Showing posts from 2020

Make Another Choice

 It's been a few weeks since I've blogged. I had great intentions of posting once a week but then life happened. There were a couple of weeks when I let depression get to me. Then on a bright note, my daughter and her boyfriend came to visit for a week. I also spent some time away from improv to refocus on my spiritual life. Now I'm back to reflect on these past weeks in the context of improvising. The point that kept popping up in my head was the improv game, "Make Another Choice." I love Make Another Choice. In this game an improv team is onstage. Any time during the scene, I can hit my "make another choice" bell. You know, the bells you see on counter tops to get a clerk's attention. The team knows that whenever I ding the bell, they have to make another scene choice. For example. Actor A says, "It's a bear, Run!" Actor B replies, "What will be do?" (DING) "Oh, its just a cub, don't worry." ( DING)  Actor B,

Creating Space to Fail

If you take risks, you will fail. No, I don't mean play it safe and stop taking risks. What I mean is that you need to fail, and fail often, to move forward. We learn from our mistakes more than from our successes. Failure is a part of improv every time a performer steps on stage. Not every skit will slay, or idea be brilliant, but when the ensemble is built on trust and communication, it usually turns out okay. You stop, think it through, trust the team, and move on. Its the same in business, church, life. What needs to happen, though, is there needs to be a culture that values risk and experimentation. There needs to be a platform where new ideas can be tested without fear of failure. It's risky outside the box, and you need to know you will be covered if you step outside of it. If you want your organization to be agile and creative, then when a team member fails you can't be upset. It is your job to help them find the gold nuggets in the failure. What did you all learn

Facing the Fear

Statistically five to nine percent of people suffer from glossophobia; fear of public speaking. Those are only people, however, who are incapable of speaking in front of others. There are countless others who may not have the actual phobia, but would place public speaking  high on their list of things they hate. The fear of speaking in public is all about making fools of ourselves. It's hard to fail, even more hard to fail in public. We become concerned about what people think of us. We put up defenses in order to guard our ego. We want to look good, be perceived as intelligent, successful, in control. If I don't risk, I can't fail. But on the other hand, if I don't risk, I can't achieve great things.  One of the catch phrases in Improv is, "Face the Fear." Run toward what scares you and face it head on. Let the ego die and don't be afraid of looking foolish. The defenses we put up in order to be cool and collected keep us from being as creative and

Improvising through the pain

Dear spiritual improvisers, this should not be news to anyone, but life is not easy. Everyone has problems big and small. The power to overcome problems can only come from within. The only thing we can control is our response to the problems life throws at us. You can worry and let the problems destroy you or you can let it go. Monty Python sings "always look on the bright side of life." Beyonce dedicates an entire album to her grandmother's adage, "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Taylor Swift tells us to just "shake it off." You can also turn your pain into comedy. Sam Wasson in his book, Nation writes, "That's what so much of comedy is - problems." But you may say, my problems are serious and certainly nothing to laugh at. As we go through our life problems they can, indeed, seem overpowering. Well meaning friends may say things like, "one day we'll all have a good laugh about this." That may be a hard thing to

Being in Agreement

The essence of improv, business, church, our life; is the ability to be in agreement with one another. It's all about how we get along in community. Whether that community is a scene, our management team, or our congregation, it begins with the first rule of improv. Yes, And. In improv, the rule of Yes, And says that we must accept whatever our scene partner gives us and then build upon it. An actor cannot deny the reality that has been given her or him. If I say the sky is a lovely shade of orange, my partner cannot come back and say, "No it's not, it's blue." An appropriate response would be, "Yes it is, and that's because God is a Bronco's fan." (That's a joke for my Colorado friends.) Stephen Colbert, in his introduction to Improvise: Scene From Inside Out  by Mick Napier, writes, "Agreement is not really verbal, it's really emotional and that an improv scene is really about following the first thing anyone onstage cares abo

Take a chance

Most of you probably do not remember Elaine May and Mike Nichols. Certainly you know many of the movies directed by Nichols; The Graduate, The Birdcage, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, to name a few. Before he went on to direct, however, Nichols and May were regarded as the best comedy team in America. Wasson in his book,  Improv Nation, tells us that Elaine May had a motto, "The only safe thing is to take a chance." He explained the motto thus, "I think she means that if you stay safe, and don't take a chance - don't do something that's different from the last thing, something that makes you nervous and holds dangers - if you keep trying to do the thing that worked last time, the encrustations of mannerisms begin to take you over. And pretty soon you're no good at all - and therefore not safe at all." Of course Wasson is talking about improv and art, but again, what is true in improv is true in life. When we allow ourselves to play it safe or

