I now know how it feels to be a student at Oxford University. As I write this blog post, I am sat at a desk in student accommodation at Keble College, Oxford, the night prior to the start of the annual Applied Improvisation Network (AIN) Conference – my first as an attendee.
The conference brings together improvisers, actors, trainers, teachers and coaches to share how they are using the principles and skills of improvised theatre, in a variety of different industries.
The size of the spectrum where improv is being applied is still surprising to me. Although I seem to be in the minority as an agile coach here, I have already talked to practitioners who are using these games with industries such as law, banks, customer service, government, pastoral groups, schools, colleges, and even the prison service. Already I feel a sense of perspective that my job is just a small part of a much bigger sense of purpose here.
I have already attended two, very different, full-day workshops known as “Learning Journeys” - the first of which proving the most valuable so far. These workshops are designed for smaller numbers of participants, with more focus on specific styles, games and formats.
Learning Journey 1 – Introduction to Applied Improvisation For Performers (led by Patrick Short)
Although I wouldn’t class myself as a “performer” I chose this session as a conference newcomer, mainly to help gauge what to expect from the conference itself. I took a lot of value from Patrick’s vast experience as an improv performer and teacher. Firstly, some advice on structuring an improv workshop in itself, but perhaps of more value to me was a selection of new short-form games that I can use within my own training and workshops. The more appropriate games for an agile audience may well appear in my next Improv-ing Agile Teams workshops next month!
Learning Journey 2 - Playback Theatre and Improvisation (led by Anne and Christopher Ellinger)
Wow. This session was intense. Very different from any improv experience I have had before. The essence of playback theatre surrounds a sole “story-teller” from the audience, who describes an experience (or challenge) that an improv troupe then perform. The “story-teller” is assisted by another improviser called the “conductor”, who initially interviews the storyteller to explore the situation in hand.
The workshop gave the attendees first hand experience of trying the storyteller and actor roles. The actors are encouraged to practice deep listening in order to empathise with the storyteller and interpret the emotions they experienced at that time. Obviously when you are surfacing emotions from personal life, many people found the experience highly emotional. I have to admit that I think the technique might be a stretch for some, and I struggling to see how I could apply it. My main takeaway was a personal one around how I need to listen deeper in certain situations. I found the session extremely challenging on the whole.
Onto the third day tomorrow, and I should now get some sleep. Hoping for some more new ideas over the next few days!