3 sections to ImprovNotebook: Improv at work, Improv on stage and Improv in Life

As we started getting more posts, we noticed the conversations focusing in these three areas.

Improv at Work:  Rich and I lead quite a few workshops for those who want to use improv for a business outcome.  Schools and businesses are talking more frequently about Improvisation as a business tool.  This article [link], written by a professor at MIT, identifies 5 ways that improv skills aid business success.  And the Applied Improv Network is growing daily.  They will host a conference in September in San Francisco sharing ideas and ways that Improvisation applies to areas other than the stage.

Improv on Stage:  Rich and I continue to perform, teach and direct  improv for the stage.  This is where improv theory hit's the road...it's where we see and explore improv in action.  It's one thing to understand how to 'yes and' your partner but getting up and doing it while in front of an audience can open the door to a whole new level of self-learning.  Performing Improv is also thrilling.  This conversation about exercises to start an improv classes inspired lots of participation. [link]

Improv in Life:  Improv changes lives.  It empowers and liberates.  It is a path to play.  Can you take an improv workshop without it affecting your life on a day-t0-day basis?  This article written by Stanford student Jamie Soloman captures the cross over beautifully.   And we continue to be inspired by our friend Patricia Ryan Madson -  Improv Wisdom

That's why we've given this site three big heading:  Improv at work , on stage and in life.  Take a look around...add your perspective, insights and questions about Improv.

Hosting a work party - improv style part 2

In Hosting a work party - improv style part 1, I talked about emceeing a work party on your own. Here are some games that can adapt well to a work environment. Of course, you can always contact William or Rich and get some help or have us help you with hosting, improvising, teaching some improv, or just helping choose and adapt games for your audience.

Here are some games to try:


Have everyone stand up and then ask a question that has many levels and have people sit when their answer matches the ones you have prepared.An example:

When did you last eat sushi? Sit down if you answer is: (allow 5 seconds for each stage for people to sit and observe)

  1. Never
  2. Once
  3. Within the last year
  4. Within the last month
  5. Within the last week
  6. Within two days

If you ever...

Guests take turns saying something that is true about themselves. The crowd stands up with them if it’s also true saying “me too” or sits if it is not true of themselves.  Every person in the audience decides for themselves to  stand or sit on each truth revealed depending on if it is also true for them.

String of pearls

  1. Have 7-9 people come up and stand at the back of the stage.
  2. Have the audience tell the beginning line of a made up story and the ending line of a totally different story.
  3. Have two players stand at opposite ends of the front of the stage and say the two lines form the audience as if it was one story.
  4. Have a thrid person move between the first two on the front of the stage and add a line in the middle of the story. Repeat all the lines in this, now, 3 line story.
  5. Add another person with their own line and repeat again.
  6. In the last round, will have all players at the front of the stage, in order, with one line each.
  7. Together they will have created a complete story and can recite the lines in order to tell it.  Tell them to “sell it” and really pump up the drama in their own line.

Secret Handshake

  1. Everyone stands up and finds a partner. They have 1 minute to create a brand new secret handshake between them, and practice it so they remember.
  2. Have everyone find a new partner and share their favorite childhood book.
  3. Continue finding new partners and sharing information on topics (there is a list below)
  4. Then call out a topic names (secret handshake partner, childhood book partner) and they have to find that partner in the room and and share the info again quickly (do the hand shake, say the name of the book).
  5. Continue calling out topics until you feel the game is over.
  • Secret handshake
  • favorite childhood book
  • embarrassing story (title the other persons and share that title)
  • noise from childhood (person, game, environment - make the noise)
  • nicknames
  • secret dance
  • life dream
  • favorite vacation spot

Try to keep it as simple as possible and focus on fun!

Hosting a work party - improv style part 1

One of our readers, Stephaine, left a the following comment to the article [intlink id="663" type="post"]How to Host an Improv Show[/intlink]:

This year I am the emcee of our company Christmas party. i’ve been to a party before and the host was an improvisor. he really got the room pumped up with a couple quick games using different staff.

... It’s a sit down dinner in a banquet hall, so I will have a stage area and captive audience.

Here is my advise for Stephanie who has some improv experience a few years back.

Follow the two underlying rules from “[intlink id="663" type="post"]How to Host an Improv Show[/intlink]”

  1. Help the audience enjoy the show
  2. You are not the focus

Help the audience enjoy the show

  • Eliminate distractions
  • alcohol can prevent people from paying attention or cause interrupting
  • you are at dinner, so don’t compete with the food play games before or after
  • watching is thrilling for some, and scarry for others choose activities/games that allow for people to be comfortable
  • If the space is big it's hard to hear, and you can loose people's attention
  • The more active the "audience" is in the game, the more fun it is

You are not the focus

  • Unless you are the start of the show, help move things along and be prepared.
  • Be ready to fill space when needed for transitions
  • Be clear with instructions and directions. Practice with a small group ahead of time
  • Make everyone look good and ask the audience to help be supportive
  • This is a work event, so be sure that the games and play will be accepted by the corporate culture

What games do I play?

