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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Paul Tevis

Entries in improv (18)



Watch this. Then we’ll talk.

When I saw this sometime last year, what immediately jumped out at me was the thought, “Dude totally owned that.” He doesn’t have the vocal chops to pull off Lady Gaga, and he knows it. So instead, he embraces his limitations and makes this performance his own. He’s faking it, but we all ultimately are.

A few weeks back, our long-form improv team had a piece implode on us in rehearsal. One of the storylines involved a bet between God and the Devil; we eventually figured out that the Devil had to get a specific person to run naked around a fountain shouting “The Devil is God.” It became clear that we all thought this was kind of lame. That, however, wasn’t the problem. The problem was that we didn’t embrace the lameness. When we talked about it afterward, we realized were holding ourselves to the standard of the Old Testament. We felt like we had to come up with some amazing competition between these two cosmic beings in order for our story to have any juice. What we should have done, once the details of the bet were out there, was to instead make it a story about how God and the Devil have gone from Job to this. This is all they have to do now? Why is that? Let’s mine that for ideas.

That, as it turns out, is the trick, not just in performance, but in life. Given that these things have happened, how do we own them? How do we turn our limitations into our strengths?

About a month ago at work, I make a huge mistake during one of our retrospectives. I accidentally violated the trust the team had placed in me, and the response was immediate, emphatic, and unpleasant. So I owned it. I apologized — making clear that while I hadn’t intended what had resulted, I was to blame for it, and I accepted full responsibility — and I asked for feedback from the team about what we should do. It turned into an opportunity for us to make some of our implicit (and not always shared) agreements explicit, which ultimately has helped us work together better. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been willing to make mistakes, and when they did happen, seize upon them as opportunities.

Miles Davis is supposed to have said, “There are no mistakes in jazz — only opportunities.” Everything can be jazz if you’re willing to own it.


Listen Up

Tonight, my Harold team — the recently-named Instant Karma — had our first “performance.” I use the quotes there because it wasn’t real show. Instead, we were performing for members of our parent company, the VIC. This was the first time we’d showed off what we’d been working on to the rest of the group, including our Artistic Directors and our Managing Director.

It was great. The show was far from perfect — nerves definitely pushed us to hurry through some scenes and miss some opportunities for more intimate moments — but it was better than anything we’d done in rehearsal. As I sat down to write this, I realized why: We listened to each more intently than we ever have. We opened ourselves to the moment and explored its possibilities. When we weren’t in a scene, we were hyper-focused on what the people in it were doing, looking for opportunities to support and heighten the action. As a result, it was one of the most energetic and collaborative experiences I’ve been a part of. That the rest of the troupe liked — and wanted to know when we were going to do it “for real” — was icing on the cake.

It was thrilling. I need more.


Fitness: Run 3 miles

Trusting People and Process

Last year when I came up for the Applied Improvisation Network Bay Area chapter’s one-day conference, there was a lot of structure. This year’s edition was organized using Open Space Technology, something I’ve been curious about experiencing for a while now. It was both fascinating and useful. An Open Space conference is perfect for a group of improvisers, as it gives just enough structure and “rules” to establish a basis for a truly collaborative, creative experience. It ended up being the day we needed to be.

As such, I don’t have presentations to link to or extensive notes on what people talked about. It was an experiential day, and most of my notes are hastily scrawled prompts to myself about ideas from our activities’ debriefs. There were a ton of things ping-ponging through my head, and I was desperate to capture the ones that seemed most important. Looking at my notebook today, I think did an okay job. The thought that kept popping back into my head during the day is how much of an impact improv has had on my own working style over the last year.

One of things I struggled with a year or two into my improv training was my attachment to outcome. It took me a while, but eventually I overcame my tendency to see where a scene “should” go and drive towards that, despite what my scene partners were doing. I won’t say that I’m perfect, but now I’m much better at following the process, trusting and listening to my partners, and taking the scene where it needs to go rather than where I thought it should.

My applied improv journey since last year’s conference has been about doing this at work, too. I’m now able to approach meetings and technical discussions in the same way I approach scenes in performance. I trust my co-workers and our process. We may not get to the answer I thought we should, but I’m better at accepting that what we come up with is the answer we need. That doesn’t mean I don’t advocate for positions I think are right, but it does mean I don’t view meetings where we reach different conclusions as failures. In that regard, I have seen a profound shift in the way that I approach work. What amazes me is that I didn’t really realize this until someone asked me yesterday morning about what my experience with applied improv was.

The AIN International Conference is in San Francisco next year. Based on how my experiences at these two one-day conferences have shaped me, there’s no way I can not go.


Fitness: Rest day

Those Transitions Are Key

I forget who pointed me at this excellent short video recently. Whoever it was, thank you.

When building stories, don’t forget this excellent advice from Matt Stone and Trey Parker: Avoid “and then” in favor of “therefore” and “but.”


Fitness: Rest day
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 259 words, 404 seven-day average, 276 average, 45778 total, 2222 to go for the week; 6-day streak

Two Kinds of Making Things Up

My plan to hole up in a coffee shop for a few hours near the Dying Kingdoms event fell though, so it looks like I’ve got several days of phone posts ahead of me. It looks like it will be an awesome weekend. Unfortunately it means I’m missing the Smorgas-prov festival at the Ventura Improv Company, but that doesn’t mean you have to. If you’re in Ventura this weekend, check it out!


Fitness: Ran 3.5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 0 words, 324 seven-day average, 275 average, 42949 total, 551 to go for the week