Impulses to really see / here / perceive each other

A paradigm for any form of improvisation is, to notice what others around you are doing and also to use impulses offered by these people. That sounds quite normal, naturally, self-evident. One point is, that we often forget to do it, another one is that again and again it is important, to practice to do it and how to incorporate, use, evolve, to connect impulses.

I will tell in this blogpost about several approaches to that, I encountered lately.

At the improvisation theater festival moment in Vienna (September 2016) I attended a workshop of Rob Ben Zev: We used various association games, e. g. one similar to a “Yes, and…- game” and also played short scenes. One rule, we used in the whole workshop: Use words, parts of sentences, whole sentences that your partner used before. So if he/she says “Hello, Susan!” you either have to incorporate “Susan” or “Hello” or both in your own sentence. Rob also told us, to hold eye contact during exercises, to make sure, to stay in contact and not to search for inspirations in thin air around us (ceiling, floor, wall, window – just looking away). We used both approaches afterwards in the improvtheater group I am part of, and decided also to use movements of the other person we perceive. You can only use words / movements of others if you are aware, they are here, that they are – to speak with Patricia Madson – presents in the room, you are invited to use.

In this workshop I also got another deep insight in the “Improv rule” of “follow the follower”: I am using mirror games and “copying each other” – games a lot. Rob told us from the beginning of the method we did in pairs, that we should do and react at the same time, that both of us are giving bodily inspirations and copy them at the same time. I lately experienced a method, that could also be seen like an intimate variation of that: Pairs. Both raise their hands as a starting point to the level of the own shoulders, the palms of your hands show to you. The backsides of the hands connect. Both persons start to move their hands in a play of giving and taking impulses of movements at the same time.

Dr. Duncan Marwick is an expert and practitioner on playbacktheater, who facilitated a workshop at the “Impro talks symposium” (Zurich, Oktober, 2016). He referred to the Meisner technique, that for sure is also relevant for any use of methods of Applied Improvisation.  I described one method (a ball game) he used here. Another one was this:

A pair, looking at each other closely. One of them is saying something, he or she sees. The very first, obvious thing. It might be a detail on the face or on the clothes. It might be, that the other person Is wearing glasses or a blue shirt. Now look to another spot in the room. Say something different, you remember. After trying this for some time: Choose one observation like “You have brown eyes” and say it, your partner repeats that (or “You have brown eyes” and “I have brown eyes”). Using the same line, this dialogue goes on for about two minutes. Notice small differences in language and if they are used by the partner, like pace, breathing, rhythm…

The observation, choosing one thing to say and repeat is afterwards also used while:

  • Sitting back to back
  • Sitting back to back, stand up together and sit down together for the next two to three minutes
  • Stand side by side, your shoulders and arms touch. While repeating kneel down at the same time and stand up again
  • One partner is standing behind the others – he/she is touching the other. While repeating try to be the one, who stands in the front in a playful, tender and at the same time energetic way (you want to be in the front!)

This results in really taking in the other one, start to notice and react on very subtle, “small” variations. A focus is on the relationship and it’s development.

I also attended the workshop “The story is in your partners eyes”, designed and facilitated by Odile Cantero at a improvisation theater festival in Zurich (Oktober 2016).  I often use this game she used as a start: Standing in a circle, pointing to another person and saying his or her name (often I use the variation of just saying “You”) and waiting to be acknowledged by a “Yes”.  At this instance walking to the place, this person is standing while in the same time, he/she points to someone else, saying the name, waiting for acknowledgment and is starting to go, before the person who pointed to him/her has reached his/her place.  The next step is to stop saying the name and just look at the person. And he or she acknowledges with a small nod. Odile then took another step further: Also the small nod isn’t used any longer.

She then did some “eye yoga” with us. The basic structure: Everybody is looking at one person. This person turns his/her head to someone and instantly everybody is looking to him or her.

She afterwards told us, to choose a partner and while a four minutes piece of music playing to look for the whole time in his or her eyes. Very impressive and inspiring!

Afterwards we did small scenes, most of them inspired by a music played at the beginning. One important starting point and constant side coaching was: Look in the eyes at your partner. Not on the floor, not on your hands, not somewhere on the stage. It was astonishing easy to get inspirations and impulses from this constant looking at each other.

