Life’s an improv

Anyone who knows me is familiar with my facination with improvisation. After all, I’ve spent the last 16 years practicing and teaching InterPlay, an improv system based on helping folks unlock the wisdom of their own bodies. But in the last few days, improv has been following me around. Everywhere I’ve turned; the newspaper, a phone call with a friend, even an NPR radio show on my way to have my hair cut, there’s been something else about improv.

The first incident was a newspaper article about Moth Stories, announcing a performance in Pittsburgh last Thursday night. Moth Stories is a storytelling organization in New York City founded in 1997 by writer/poet George Dowes Green. The name comes from his experiences in his native Georgia, telling stories with friends on the back porch in the summertime, the moths being drawn to the light. The article mentioned that though the performers rehearse their stories, they improvise them each time before the audience,  otherwise the stories “seem like they are coming from a corpse.”

When I learned that the performance was already sold out I signed up to be on the early notification list next year and suggested they ask the group to do a couple of performances given the popularity of their work. Later I visited their website and learned that every one of their performances in New York City has been sold out in the first 48 hours. 

The next day, in a phone conversation with an InterPlay colleague, Soyinka Rahim, I learned that when she and I present at the Facing Race conference in Chicago Sept 24-25, using InterPlay, a group named Improv Edge will be sharing the podium. This sent me to their website where I learned that they use improv to teach business skills. According to their founder, Karen Hough, “improv teaches individual and group accountablity, thinking on your feet, saying yes to your colleagues and adding your own contribution.” Wow! I can’t wait to meet them.

The third incident involving improv happened on my way to get my hair cut the following morning. I heard Terry Gross interview Bobby McFerrin, the well known improvisational musician, about his new album, Vocabularies. Things I remember from that captivating conversation:

  • The importance of becoming completely comfortable in his own body, (something he learned from dancers), because the whole body is the instrument when we sing.
  • The stage has become his second home so he feels completely comfortable there and not intimidated by the audience.
  • His voice has become softer over the years because he has found that a softer voice gives him more flexibility as he improvises sounds.
  • He chooses improvisation partners that will bring out new aspects in him. He enjoys the element of being surprised by what emerges from these collaborations.

Amen and alleluia! Can I dare to hope that these three experiences are a sign that improv’s time has finally come. That our culture is finally getting it that life is about creating in the moment, and it’s a handy skill worth practicing.

One thought on “Life’s an improv

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