To Get Through The Tensions Of Change, Think Like An Improviser
“Creativity isn’t about guessing the future correctly. It’s about making yourself open to imagining radically different possibilities.” Angus Fletcher, Ohio State University’s Project Narrative
My improv team AURA, which recently wrapped up a 6-month season of shows at Magnet Theater in NYC, experimented with a largely non-verbal, abstract group interaction to open our sets that gave rise to grounded scenes. As an example, one night the suggestion was “Boggle.” A person on the team started shaking the imaginary cup. The rest of us became the letter-bearing cubes, going left, right up or down as a group, taking cues from our teammate’s movement, on the alert to take advantage of a pose, movement or accompanying sound that lent itself to the opening of a scene. An opening for a scene might be two players noticing they both have their arms straight up over their heads. One starts waving, the other one joins. The first player says “I don’t think they see us, that plane is just too high and this island is so tiny.” The other player takes the idea further. “I don’t think anyone is really looking for us. I mean, the boat came back without us 2 days ago and that’s the first plane we’ve seen.” And the pair becomes a stranded couple after a weird snorkeling incident.
That same physical pose could then inspire a new scene, but this time it might be two people reaching for something high on a shelf, or a football referee calling a field goal. This ability to see the same thing from different perspectives— divergent thinking — is essential for improvisers, but also in real life situations for problem-solving and innovation. Improv is a uniquely empowering way to practice this kind of thinking — which we need most during periods of transition and high uncertainty — and studies support it as an approach to gaining skills for facing the unknowable, unfamiliar and uncomfortable aspects of change.
When we are in the thick of it, change can feel like our improv set opening might appear — chaotic, unstable, a bit wild. Even a change we have chosen — to take the promotion, give up a toxic habit, renovate the kitchen — has to be lived through without the comfort of knowing how it will all work out. It can be messy, fraught, and feel deeply unsettling. But it is possible to mine something…