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Professional Improviser

*[Newsletter Series (#1)]

Improvisational theater performers study long and hard, the key tenets of their form in

order to pull something from nothing at all. An audience suggestion, perhaps, but most

times that’s it. One word or phrase that ignites a story never been told before - filled with

character, relationship, objective and narrative arc. It’s impressive, sometimes totally

mind blowing, yes. It’s also completely doable, believe it or not, with some training and a

deep commitment to curiosity and play.

But we’re not all cut out to be professional improvisers, are we? I mean, very few of us

are seeking a life on stage feeling our way through unscripted performance for a paying

audience. (However, if you are - I say yes, yes, YES!) Most of us are normal, everyday

folk moving through this big, beautiful life outside the theater and off the stage.

Like improvisers, though, aren’t we playing out our existence totally unscripted? I mean,

I don’t know about you, but when I wake up each morning, there’s no play-by-play guide

on my bed stand telling me how my day will go - what I’ll say or do, how I’ll manage

certain experiences. Nope. Instead, I get up and...I improvise. Every single day. And so

do you.

We are all, therefore, professional improvisers. So why shouldn’t we adhere to a set of

key tenets to hone our craft like staged actors do, in the interest of being whole and

connected and alive?

(Can I get a “Yes, and…”?)

Here’s the good news: we don’t need to reinvent what’s already been well established in

the improv community since the 1940’s; a set of rules actors like Elaine May, Mike

Nichols and the early cast of SNL followed religiously in performance. They come in

many shapes and sizes, depending on who you follow. Patricia Ryan Madson, founder

of the Stanford Improvisers (SImps) created the “13 Maxims” (of improvisation). TinaFey, in her book Bossypants, lays out her 4 Rules of Improv. And the Eleven Commandments of Improv are attributed to renowned actor and improviser, Del Close.

Across the board, though, the foundation of these improv principles is the same: be

present, pay attention and practice acceptance. Clearly valuable guideposts off stage,

as we work the art of being professional improvisers in life.

My list of principles is simple, but packs a punch; setting a doctrine for positive togetherness, shared authenticity and practicing true aliveness in community and business. It goes a little something like this:

Awareness (presence): Listening (active participation)

Interdependence (shared experience)

Vulnerability (truth + courage)

Engagement (staying “in the game”)

Non-Judgement (respectful partnering)

Embracing Change (accept diversion)

Start Anywhere (despite readiness)

Say Yes! (acknowledge and build)

There are tangible practices to ignite each of these, and they’re all built on whole-bodied play and storytelling. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I’d love to talk more about flexing our improv muscles to live and learn together in one of my workshops!

In the coming weeks, I’ll delve into my Aliveness architecture in detail, unpacking the nuances of each one, along with suggested life practices to take into the world - starting next week with Acceptance.

Until then, gratitude to all of you life players. Here’s to thriving unscripted!

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