.  "What improvisers learn is to exercise their “spontaneity muscle”, and therefore gain access to the cornucopia of ideas that they might otherwise not have access to," she writes. Here is more about and the WORD DRILL exercise from her blog article:

 "Keith Johnstone is an improv guru famous around the world, the author of one of the improv “bibles”,  When “the Moose” was first founded, there were a group of artists who collaborated on the work. They would meet, discuss ideas, and jointly create. One day, someone said to Johnstone, with a patina of resentment, “We always do what you say. We always go with your ideas.”
“That's not true,” Johnstone replied. “You guys reject my ideas all the time.” He listed six or seven ideas he'd had in the past months that the group had nixed.
“It's not that you don't reject my ideas,” he concluded. “I just keep coming up with new ones. Eventually, you're bound to like one of them.”
What Keith Johnstone knew was that the way to get your ideas accepted, is to continually offer more ideas. If one solution or plan is rejected, do not get offended or overly attached to it. Offer another. Easier said than done, you might say. How can I keep coming up with ideas?
Overview of WORD DRILL
This is a straightforward word association game. In groups of three to five, participants take turns sitting in the “hot seat”. The other participants shoot words at them, and they respond with the first word or phrase that comes to mind. Participants break into groups of three to five. One participant stands facing the others, who form a horseshoe in front of them. One by one the other members of the group throw out a word. The person on the “hot seat” responds to each word with the first word or phrase that comes to mind. Then he fields the next word and responds. After a few minutes, the participants switch, and a new person takes the hot seat. Variations: Play in pairs shooting words back and forth; "
Say It Again is another game that cultivates stress-resilience through the agreement to shift gears within a scene at the whim of another player.                                                              Objectives:  
  • to practice thinking creatively in the face of unexpected change; 
  • to bypass the internal "editor" and free up mental energy;
  • to develop a tolerance for the discomfort of dealing with unexpected change;

Two players begin a scene with another one player holding a chime. At any time the person holding the chime will sound it, signalling that the player must say the last line differently. The performer must say the same thing in a different way or change the line and justify it in the scene. The scene runs to a logical conclusion then someone calls "scene".

More games like this are available on this wonderful Bring Your Own Improv link

Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP is a writer/performer, storyteller, and trainer/consultant who is co-founder of Lifestage, Inc with her husband Nicholas Wolff. She is creator and host of the storytelling show (mostly) TRUE THINGS. 


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