Awareness and Listening
*[Newsletter Series (#2)]
Last week, we talked about improv theater performance and all the structure that goes into something so...unstructured. We also talked about how totally possible it is for you (yes, you!) to handle this art form because we are all professional improvisers. We wake up every day totally unscripted and, for the most part, everything turns out just fine.
So here we are together, exploring improv as a path to aliveness, using my tried and true architecture of principles I truly believe can change the world when flexed and practiced in life. It looks like this:
Let’s talk a bit about Awareness and Listening today.
On stage, a strong improv performance is contingent on the players’ awareness and listening skills. It is literally a game of presence; being here right now, without distraction or agenda. Thinking of it as a practice in mindfulness is not a stretch. In fact, that’s pretty spot on.
Within the first few minutes of a scene, improv actors are pressed to establish all the key foundational elements to their story, in order for it to progress. These include character, objective, relationship, environment (CORE). That’s a lot to come up with on the fly! And the only way CORE are identified is through the players’ complete awareness and a skill to listen actively and with curiosity. Superhero-level presence.
Improv scene: Two people enter a scene, built on the audience suggestion: tomato soup.
Player 1: “Hey, Janis, smells delicious! (character) You’ve been busy cooking in here all day! (environment) What are we having?”
Player 2: “Oh baby, you’re so sweet. (relationship) Your favorite - tomato soup! Only the best for you on your birthday…” (environment)
Player 1: “Wow. You’re so good to me. Can I make you a drink? Everyone should be here soon…(objective)
Player 2: “Mmm, that would be amazing. Martini up, please! Make it strong. You know my mother is coming tonight…” (objective)
Now, with these CORE elements to work with, our two players can push their scene forward together rather fluidly. If Player 2 was distracted, however, or wasn’t listening carefully, she may have missed the name she’d been given (Janis) or the environment Player 1 had offered (kitchen), which could have made this scene a disaster. Instead, they were present and aware, listening carefully to every beat exchanged between them. And now we have an entertaining set up for our story - birthday, married/dating couple, crazy mother? Yes, please!
I am not suggesting that in every life interaction, we need to establish CORE, like improvisers do on stage. But these Awareness and Listening “muscles”, when flexed, clearly lend themselves to whole-bodied engagement. And from this place of presence, aren’t we more apt to understand each other? Aren’t we better equipped to collaborate, problem solve and create together; understand one another’s views and relate more compassionately?
Real-world scene: Two people are in a meeting, brainstorming the launch plan of their new product/service.
Partner 1: “A booth at the next conference? What’s that going to cost us?”
Partner 2: “I know you’re nervous, Michelle. Let’s sit. I’ve run some numbers I think will ease your mind.”
Partner 1: “Okay, show me what you’ve got….Just know I feel pretty strongly we need to see more profit before spending on a booth.”
Partner 2: “More profit, yes. Look here at my projections for the next quarter…”
Partner 1: “Wow, that is better than I thought. Go on. Walk me through what you’ve done here. I like what I see.”
Partner 2: “Thanks so much, Michelle. Yeah, I worked hard on this…”
Partner 1: “I can tell. Great work. Tell me more about your idea.”
Case in point: awareness + listening = progress.
The improv community talks about simply doing what’s next or doing what’s needed at this moment. In other words: be here now and listen with curiosity; use what’s available in the present moment and then (breathe)...move forward.
What valuable practices for all of us living outside the theater, on our real-life stage! Easier said than done though, perhaps; and part of the reason rehearsals in improv are called, “workouts”. This stuff takes practice. But fear not - awareness and listening are acquired skills, brought to life easily through play-based learning and commitment to our aliveness. Hang out with me to learn more!
Next week, lovely people, we’ll explore the principle of Interdependence. Until then, gratitude to all of you life players. Here’s to thriving unscripted!