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Entries in improv (18)


AIN Bay Area Conference, Part 2

The second half of the one-day conference put on by the Bay Area chapter of the Applied Improvisation Network was as packed as the first. After lunch, Alex Lamb presented his research on what he calls Tokenomics, which focuses on the human brain, planning, learning, and improv. Alex’s goal is ambitious: “I want improv to become the method for soft skills training delivery.” To that end, he’s started up SF Behavior Lab to gather more data and extend his model. This session talked a lot of about brain science and had a fascinating reading list.1

It would have been hard to follow that with a more different session than Yael Sachy’s. Yael’s portion of the Applied Improv space is more on the therapeutic side. She walked us through a number of very “embodied” exercises, drawing from improv, Tai Chai, and works of Augusto Boal to remind us that often when we need to solve difficult problems, our heads lead us astray and that we need to return to our bodies.

I’ve written a little here about Bridget Quigg’s presentation on using improv in creative writing. Her thesis is that all of us have a muse; we need only to listen and say yes to it, just as we say yes to our partners on stage. In addition to the great warmup she taught us, she ran us through a number of writing exercises that emphasized exactly that point. I think we all became believers.

Chris Sams closed things out by pulling in some techniques from Open Space conferences. We interacted in two and threes to debrief on the day before coming back to share our insights with the group as whole.2

And that was the end, except that it wasn’t. Many of us ended up going out to dinner as a group, where the conversations continued, and schemes for collaboration were hatched. I met up with my buddy Ryan after dinner and we watched that night’s Bay Area TheatreSports show, which was an improvised murder mystery. What struck me about the show was that while I could tell it was very well-done, it wasn’t a complete enigma to me. That is, I realized that I’ve learned enough about improv to see how it can be done, and I how I could potentially do something like that.3 And after the conference, that was true of Applied Improv as well.

1 Note to Rob Donoghue: This is the presentation I said you would love.

2 Which by this point had formed a gigantic circle on stage.

3 Given a lot of training and hard work, obviously.


AIN Bay Area Conference, Part 1

Back in December I had the good fortune to attend a one-day conference put on by the Bay Area chapter of the Applied Improvisation Network.1 Prior to attending, I had no real sense of what Applied Improv was. Afterward, I knew it was something I needed to get involved with.

The AIN holds an international conference every year; this year's event was in Amsterdam. A number of the presenters were from the San Francisco area, so they decided to get together after they got home and present abbreviated versions of their sessions for the benefit of people who hadn't seen able to attend.2

You can find bios for all of the speakers and links to many of their presentations over on the AIN Bay Area site. What follows are my quick impressions of the first half of the day.

Matt Weinstein kicked things off by talking about the secret agents of improv. His company uses improv techniques in corporate and educational training without telling anyone it's improv. He taught us a couple of exercises that they use with college students, including "What do you like about yourself?"3 and "What's not wrong with your life right now?" He also included part of his talk "What Bernie Maddoff Couldn't Steal From Me." My favorite quote: "We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned to live the life that is waiting for us."

Rich Cox and Rebecca Stockley went next, talking about the use of improv techniques in branding. Their contention is that the most powerful brands are built around stories; in order to tell these stories, we have to refine our core message. As improvisers, we think a lot about story structures, and we can use story structures to help flesh out brands. We did a simple example using Kenn Adams' Story Spine to work through what brought us to where we are professionally, with an eye towards building a personal brand.4 They also talked about how you can use those same structures to start from the present and drive into the future.

Rebecca had to leave early to go teach a class, but before she did she taught us a "tribal" version of Bunny Bunny, an exercise that I've known for years. After she left, Rich continued on his own with a presentation on the social science of status. It turns out that psychology experiments have confirmed a number things that improvisers have believed for years about body positioning and social power. He also shared with us a fun application that demonstrates how little information we really need to read body language.

Sue Walden gave what was probably the most frustratingly intriguing presentation of the day. She's been doing Applied Improv for longer than most, and her session at the international conference was a day-long introduction to AI. We, unfortunately, got only thirty-five minutes of it. What we did get was great, including a fantastic explanation of what "Yes, And"5 means in a non-performance context:

  • 'Yes' is appreciation, encouragement, acknowledgement, respect, and acceptance. It does not have to indicate agreement.
  • 'And' is building off, adding to, integrating, and moving forward on solutions focus.

Our last presenter before lunch was Cheryl Gould, who talked about running debriefs. We demonstrated that you can debrief just about anything, including the experience of pushing someone over, doing a word-at-a-time story, and even watching a four-way dubbing scene.6 Cheryl talked about the important of debriefing to the Kolb Learning Cycle as well as different strategies you can use for directing the discussion.7 For me, the real treat was seeing a trained facilitator run a session like this, particularly the way she used questions so effectively.

At that point, lunch arrived, and we were ready for it.8

1 It really was luck, as I learned about the conference in a chance conversation the week before, and I was supposed to be at a training class that got cancelled.

2 They also talked about what the conference was like, though most of the focus was on their presentations.

3 Which is influenced by the Front Man / Hype Man dynamic of Chuck D and Flava Flav.

4 The people I ended up sitting with at lunch used this duringto tell people who we were.

5 Which Sue called "improvisers' gift to the world."

6 Which I was in. I am pleased to note that we did not embarass ourselves in front of the assembled improv talent.

7 I was busy connecting this up with the work I've been doing with Scrum Retrospectives.

8 Though as one of the participants remarked, "At a conference, lunch is a debrief."


What Improv Has Taught Me About GMing

At the beginning of October, I was a special guest at RinCon 2010, a gaming convention in Tucscon, AZ, where I gave a short talk entitled "What Improv Has Taught Me About GMing." It went well enough that I decided to put together a slightly expanded version for the Internet. Enjoy.



Relevant links:

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