Tonight was a totally new experience for me. I attended an improvisation workshop. These people had put on a demonstration last week at the Bend Public Library on what improvisation was and how they studied to improve their personal abilities. On seeing their presentation it became obvious to me that there was a huge gap in my personality, and that participating in an improv group would help me fill that gap. My problem is that I have several bad habits, such as lecturing too much instead of listening, of saying the NO-BUT interruption to other people too often, of not feeling the intonation of other people’s emotional affect as clearly as is necessary for really good communication. This workshop will be a great benefit to me because it offers the opportunities to correct these shortcomings in a live performance situation. Just reading about how to improve oneself doesn’t change one’s working personality, because the changes must be thought about while they are happening, and they are instantly forgotten when something becomes too intense. The improv situation allows the person to adapt a new way of relating to other people and to do it live, and thus it offers the potential to integrate that new way of behaving into one’s parcel of habits.
Since last week’s performance I have been watching my TV shows with a new sensibility, and have found that it is easy to see which people being interviewed by Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart have had improv training. Those with improv experience behave instantly, meaningfully and productively in response to the statements and provocations by these super-sophisticated entertainers. Those with improv training react without thinking because they have trained their inner set of habits to do some of the improv actions automatically.
The common way of interacting with other people is to find the little details of what they have just said that one doesn’t agree with, or to give a counter-example to their statement and to talk about that. It’s the usual NO-BUT style of conversation. It does keep the back and forth conversation going, in that people will defend what they have just said, but the development is continually in a downward challenge and response mode.
Improv has a different way of presenting new information in a conversation; it is the YES-AND mode. That requires some background habits to be built into an individual’s conversational style, and these need to be automatic, because there is never enough time to think. All my life I have had a serious problem with either interrupting people improperly, lecturing too long, or forming my thoughts and then waiting for the break in conversation so I can put forth my thoughts. Quick interruptions are put down if there is a moderator, lecturing too long if it is a bit abstract loses people’s attention, and waiting means the subject changes and the fine comment becomes off topic and irrelevant.
Hopefully, working with these improv people, who have had several years of interaction with each other, will clarify my personal interaction problems and make it possible for me to correct them. Also, I can bring things to the group, from my personal experience, which will be helpful to them; but this first time out I did make some serious mistakes. Staying on topic and in character requires paying close attention to several different things simultaneously, and that can only be done by using the power of habits, and that can only be acquired with practice. It comes down to a revolving mix of thinking about what one needs to do, practicing it some, studying what needs to be learned, practicing those new things while trying not to develop bad habits, mentally meditating on what needs to be done, then practicing those new things with cooperative people.
Improv is a door for opening up one’s habits to positive developments.