Entering Genius Territory: Improv as the Door to Belonging

There are no mistakes in improv. Yippee! Hooray! We are all geniuses. At least in improv, we’re geniuses when we’re on stage.

This is not a suggestion.

It’s a rule.

Anything you or your partner says must be accepted and responded to with a “Yes, and…” Agreeing to whatever is said and adding on to it keeps the improv moving in the genius realm.

If I’m in a scene swimming at the beach and I say that the water tastes exactly like maple syrup, my stage partner doesn’t call me crazy. She calls for pancakes or french toast. If my partner says that the moon is falling from the sky, I don’t deny it. I grab a moon catcher that I’ve been saving (right next to my dream catcher) for a moment like this.

The “no mistakes” concept is sometimes met with resistance from my students. They complain, “He isn’t making any sense!” I side coach, “He doesn’t need to make sense. Find something he said or did to connect to and add on. A word, a gesture, a related topic.” Sometimes I hear, “What she just said… that can’t be real.” I respond and say, “It’s improv! None of it is real. We are literally making it up.”

The idea that everyone on stage is a genius provides structure and gives permission for the actors (students) to let go of their self-conscious, protective ways of responding.

They learn to become fluid enough to allow the creative, spontaneous impulses to emerge.

It’s an addictive feeling. And I know why. Co-creating brings us into the heart of belonging.

How many of our students (and ahem… us) have lost the freedom to be themselves? Sometime around 3rd or 4th grade, we get the message that who we are isn’t good enough. And by 6th and 7th grade, the stakes are high. We began to rearrange, repress our natural selves, and twist our persona into various shapes to fit in.

Fitting in seems like the only route to take if you don’t want to be an outcast, sitting alone, not picked for teams, or asked to parties.

And some of us never really get the hang of “fitting in”. We end up baffled by the games, confused by the drama, stymied by the social missteps we took that we can’t figure out how to correct. We find others who don’t fit in either and forge new friendships with new rules. Or we end up left out, our fears realized in many ways over and over again.

But for those of us who succeed, fitting in has a high cost. We pay by stuffing parts of ourselves others don’t like down deep and hidden in some dark corner of our being. We pay by forgetting to honor who we are to the point where we don’t even belong to ourselves anymore.

As we try to fit in, we diminish our presence, our energy, our life force.
Brene Brown says that “The opposite of belonging is fitting in. Fitting in is assessing and acclimating. Belonging, is belonging to yourself first.

Speaking your truth, telling your story and never betraying yourself for other people. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are. And that’s vulnerable.”

When everyone on stage is a genius, we relax into ourselves and know that we will be accepted. We learn to get comfortable with being vulnerable. The risk is worth it when we experience the joy of being affirmed.

This non-judgement improv mandate reminds players to respond with acceptance to the offerings of the other actors and also to welcome their own spontaneous contributions.

When you know that anything you come up with will be treated as the next line in a play, the fear fades with the comforting knowledge that you CAN’T MAKE A MISTAKE. Ah, feels so good. This rule is my second favorite. (The others rules are amazing too. More about them in future posts.)

Once students understand the importance of this rule and start practicing it, they enjoy the freedom that allows everyone on stage to collaboratively play in the genius zone.

We are accepted.

We are on the same playing field.

We belong.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *