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.