If you have experienced improvisers then play anything that inspires them. If it's just a fun group that is willing to play along, focus on starting with games in pairs or large group games that have everyone involved. It's more fun to be playing than watch others.

There are many game resources out there including my favorite, the Improv Playbook (www.improvplaybook.com) which has a ton of games to try. Also there is a new game every Monday on the site and archives are available.

Some other resources are the Improv Encyclopedia and The Living Playbook by Unexpected Productions.  Leave a comment with your favorite source for games.

In Part 2 of this series I will suggest a few specific games that are both fun and simple.

Cultivating Creativity - part 2


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...

But, maybe we all access creativity in different ways.

Here are some thoughts I put down in an ongoing discussion on the  Applied Improv Network recently about the 10 ways to trigger creativity in the workplace.

This is in response to a point that being "relaxed" can be an escape to being "comfortably numb" and not helpful in inspiring creativity and that improv games, massage, and walks in the park might not be enough.

Different Strokes

We need to allow people to go through a varied experience from comfort to challenge and that will take different forms.

An extrovert might be comfortable in a big goofy group game that is challenging for an introvert. And, in the same fashion, an delicious hour of dedicated time to reflect for an introvert might be hard for an extrovert. Why not do both?

There are many models that you can use, introvert/extrovert, visual/audial/kinestetic (VAK), multiple-intelligences, or pretty much any kind of "there are two kinds of people in this world..." that allow you to stretch people in new ways.

I think a key idea is to find ways to put people into places of comfort and discomfort so they have chances to stretch and changes to relax. I think this works just as well in a daily work environment as it does in a workshop.

One thing we do know is that innovation (aka creativity) comes from creating new connections of existing neural rings in the brain. Finding ways to exercise the whole brain can create opportunities for mixing new experiences can help make those new connections.

Relaxed or Comfortably Numb

I think it's easy to equate relaxed with a state of disengaged or distracted. And perhaps relaxed is an unfortunate word for describing improv related creativity work. I think that using anything as a distraction to really seeing and noticing what is going on can have a negative impact on productivity and creativity.

From neuroscience we know that without good brain health you loose strategic thinking, decision making, emotional balance, and several other important higher level functions.

These support a good creative process or "creativeness". And, good brain health includes exercise, sunlight, good diet, enough sleep, social interaction and a few other aspects. Maybe, instead of relaxation, engagement in new ways is the point of the massage, walking outside, and improv activities. Perhaps these suggestions are simply an effort to encourage the things we know are important factors.

For a longer list of ways to inspire creativity see [intlink id="788" type="post"]Cultivating Creativity - part 1[/intlink]

What do you think?

How do you "get creative"?

Cultivating Creativity - part 1


Be creative NOW Go! Ok, maybe there is a better way.

I was participating in a discussion on the Applied Improv Network recently about the 10 ways to trigger creativity in the workplace.

There were several nice lists of things to foster a creative environment in the workplace.  The whole discussion is available for anyone to read but here are some highlights...

Excerpts of 10 ways to trigger creativity in the workplace on the Applied Improv Network discussion forums.

From Pubudu Sachithanandan:

  • Encourage people to change where they sit for a day.
  • Have a meeting outdoors.
  • Hire a comedian to make everyone laugh during their lunch break.
  • Bring in a masseuse to give ten-minute shoulder rubs to everybody
  • workday costume parties
  • Creat a workplace that is informal, almost home-like, make it fun, out of the ordinary, e:g: a roof top terrace that is perhaps in level with a high tree etc
  • Let people bring in their dogs.

From Kat Koppett:

  • Feed inspiration (by going for walks, reading, chatting, playing with things)
  • Think like someone else (what would _____ do?)
  • Come up with bad ideas intentionally
  • Set clear objectives and boundaries (sometimes we forget that necessity has oft been the mother of invention, and that we become MORE creative if there are limitations to bounce off of. )
  • Be clear When and Where you really want people to be creative, so they are not getting mixed messages.
  • In those instances, reward the process not the results.

And my own:

  • Develop collaboration
  • Reward risk-taking
  • Celebrate failure
  • Encourage saying "yes, and" and not "yes, but" or "no"
  • Separate brainstorming (idea expansion) and qualification (idea evaluation)
  • Change environments and break patterns
  • Play games unrelated to the work
  • Ask kids for their solutions