In a paradoxical way, an improv experience in which we play characters very different from who we are in real life cultivates courage to express our authentic self.
There is an improv exercise called Everything Is Alive — also a wonderful podcast by the same name — in which players take on the role and perspective of an inanimate object and tell its story. A popcorn machine at a movie theater gives it’s history and perspective. A pregnancy test shares it’s high-stakes role in someone’s life. A child’s car seat does a deep dive into its relationship with a toddler whose life depends on it, but who will quickly outgrow it and move on. It might seem silly, but give it a try and see how quickly it can “switch on” enough creativity to imagine what this object notices and cares about. When we examine what these items care about, want and feel, they become a channel for our own emotions and concerns. The exercise taps imagination and the capacity to explore a slice of life from an unusual point of view.
As an improv exercise, the structure makes it safe, the creative expansion makes it interesting, and the balance between safety and freedom to explore activates brain plasticity associated with creative expansion. In “The Neuroscience Of Creativity” Scientific American writes that “the creative mode is called for in contexts that are unclear, vague and open-ended. The opposite is true of the uncreative mode. And so the uncreative mode involves walking firmly along the “path of least resistance” through the black-and-white zone of the expected, the obvious, the accurate or the efficient.”
Research shows that switching from cognitive — or overthinking in a habitual way — to creative mode improves performance when we return to the cognitive work. Toggling back and forth between our knowledge of “conventional” reality and the imagined reality of an object we might never before have thought about in much depth is an unusual, but effective, way to work around defenses that rise up when we get beyond the familiar. The journal Arts In Psychotherapy published “Coming Home To Myself: A Qualitative Analysis Of Therapists’ Experience And Interventions Following Training In Theatrical Improvisation Skills”…