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Offer Detector

We’ve talked about the idea of “offers” in this newsletter series -- a term used by performing improvisers to describe just about anything that’s made available to use in a scene. Offers can be verbal (a narrative about the storyline) or physical (players acting out cooking dinner). They can be gestural (a mooney lover blowing kisses to her partner across stage) or presented in total stillness and silence.

The point is, offers are everywhere and happening all the time, and every single one of them is critical to the progression of a scene. But sometimes, they are elusive and very hard to detect. It’s a skill that improvisers practice and hone across loads of rehearsal time, through listening, awareness and a Superhero Radar Offer Detector (nah, that last one isn’t a thing…)

In my workshops, I remind folks that we may not live and work in a theater, but we are all professional improvisers; Life Players, living unscripted every day. And in order to connect and engage with one another meaningfully, we need to stay sharp to detect offers all the time -- as elusive as they might be.

I found myself faced with this just the other day, driving back from Jaime’s haircut appointment. The “scene” played out as usual: we talked about different cuts and agreed he’ll stay long and shaggy, he directed the cut with the stylist, we paid a heap of cash for the whole thing, he passionately hated it. And guess what? It’s always my fault.

So last week, there we are -- scene is unfolding as expected: Mom, next time can you not let her cut it like this?! God…(cue overdramatized sigh). But this time, once in the car, my eleven-turn-fifteen year old gave me the silent treatment. A new acting choice that caught me completely off guard. Silent treatment? Really?!

And then, the Superhero Radar Offer Detector switched on. I looked to Jaime; arms folded across his chest, blank, bored stare out the front windshield, full pout. Every single posture, an offer.

But how should I react? I could “Yes, and…” his clear disdain by saying something snarky or lesson-y. Or, I could accept it more positively, in order to push our scene forward.

I decided to turn on the radio to my favorite Sirius station, with my very least favorite makes-my-skin-crawl-when-I-hear-her-voice DJ, Madison. [offer]

I say, “Man, I can’t stand her voice. It kills me!” [offer]

“Why…?” he asked. [Yes, and.. to my offer, albeit weak and still dismissive]

“Let me put it this way, Bugs: what Guy Raz is to you, Madison from Alt Nation is to me. The worst.” [offer, dropping the name of Jaime’s podcasting nemesis from the Ted Radio Hour]

“No, mom. Guy Raz is way worse. Wait, is that really his name? Guy...Raz.?” [offer accepted]


Smiling now. “Like when he meets someone, he’s like, ‘Hi, my name’s Guy. Guy Raz. But you can just call me Guy.” For real?! [offer]

Me, lit up now realizing the silent treatment has ended: “Or like, ‘Well hello there. You can call me, Mr. Raz. Mr….Guy Raz.’” in a pseudo-James Bond voice. “Ooh! I got it! We should get t-shirts made! “I’m With Guy Raz”!”

“Yeah! But more like, “I Stomp Guy Raz”...” Jaime smiles, and laughter fill the car.

[NOTE: No real Guy Raz’s were harmed or offended in this banter. In fact, I feel bad he was the bait I threw out to connect with my son. But I knew it was a strong play, so I went with it. Sorry, Mr. Raz.]

So, there we were talking again, “bad” haircut a distant memory -- all because we chose to accept one another’s cues. The scene could have unfolded in a ton of different ways, leaving us scowling and arguing through the rest of that evening. (And I’m sure those times will come, as the real fifteen-year-old emerges.) But thankfully, it took a turn for the better by playing with offers.

One of my personal mantras that I teach often in my work, is one I borrowed from the improv stage: Notice More. So simple in phrasing, and so difficult in practice. Think how impactful it is, though. By noticing more (non-verbal social cues, status plays, emotional energies), there’s so much to work with all the time. We connect and engage, express empathy or lean in with curiosity. We rehearse our shared humanity.

Sounds pretty awesome. I’m in. Are you? [offer]

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