Archive for March, 2010

Have you ever wanted to break out of the scripted roles we perform in our daily lives? In Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It, Jaques utters the famous line, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  He laments, as many of us do, that our lives have somehow been scripted for us, and we are stuck in the same play, day in and day out.  Someone is rude, inconsiderate or nasty, and that is our cue to react with anger.  Our child stubbornly refuses to follow our direction and we react by becoming frustrated and impatient.  If we reconsider Jaques statement in a more positive light, however, I think it also suggests that with some creativity and skill, we can choose to re-write the unsatisfying scripts that we follow and begin to experience a new and more fulfilling performance of our lives.

These are difficult times.  We are aware, or made aware, of the increasingly complicated demands on our time, energies and skills.  Our world is in economic, moral and political crisis.  We use and are exposed to technologies that vastly improve yet also accelerate and overwhelm our lives.   As a result, it is easy to feel anxious, stuck, unsatisfied, stressed, and less able to lead our lives and relationships as effectively as we would like.

It is extremely important to remember that we are creators of our lives, not just recipients of life. Learning to respond to and create with what or who is in front of us, verses automatically reacting, produces a more positive, effective and humane way to live. Being creative, flexible and open in our daily life is liberating and transformative for our selves and our relationships.

Setting the Stage

Consider this perspective:

  • Life is often improvisational. What if we relate to our moment-to-moment, day-to-day lives as an ongoing improvisational performance?
  • Seeing ourselves as creating our lives as we go is a very powerful, practical and liberating way to live everyday life with others at home, work and in our communities.

But how do we become more open, flexible, and responsive?   There is a growing movement in psychology as well as organizational and community development that utilizes the tenets of improv and performance as a way to help us:

  • Live our lives better and build richer relationships
  • Listen and communicate more actively and effectively
  • Transform what we think is possible

What does Improv & Performance have to do with my life?! Ok, I hear you: “I’m not creative”,  “I am not a performer”,   “That’s being fake”,  “Are you talking about getting on stage and doing some kind of Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

True enough, we are not all professional actors or in a famous improv troupe.  However, we are all performers in the most basic, practical sense of the term.  Everything we do is a performance – from the most mundane (walking down the street to work with the thousands of others doing the same thing), to the most colorful (dancing the Salsa with your dance instructor).

However, over time we come to think of performance as being fake, only for young children or for actors on a stage. We forget that we can and do improvise, create and perform. We get ‘socialized’ as adults and are overly concerned with knowing how, looking good, following rules and getting results.  The effect is that we sometimes do not have the skills needed to create and build together. We can get stuck, stale, rote. We have a hard time ‘playing well with others’ so to speak.

Seeing ourselves as performing all the time loosens us up to do something different, to be more flexible.  It also helps us remember that we are meaning-makers (try saying I Love You with joy then again with rage; a different meaning gets created for you and the recipient).

So, what are some improv skills you can learn and practice right now?  Here are some of the basic ‘rules’ of improv, followed by examples.

Take chances

  • Say something in a new way to the person with whom you are in a fight.  If you usually end your fights with ‘I’m outta here!!’,  try singing it in operetta.
  • Imagine or ‘channel’ a mentor and talk like that person when you feel stuck or want to react in a not-so-helpful way.
  • Go out on the dance floor, even if you ‘don’t know how to dance’. Alternatively, do anything you don’t know how to do and purposefully look foolish.
  • Have some fun and be silly – smile and wave hello vigorously to the driver next to you who just gave you that gesture.

Listen  – Accept  – Build

  • Listen to what is being said, don’t just wait for your turn to talk / argue / prove your point
  • Accept what is being said / done as an offer. It is the “material” you have to work with, whether it’s the material you wanted or not
  • Build with what is being offered by accepting and responding, to help create with the other person and to move forward

Example: Your eight-year-old child refuses to follow bedtime and is chronically tired for school the next day.   You could: 1- react angrily by punishing her and forcing her to bed, or 2 – ignore it and let her run the show which we know gives the wrong message, or 3- accept her statement as an offer-an opportunity to build something more creative and new.

Let’s try option 3:  “Ok Wanda, you don’t want to go to bed and that’s the rule of the house to go to bed by 8:00 pm on a school night, so let’s figure this out together”.

That’s the beginning of the new scene you are now creating with your daughter. You could then do a myriad of things.   You can pick a time to play a game with all family members and the winner chooses their own bedtime on Friday night.   Or you could play the “let’s not go to bed game” for 5 minutes then play the “let’s go to bed game”.  The options are endless.  The point is to not reject what is being offered or to be passive but to creatively build with it, no matter how annoying or inconvenient the offer from your little one might be (our children are experts in those kinds of offers – and by the way, they feel the same about a lot of our offers).

Scenes in the Play of Life

  • When things aren’t going so well, you can ask, “Can we take two?”  “Can we start over? “ How are we doing?”, “Can we stop and do this differently?”
  • You can get really advanced as a director and ask “Can we finish this argument as if we were lying on the beach with drinks in our hand?”

Complete Vs Compete

  • Paying attention to others to advance what is happening without your ego (e.g. – what is best for this scene right now versus what would make me look the best).
  • Make others look good. I know you might be cringing at that one given our cutthroat, competitive, winner-takes-all culture.  However, making others look good is not the same as being a ‘sucker’ or letting others take credit for your skills and accomplishments. I simply mean that a group can move forward by being invested in making each other look great.  Imagine if we got this suggestion out to everyone, so that we all were trying to make others look good — then no one would be left out!

Yes-And versus No-But and Accept Offers –The Improv Classics

No But includes:  negating, rejecting, arguing, doing right/wrong talk

Yes And includes:  accepting offers, building with someone’s action or statement versus seeing it as problem to change or fix.


“I hate you right now!!!!” (Yeay there’s a teenager in the house)

No But response: “You don’t talk to me that way you %*%@$&**!!” which continues the negating/fighting OR

Yes, And response:            “Yes, and let’s figure out a way to resolve this that’s

kinder and more respectful

I would love to take a walk in the park on Sunday with you”.

No, But response: “No we can’t do that I am too busy” OR

Yes, And response: “Yes that sounds nice, and I have a lot of work to do, can we figure out how to do both?

Using “Yes, And” is critically important to successfully managing, or better yet, playing and creating with the stuff of our daily lives.

These tools of improv, practiced as a way of life, creates joy, richness, and super relationships. I invite you to relate to your daily life as an ongoing performance:  choosing to write our own scenes where you and I are creating together as part of the broader play of life.

On to the next scene…


Read Full Post »