Improv-based training

Playful, experiential learning

Applied improvisation (AI) combines games and activities from improvised theatre with situational facilitation and group coaching.

It’s one of the purest experiential ways to learn using active and practical training activities from the worlds of improvised theatre, music or dance. Why do that? Because improvisers work in teams that thrive on collaborative support, collective presence, creative expression and well, because it feels damn good.

This kind of training isn’t about turning people into stage performers. It’s about using firsthand experience with immediate learning loops to train the skills, habits, behaviours and mindset that affect how you show up, lead, follow, listen and relate to others.

The ability to improvise well should be at the top of the school curriculum. In a world of change and uncertainty, where fluent co-operation and co-creation it is the meta-skill you are looking for o bring all your knowledge, expertise and those fine human capacities for trust and empathy into the current moment so you can ‘play the scene you are in’.

It’s a cutting edge learning and social technology taught in top business schools and leadership programmes, because it offers a rehearsal space for the essential attributes of adaptive leadership, generative teamwork and psychological flexibility.

The golden thread of improvisation weaves through everything we do as humans. It’s what brings us to life and how work gets done. Seen for all it’s possibility as an art, a science, a craft the abilitiy to improvise well it becomes a way to support co-creative acts through a way of being.

It’s a form of creative, experiential learning for individuals and groups that is imaginative, immediate, whole-hearted and fun.

Theatrical improvisers display incredible teamwork and can create scenes, stories and whole-plays that audiences pay to see, and this do this through high levels of presence, acceptance and trust. As masters of creative cooperation the training exercises they have developed for the rehearsal room are of great value wherever humans want to do great things together.

Shifts happen. As a craft for human interaction applied improvisation enables skills shifts, attitude shifts, behaviour shifts, mindset shifts, habit shifts and even system shifts.

Some of the more common applications of applied improvisation are:

– teamwork

– leadership

– interpersonal skills

– storytelling

– creativity

– wellbeing

– customer experience

It doesn’t stop there though, and at Here & Now we make connections with environmental education and nature-based strategy.

Like this, not like that

The focus of creative learning with applied improvisation is to help individuals, groups and teams feel and perform their best in everyday life. To overcome friction and find flow to successfully address personal and collective real-world challenges.

It’s about developing more awareness, more courage, more commitment and learning effective ways to show up, collaborate and generate effects that are not possible for isolated individuals.

The focus is on learning through direct in-the-moment experience. It’s not role play. It doesn’t head towards on-stage performance. You don’t need to be good at it. In fact, discovering the ways you are not very good at it opens some valuable areas of learning – such as: listening openly, sharing thoughts and feelings and being willing to share control.

What happens in applied improvisation training?

The process is about learning from experience so the facilitator sets up activities and games for people to do. Most of the time there is a demonstration of the activity, but not always as it can help to replicate the uncertain conditions of life.

After the activity there is a debrief, which is a discussion of what happened, what we can learn from that to improve, and how we can apply it to real-life (hence the name applied improvisation). Sometimes a bit of stimulus or learning content is shared in a debrief, but participants mostly learn from each other.

Everything is voluntary so no one is made to do anything. Some activities are done in pairs, threes, quads or with an audience.

The role of the facilitator

The job of the facilitator is to keep the learning alive and relevant, responsive to what’s emerging in the room, and to make sure that it always feels fun, safe, relevant and doable.

A good facilitator starts any project by gaining an understanding of the desired results, learning needs and likely challenges.

This leads to an instructional design which is like scaffolding around a building. Exercises often come in three or more parts, with a number of riffs and variations, so people can make learning discoveries for themselves, which are then cemented in the debriefs.

It’s surprising what you can do with good scaffolding.

As well as guiding the group through activities and games, the facilitator digs deeper into the richest learning areas and raises the level of challenge while helping people stay centred so they can listen, laugh, smile and stay engaged and get better results at times when they may feel stressed and disconnect. 

What happens when we show up

When people show up and they are cooperating and creating there’s always a lot of energy and laughter.

Don’t be deceived by appearances though, the learning may feel light at times but it can go deep because of this. There are rich lessons to be had around ‘soft skills’ for communication and collaboration are the hard part of our relationships.

We are always in relationship, all the time. With ourselves, with each other, with the causes that matter to us, and with the living world around us.

With the immediacy of creative learning we can explore how we bring ourselves to these relationships, and discover what’s possible when we do.

Where does it fit?

Training with applied improvisation helps people to:

– listen to understand other people

– build and maintain positive relationships

– develop teams with high trust and effectiveness

– be authentically present in the moment

– generate new solutions collaboratively

– risk sharing thoughts and feelings

– become adaptable and courageous leaders

– expand situational awareness

– improve confidence, acceptance and commitment

– bring humour and play to work

– develop skills for storytelling

– have courageous conversations

– stress less, smile more 🙂

Simply put, the skills, attitudes, improvisers use on stage can be honed and applied in many contexts.

Are there any guidelines for improvising?

Yes, there are skills and principles you can learn to help you  to navigate the essential predicament of life: not knowing what comes next.

When you see a skilled improviser at work, the hallmarks of their approach are presence, acceptance and trust, all of which express care about a desired outcome.

Some key principles of effective improvisation are:

– listening and being present

– being willing to share control

– daring to be obvious

– making your partner look good

– trusting your impulses

It’s lots of fun too.

There are different schools of improvisation. Some feel like a trip to crazy town, which isn’t our style. Our approach is patient, human, grounded in relationships and discovered in the moment.

Photo by Marco Ceschi on Unsplash

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