Can Improv Save the World?
Improvisation is not comedy, but it can be used in comedy to create scenes on the spot. The definition of Improv is to “compose extemporaneously, arrange offhand, and to make or fabricate out of what is conveniently on hand.” Comedy improv is not making stuff up. Improv is about building on what you have to create something new. One can see the implications for this in a church setting, for example. A team skilled in improvisation can recognize the assets of a congregation, identify the needs of the community, and then be free to create something new and unexpected. Katzman and O’Connor in Ensemble! Using the Power of Improv and Play to Forge Connections in a Lonely World, write that improvisation “is a kind of vulnerability training program to take down walls and learn to accept the ideas that are coming at you.”
Improvisation teaches listening, empathy, preparedness, resiliency, and curiosity. Improv also teaches about community. Church preaches about community but is not always good at teaching the how. Improvisation allows you to practice teamwork. Katzman and O’Connor in Ensemble!, “The most important thing for every moment of every relationship we have is not that we are right, but that we are in it together, serving the same narrative, and understanding each other.” Many years ago my friend, mentor, and spiritual director, Sally Hicks, condensed the Gospel into one sentence, "I would rather be loving that right."
Let’s face it. The pandemic did a number on our jobs,
family, friends, and community. We feel more disconnected and lonelier that
ever before. We are zoomed out! Everyone talks about the new normal, but no one
knows what that is yet. And once we do, then how do we adapt to it? What will
work look like? What will community look like. In 2000, Robert Putnam wrote
about the loss of community in Bowling Alone. During the pandemic we
couldn’t even get out and bowl by ourselves, we were just alone. My friend and fellow priest and improviser, Les
Carpenter, wrote, “Watching improv is entertaining, but doing improv is
transformative.” What the Church needs, what we need, what the world needs, is to be transformed. We need to tear down our walls so we can once again embrace one another. Take an improv class, not to show off and be funny, but to help save yourself and the world.
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