Updated: Apr 4
The Spring Break vacation has just passed here in the North Shore of Chicago. If you have children and they go to school, be it primary, secondary, or higher education, there's a good chance your district/campus is keeping an out for possible spikes in COVID cases or just regular old illnesses. School administrators are doing all they can to keep children/students in school full time, all the while facing the challenge of creating a balance of a quality academic experience and the health and safety of students, educators, and staff. Although better than when this all started in the spring of 2020, COVID 19 has placed families and communities on edge with this daunting task, and frankly, any "plans" have been laughable.
The only real plan is that everything could be shut down in an instant and families are going to have to improvise. It wasn't all that long ago that outbreaks caused maddening juggling acts of finding last minute day care, working virtually from home, keeping yourself isolated. I, like many others, have faced this reality, with a two boys under 7 years old. "Making it work" is exhausting and quite "meh."
But, I have found a diamond in this ruff, which I referred to earlier...improvisation. When you think of improvisation you probably think of comedy clubs, Saturday Night Live (SNL), Second City and Whose Line Is It Anyway, or drop-in workshop classes on college campus, that spawn hilarious impromptu moments of actors and comedians bouncing unexpected lines and scenarios off one another. But what makes for a successful improvisation experience? SNL alum, actor, writer and comedian Jason Sudeikis gives his take on Off Camera with Sam Jones (below):
In defining improvisation, Sudekis references these three elements:
Having strong and supportive team around him
Developing fun and creative experiences for those around him
Analogies: Sudekis finds commonality between a sport that he loves, basketball, and improv, both of which he calls "invisible art forms," where one possesses the ability to make things up on the spot to reach a common goal for all players on the court or stage.
Improvisation may look like fun and games to the audience, but I wholeheartedly agree with Sudekis that it is crafted "invisible art form." And psychologists would agree. Dr. Robert J. Sternberg, an expert on human intelligence and creativity, developed the Triarchic Theory that posits that there are three types of intelligence: practical (the ability to get along in different contexts), creative (the ability to come up with new ideas), and analytical (the ability to evaluate information and solve problems). Sternberg devised this theory in 1985 as an alternative testing measure of human intelligence. Human intelligence traditionally was determined by the academic intelligence of the subject, and this was placed as the most critical variable for a persons' overall intelligence. Sternberg argued that:
He also believes that intelligence is something that can be learned from our experiences in the world, cultivated, built up, and stored away for practical use. Sounds a lot like improvisation.
I find improvisation to be a valuable tool for a presenter for two main reasons: structuring their content and creating optimal comfort level on stage:
Regarding content structure: spit-balling ideas and anecdotes and playfully creating with the order of your content with a colleague, family member, or presentation coach, will allow you to test things in a safe space. One choice will lead to another, creative juices will flow, and formats you would've never thought of before are now yours to choose from.
Regarding comfort levels: having command over your content is one thing, but equally as important is having command of your space and emotions on stage. Speaking in front of others, especially strangers, can be a difficult thing. But improv practice, games, and exercises can train you to be an outlet for creative and fun engagement and feel completely comfortable in your own skin. Your audience will appreciate both.
So, while COVID-19 continues to drip unpredictability and angst on our communities, especially when it comes to our children, particularly the ones who cannot yet be vaccinated, perhaps in these final months of the school year we're all in a sense going back to school for a final semester of to learn new lessons. Let's note the strong bonds we formed with our families, neighbors, and colleagues. Let's remember we learned that creativity and inclusion provide outlets to make others feel good. And let's take note on the ways we shaped our environment/circumstances towards goals that worked/still work for us.
There is nothing fun about a pandemic, but it has given us an opportunity to think and respond in ways we have never thought of before. If this isn't improvisation, I don't know what is.
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