Chose Fun

In his history of improv, Sam Wasson wrote about the comic genius of Bill Murray. Bill came to Second City and was bombing. No one wanted to work with him. The audience wasn't laughing. What was he to do? Take extra classes? Give up and go home? What he decided to do was "shift his inner magnet away from himself, toward chance, the other person, and wait for their invitation to transform again." Bill realized he had become paralyzed by fear; fear of dying on stage. One of my favorite things to do in my improv workshops is to push the actors into making better and smarter choices. When an actor makes a choice in a scene, I will ring the bell and say, "Make another choice." I don't just to it once. I takes until the third try, when the actor has given up being funny and just lets go, that it gets good. So what Bill Murray did was make another choice. He decided that with every thought and action, he had to choose fun. The more fun he had, the better his scen


For the next few posts, Spiritual Improvisers, I will be sharing insights from Sam Wasson's book, Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art . The book is a history of improv going back to the beginning of Second City, the Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade,  the comedy team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols, and the mother of improv, Viola Sporin. One of the anecdotes Wasson  shares is about the pairing of two improvisers at Second City, Barbara Harris and Alan Arkin. The two of them worked on a long-form skit which came to be known as "The Museum Piece." The piece was killing it in live shows. It because so popular that a Canadian TV show  wanted to film a stage show of them. The pressure was on and the team began to choke. The pair was about to cancel the TV appearance because the skit no longer was working. In a last ditch effort, Alan Arkin changed his mind set. He stopped thinking about the "performance" and just began to love his scene partner. No

Keeping Connections

A lot of people think improv is about coming up with clever lines quickly. Although that can, at times, provide laughs, the real basis is connection. Improv is a team art. It's about working together, and working together requires connection. So before you worry about what funny thing to say, work on getting connected. Improv teacher Jimmy Carrane writes in his book, Improvising Better , "It's not the words, it's the connection, we mean the nonverbal connection..the silence between you and your partner before you think the scene has begun." Before you get into your head about what  to say, spend time just being connected. As we continue to remain somewhat isolated in our homes during this time of "social distancing" we may lose that sense of connection. So, Spiritual Improvisers, how do you stay connected to others without being in physical contact? I know churches and others have latched on to Zoom for online gatherings. Facebook live is another way t

Time to get real.

One of the classic books on improv is Truth in Comedy  by Charna Halper, Del Close, and Kim Johnson. The authors' approach is simple, comedy comes out of truth. Think about the friends you think of as funny. Is it because they tell great jokes or perform stand-up? Probably not. Most likely they are funny in every day conversation. As you hang out and just talk about the day, they seem to always have a funny twist on things. They are real and present and unguarded. In doing improv, a performer needs to remember it's not about hitting a punch line or having the best comeback that is important, it's about being real, present, and unguarded. As Truth in Comedy  puts it, its about "exposing our own personalities." This is not just true of performing, Spiritual Improvisers, it's true in every day life. How well you open yourself up to others and allow yourself to be honest and present will determine the quality of your relationships. And, the quality of your relat

Can't take it anymore? Time to be still.

The Coronavirus has disrupted every aspect of our lives. Right now many of us are under a “Stay at Home” directive. It hasn’t helped that where I live it’s been raining almost every day. Other than a needed run to the grocer or walks around the block, we are staying inside. Whether you call it “cabin fever” or “going stir crazy”, it can stress a person out. Our minds become distracted, our blood pressure goes up, and our tempers flare. So, Spiritual Improvisers, how can we handle this? You might think improv is just about being quick witted and fast on your feet. Although it can be, two  important rules of improv are about slowing down and paying attention. Those rules are; focus on the intent, and stay connected. Without our routine and relationship connections, it is easy hard to stay focused and connected. Not only with each other, but within ourselves as well. So here is a plan to keep ourselves focused and connected; be still. Yep, be still, keep quiet, take a break.   This

Improvising Church in the age of Covid-19

The first rule of improvisation is “yes, and!” In improv you must deal with what you are given. No matter what your scene partner comes up with, no matter how far off kilter it is, you cannot deny or reject what they give you. You must accept it and build upon it. It is the classic “Yes, And.” This pandemic, Coronavirus Covid-19, has forced the church to improvise how it provides community and a worship experience. Most of the churches I know are hosting the daily offices on Facebook live. The officiant reads the office and viewers can follow along with their own Book of Common Prayer or an online version. For the most part the services were conducted by a lone officiant from their home. If the officiant was a priest, she or he wore a clerical shirt with no other vestments. Lay officiants tended to wear street clothes. Many of my friends watched the live stream from The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. In full vestments in the empty cathedral were the dean, several cle

Unbusy by Andy Dragt

I found myself in a flurry of activity. I was working, teaching and improv class, producing a 10-minute play festival, while at the same time planning for my retirement and doing the work of shifting my responsibilities over to others. I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose. In the midst of all this I had the opportunity to review  Andy Dragt's book, "Unbusy." Perfect timing, I thought! The premise of Dragt's book is that he uses the physics of flow to guide and organize his life. Basically, physics is the science of how things behave. Through physics we can explain the movement, connection, and behavior of all things. The more we understand how our own behavior, and thus our calendars, the more we can be in control of those outside influences that exert force and try to control our lives. The analogy Dragt most uses is that of water. Water at point A, the top of the mountain, wants to get to point B, the ocean. The most efficient way for it to get from point