Too many things at the same time? Yes, and – needs “space”…

I have been invited as a speaker to “Impro talks symposium” (Zurich, Oktober, 2016) organized by Gunter Lösel (Institute for the performing arts and film at Zurich University of the arts). One workshop was done by the marvelous Dr. Duncan Marwick. He is an expert and practitioner on playback theater, he worked with the participants with different games.

In this blogpost I want to concentrate on the very first game he used. A ball game. I hate ball games. Hate is probably the wrong word: My experience is, that it is very hard for me, to catch balls, I often let them drop, even if I try very hard not to. So for this occasion another word is (mental) overload. I get frustrated very fast and the feeling, that I can’t be a part of this game is getting overwhelming. Often I drift in a set of mind that is dominated by resignation and growing apathy. Of course this results in reducing the chance to catch a ball near or equal zero. I even get the feeling, that I am bad in throwing balls so that other can catch it “properly”. And this feeling often influences my actions.

What is more, I think that I notice that other people in the group get impatient. Even angry about my incompetence – or worse, some even laugh, when I drop a ball just another time. (Which of course is seldom connected to me but it feels like it). And I feel like people stop to throw balls for me.

Why I am describing all this is, that I sometimes hear similar things from people who watch or take part in improvisation activities.

Hold it! Isn’t it just this Christian, who often and often tells how awesome improvisation is, how valuable, how inspiring and energy giving, how it connects and includes people and fosters participation? How it makes people get a better grip in their life, feel and use more self efficacy? How it fosters to cooperate more intense, get loads of fantastic ideas? Yes, and I just used some approaches and tools of applied improv at a conference and some people told me things, very similar or just with the exact words as I used, describing my “ball experiences”.

Someone at this conference even said aloud, it is an issue of not-inclusion: There are people who are (who think and feel, they are) slower. There are people bringing in ideas and words faster, sometimes pushing hard, taking all the room that is there. And some people step back – feel outside the game – they even can’t see any “balls” flying – the noun balls is used here for words, ideas, contributions of any form and given in different ways. They get frustrated and – see my description above…

So what now?

Back to Duncan Maverick ball game: He used “balls” shaped like a small pyramid, very soft and still good to throw and easy to catch. He throws one ball, and participant throw it around in the circle. He introduces a second, a third, a fourth… a ninth ball. And again and again tells (or shows through his actions) us:

  • Yes, there are many balls
  • Yes, you won’t see them all
  • Yes, you won’t have enough time, to sort your mental thinking
  • Yes, you will drop some and it doesn’t matter
  • Perhaps you will catch one but there is a not too small chance, that no one will notice
  • Perhaps you will catch a ball and forget to look at / for other balls that are coming after split seconds
  • Yes you will throw balls at people, who aren’t watching you (or the ball), because they are in someway distracted – so they won’t be able to catch the balls and it is not your fault
  • Yes some people will throw balls to you, even if you are far too late / not at all looking in their direction
  • You will pick up balls you dropped, that are lying around, that were thrown for other people
  • …perhaps you will even run for a ball, lying on the floor, to be the first to take it up and throw it
  • you will throw two or three balls in the room – some will be stranded in the middle of the room, but split seconds after that picked up and brought back in the game

What happens is after three or four rounds with the – for me well known – frustration I start to let go. I start to laugh. I start to be faster.  I even catch a ball. And it is fine but I don’t depend only on this feeling of “success”. I am in the middle of the game. Feeling connected to the other people, together inventing different ways to catch / throw balls, to alter the rules of the game, to play with being near and far, being fast and slow. So it also could be defined as a cooperate research process on ball games, on connectivity, on cooperation, on finding / evolve / connect / merge ideas.

So what was necessary to reach this state of mind, to once again (co)create the improflair?

Duncan Maverick didn’t use any warm ups. He used a room that is big enough. He helped us to shape a circle together. He threw the balls and explained all the times. And he named the frustration. The eagerness to succeed to “properly” throw and catch balls. And told us, there is no “properly” way to do it. That there are infinite variations how to do it. And he kept on telling this, succeeding to plant seeds of joy and laughter and working together – creating a safe place for really anybody.

Of course at this very workshop it also was helpful, everybody knew that Duncan will use unusual methods, performative approaches, will work with “overloading”.

To sum it up, some findings:

  • Methods of Applied Improvisation can be used and are useful in any setting
  • They help to generate lots of ideas in an amazingly short time
  • They foster cooperation and collaboration – between a lot of people in a room, also among people how don’t work together normally, meet for the first time
  • You can use methods of Applied Improvisation without warm ups
  • You can incorporate these methods in “tight” places (e. g. not much time)

And if you do that, some people will feel out of place, mental overloaded, have the feeling they are to “slow” for “that” kind of activities, to less creative. You won’t succeed in including all people. Some even will feel excluded and frustrated.

