Improv: Stanford University Style via TEDx Talk

Yes they teach Improvisation at Stanford University. It is taught by our good friend, Dan Klein.

Dan shared this thought with me recently:

"Are you looking for inspiration? Inspire someone else. It's kind of like what my mom used to tell me when I would hope to get mail - just go write someone a letter instead of checking the mailbox every hour."  ~Dan Klein

In the video below you'll hear Dan share his view of the value of Improv in this 8 minute TEDx video.

Improv is moving out of the theater and into more and more parts of life.  Dan teaches improv not just to drama students but also to the business students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Platner Institute for Design. This seems like a great idea....there is hope for the world.


Saying Yes to Yourself to Follow Your Dreams


Shaun Usher of Letters of Note wrote a nice post about a letter from Pete Doctor of Pixar to Middle School Children following their own passions with determination to succeed. Reading this post made me realize that he was really talking about saying YES to his own offer. Often, it's hard to say YES in improv and follow other people's ideas - but it can be even harder to say YES to yourself.

We all have an internal critic that is ready to help chip away at our own ideas and dreams. The key is to recognize this critic and find a strategy to manage them.

Here are three ways to help quite the critic who lives in your head:

  1. CRUSH THEM - Every time you "hear" the critic in your own head or realize that he/she has voiced an opinion that has changed your direction, physically reach up and pull the critic from your head with your best mime work. Hold them in front of you, throw them on the floor and step on them - grinding them up like a cigarette butt like the punk in a bad 70's movie.
  2. GET OUT FRONT - Before you try the next step in something new you, have a short talk with the critic and inform them that Failure (and thus learning) is likely to occur soon and that you will rise triumphantly and try again until you get there.
  3. BELITTLE THEM - As you tread out into uncharted territory and the critic looks starts casting doubt on your intentions, keep moving forward telling them "Oh if you think it's going to be that bad, wait until you see what I do next!" and barrel ahead making things worse then they could every imagine. You know that on the other side is experience, wisdom, and insight for the next attempt OR quiet reflection and satisfaction on a job well done.

Now go out and say YES to 3 things you have been wanting to do, but have not done yet. What's the worst that could happen? You could learn something.

Improv ideas in stressful situations


You are stuck in the airplane for hours with little information, you are waiting for traffic piled up in front of you, or a false alarm fire bell empties your building to the parking lot. These are times when big changes happen to everyone's routine and people get stressed out.

Right now I'm in the first case. I the middle of my flight to Munich we diverted to Boston because the main cabin lost all power. Sleepy travelers, who have not been given much information find various ways to cope or find some control.

This is a time when I hope that everyone on the airplane has taken an improv class.

Accepting offers you are given: often they can't be changed so accept them and move forward with what has been given.

  • we are diverting to Boston
  • we are sitting on the tarmac

Making your partner look good: makings things better or easier for others make you both feel better.

  • the flight crew can't change things, taking it out on them doesn't help
  • helping other unhappy passengers get bags, move past, eases tensions

Serve the story: what can you do to make the situation the best for everyone instead of focusing just for yourself.

  • Don't be the loud person who has to get off right away
  • The story changed so focus on what comes next to tell the story as it is now, what is the next flight I need now.

The principles of improv are great for life every day, and really come into clear relief when the pressure goes up.

What are situations where you have used these ideas yourself, or what have you seen where you wish others had taken an improv class?

What will you get out of studying Johstone style Improv? [or What's in it for me?]

Keith Johnstone

What will you get out of studying Johnstone Style Improv?

A great improv teacher has the ability to allow students to make deep changes.  There have been a few teachers who have had a lasting affect on the world of improvisation. Viola Spolin, Del Close and Keith Johnstone are the top three for me.  You're lucky if you've had a teacher who knew how to inspire and empower in a way where you thought that they were uncovering something that was there all along.

I asked the FaceBook community to share what they had learned from studying with Keith Johnstone.  The answers below are a good sampling.

To get a better idea the value of Keith Johnstone’s approach to improv one his two books, take a workshop with him or take a workshop with people who have studied with him for years. [hint]

What have you learned about acting from the work of Keith Johnstone?

  • Let the audience paint the emotions onto you rather than trying to show them emotion.  ~Richard Ross
  • That in developing ideas for a show or a character, you don't have to hold onto what you think is a good idea. There are a million (or so) other ideas . . . the chances of some of them being better are pretty darn good. ~Drew Letchworth
  • Say your first idea...don't hold out for a 'good' idea, don't be clever.  ~Johnny Kearns
  • Work and play cooperatively with others and ideas will come in more abundance!  ~Beth Palmer Hart
  • All will be well if your scene partner is a penguin.  ~Toby Hussein Butterfield
  • Apart from everything? It's all about fear.   ~Paul Killam
  • Dare to be boring.   ~Brenny Rabine
  • Connect with your partner(s) kinesthetically and emotionally.   ~Patricia Colley
  • Delight your partner.   ~Brett Bavar
  • Do not do your best, be average.   ~Roberto Alicino
  • Slow down. use less effort.   ~Rebecca Stockley
  • Let your actions serve the story.   ~Martin Ganapoler
  • The statuses must change during the scene. If you know your status, you know what to do.   ~Ann Feehan
  • Trying to please my partners. I forget it most of the time, but the percentage is a little better than it was.   ~Janie Summers
  • The audience should want to take you home with them.   ~Charles Souby

I want to thank the FB imrpov community for sharing what they've learned.  What are you interested in learning?