Embrace Uncertainty with Improv

By The Making Box

This pandemic has been the largest acts of global improvisation in our lifetime. When the unexpected happens, improvisers are trained to embrace the uncertainty and make the most of it. One thing has been clear: the improv skills we practice have become more important than ever.

Here are four improv principles that The Making-Box is using right now and how you can use them too.

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Photo credit: The Making Box

1) ACCEPT THE OFFER (EVEN IF IT’S NEGATIVE)

A core tenet of improvisation is accepting (yes) and expanding (and…). As an improviser, it’s your responsibility to accept the reality and build upon it, rather than deny it. There’s a lot of fun and fear that comes from accepting the unexpected.

Now obviously, a global pandemic forcing people into isolation is not the offer anyone was hoping for. How does an organization built on bringing people together fulfill its mission when we can’t come within 2 meters of each other?

Thanks to our extremely eager and accepting student community, we were able to test drive five digital classes. Our ensembles came together with new online shows. This has evolved into weekly Friday night live stream shows, a full 8-week semester of online improv classes, and new free online Improv for Business and Family Drop-ins which we’ve never done before.

Is this year going to be exactly like we planned in January? No. But when COVID gave us the offer of, “stay inside and don’t gather people” we accepted it. Now we have all kinds of new tools which will last long after quarantine.

2) MAKE YOUR PARTNER LOOK GOOD

In a good improv scene, we aim to make our partner(s) look good. We do this through deep listening and affirming other’s contributions. This situation would have been more difficult without a community of staff and students.

We can frankly say, we may have made some poorer decisions if the people in our community didn’t feel safe or sure in offering their ideas. We think it helped that we practice good listening inside and out our organization. In times like these, this expertise was our most valuable resource. Who are your scene partners right now and how can you make them look good?

3) GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FAIL

"If you need to be right before you move - you will never win. Perfection is the enemy of the good. Speed trumps perfection.” -Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization

In improv, there’s no time for doubt - you just got to dive in, play and figure it out. In the words of Del Close, “improvising is like building a 747 jet mid-flight.”

At first, our staff looked at COVID like a challenge. Because it is. However, soon it become an exciting creative conundrum because we gave ourselves permission to fail. By asking and preparing to fail we found all kinds of cool opportunities: we now know how the lead online improv classes - something we will do after the pandemic too, we improvised with Colin Mochrie in our most widely attended/most profitable improv show ever (even though it was a free show and money was raised strictly for donations to our Student Bursary which removes financial barriers for improv classes), we’ve found new models to promote our business and give back to our community. None of which would’ve happened if we worried too much about what would happen if we failed.

4) JUST DO THE NEXT SMALL THING…

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The Making Box's first online improve class. Photo credit: The Making Box

There’s still a lot of uncertainty and fear in the world. And while some restrictions are easing up - it’s still difficult for artists and organizations to plan more than days in advance. But what improv offers is a framework of navigating these times. We want to show you how we’re using improv principles so you can too. We wish you all confidence, clarity, hope and fun in times of uncertainty. When in doubt, just do the next small thing…

And in this case, it may be learning to improvise yourself. We’re offering free online intro to improv drop-ins for the month of June. Maybe your next right thing is to learn some tools to help navigate uncertainty, build trust with others, and of course, have a little laugh in the process.

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