August 6, 2009

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Improv 101, class 3: It’s not about stuff, it’s about relationships

What would it feel like to be able to go with the flow of improvisation, to be able to find the game and go with it?

It’s hard to think that I’ll get to that point. Today, I felt like a trembling 11-year-old rushing through my first speaking parts, thinking too much about the scene and the situation for me to fully enjoy. I found it hard to keep eye contact, to build the relationship, even to listen and recognize the games that we could play with each other.

Maybe after five more weeks, my classmates and I will have figured more of this out! Wouldn’t that be fun? =)

One of my challenges is finding the game, then letting go. A scene doesn’t have to be about conflict or about problem-solving. It can be just a day in the life. I don’t have to consciously amp it up. What would this look like if we did this really well? We might stumble across something interesting, then recognize it and play off it throughout the scene. It’s like the little jokes that W- and I have! We play word-games all the time, and we occasionally make up situations too. If I can figure out how to take that feeling and bring it to my classes, I think that would be pretty cool.

How can I grow in this? There are a few things I can do:

  • I can expose myself to more role models. Watching improv shows can give me ideas of what it looks like when things go really well. I can also take notes when people on the stage miss the game or don’t let go.
  • I can look for opportunities to practice in real life. Maybe small talk can give me more opportunities to listen and react, and of course there are the games W- and I play.
  • I can practice on my own. It might be time to dust off my flash fiction writing, do morning pages, and play with free association or stream-of-consciousness writing. The thing is to hush my inner editor and just follow my curiosity, knowing that wherever I end up is the right place to be.
  • I can set up opportunities to practice. W-‘s okay with having people over, so maybe I’ll host a get-together one of these weekends. August 29 and September 5, maybe?
  • I can warm up. How? Hmm… More free association on the way there?

Another of my challenges is to not get distracted by the environment, activity, objects, or imaginary people outside the scene, but rather to focus on developing the relationship between the on-screen characters. What would doing that really well look like? I’d be able to listen hard, accept whatever reality my partner creates, figure out our game, and move the scene forward.

I’m still getting used to making up reality. Normal conversation doesn’t usually include establishing other people’s realities based on made-up assumptions.

It’s useful to practice both strong initiations and great agreement. I can practice initiation and relationship development is by writing flash fiction. Agreement and finding the game, that’s harder to practice on my own. It is, after all, a game. But maybe I can pick some of that up by watching other people, or even video.

<grin> This’ll be fun!

Also, another interesting insight from today: playing a high-status person doesn’t automatically mean putting other people down. It was obvious once our teacher pointed that out, but I think we’d all gone for the snobbish stereotype! <laugh> I’ll be keeping an eye out for status (both high and low) in real life…

The influence of trees, webs, and clouds

There’s the influence described in formal organizational charts. Executives influence middle managers, who influence managers, who influence front-line employees. It’s like the way a tree‘s roots affect the trunk, which affect the branches, which affect other branches, which affect the leaves. People rise in organizations depending on their political savvy and the way they handle situations. The influencer’s relationship to the status quo is clear: managers might be good at keeping everything running smoothly (preserving the status quo), while leaders are good at inspiring people to change (seeking a new status quo). People have a mix of both traits, of course, but favour one or the other. The relationships are clear, and you can work with them.

This isn’t the only way influence works. Social network analysis may show you that the most influential person isn’t Bob, the manager, but Sally, the receptionist, who knows everyone and who can nudge people to support new initiatives. This is the influence of webs, where pulling on one strand affects the other. Change management initiatives take this kind of influence into account when they use social network analysis to find the key influencers and early adopters by asking people to identify who influences them in particular situations. Then they can work with those people to encourage change. These relationships may not be immediately obvious, but they can be determined from communication patterns or surveys. People can intentionally influence their social network, working to either support or resist change.

But there’s another kind of influence that I don’t quite understand, although I’ve had many experiences of it. People do things that influence strangers in ways they don’t expect. I think of it as the influence of clouds . You could write a blog post that someone in Australia reads, enjoys, and thinks about, but you don’t know about that potential relationship and you don’t do it because you want to change other people’s lives or help them stay the same. You do it just because it helps you think, and yet things happen. How do you plan for or measure that kind of influence?