So if your aim is more inclusion it is important to:

  • Have enough time (and “space” like a good place with enough light…)
  • …explain some concepts of Applied Improvisation at the beginning / in between (say yes and, let your partner shine, follow the follower…)
  • To start with warm ups (using espcially Impulses to really see / here / perceive each other)
  • To build upon the warm ups with very basic methods, where everybody is playing / doing at the same time
  • To slowly increase the pace, the challenge of the methods
  • To do a lot of supportive, encouraging side coaching
  • To integrate debriefing

Angewandte Improvisation und Wissensmanagement

Was genau unter Wissen zu verstehen ist und wo die Grenzlinien zu Informationsaustausch oder Bildung liegen, dafür gibt es sehr unterschiedliche, teils einander widersprechende Definitionen. In meiner langjährigen beruflichen Tätigkeit durfte und darf ich immer wieder Prozesse begleiten und gestalten, bei denen es u. a. darum geht, wie ich als jemand der/die etwas tut, anderen Personen erklärt, was und wie sie es tut. Zum einen um Verständnis zu ermöglichen. Zum anderen um so oft wie möglich Mitgestaltung zu unterstützen.

Ein weiterer Aspekt ist, dass in einem bestimmten Teilbereich – etwa einer Organisation, eines Unternehmens oder in einem Teil eines Projekts oder  eines Bildungsangebots Erfahrungen und/oder Informationen vorhanden sind. Die Fragen sind dann u. a.: Wie können andere dieses Wissen nutzen? Und wie können sie es in einem anregenden, interaktiven Miteinander mitgestalten? Wie kann Vorhandenes aus neuen Perspektiven betrachtet, auf oft unkonventionelle Weise verknüpft, als Ausgangspunkte genutzt werden?

Wieder ein anderer Aspekt ist, wie neues Wissen, wie Ideen entstehen. Wie unter immer wieder hohen Alltagsdruck und einem manchmal starken Ausmaß an erforderlichen Routinen Innovation möglich ist.

All das und mehr sind Aspekte, bei denen Haltungen und Methoden aus der Angewandten Improvisation in einer sehr vielfältigen Weise hilfreich sind. Auch darum sehe ich Wissensmanagement als wichtiges Feld für die Anwendung und Weiterentwicklung von Improvisationsmethoden. Auch darum unterrichte ich im Masterlehrgang Wissensmanagement an der FH Burgenland, bringe die Methoden, Haltungen und mich ein bei Veranstaltungen wie dem Barcamp Wissensmanagement ein – dort habe ich eine lebendige WOrtwolke umgesetzt (siehe diesen Bericht aus dem gfwm-Newsletter). Bin Mitglied bei der Gesellschaft wie Wissensmanagement und bei deren österreichischen Arbeitsgruppe für kreative Formate.

Dort war ich zuletzt mit Lukas Zenk, Agnes Böhm und Susanne Pöchacker unterwegs. Wir haben mit unterschiedlichen Methodenimpulsen, Angewandte Improvisation erlebbar gemacht und mit den Anwesenden über Anwendungsformen sowie Rahmenbedingungen dazu nachgedacht.

Ich habe mit einem Assoziations-Ping-Pong (in Tandems) gearbeitet sowie nachgefragt, welche roten Themenfäden in diesem Miteinander entstanden sind. Einige davon waren dann in Kleingruppen Ausgangspunkte für eine Wort für Wort Geschichte, wo ich dann nachfragte, wer der/die HeldIn der Geschichte war und welche positive Eigenschaften diese/r hatte. Andere rote Themenfäden dienten dann dazu, eine Frage zum Thema Wissensmanagement zu formulieren und mit einer Wort-für-Wort Geschichte gemeinsam nach Antwort(en) zu forschen.

All dies diente dann als Aufbau um miteinander mit 3-Satz-Lösungsgeschichten zu arbeiten sowie wichtige Erkenntnisse daraus in spontanen Körperbildern zu präsentieren. In einem letzten Körperbild fragte ich, wie sich die Methode einsetzen ließe – es entstand eine sehr bunte Vielfalt an Bildern, die dann später, in einer gemeinsamen Abschlussrunde in Wörter transformiert wurde.

Danke für diese Gelegenheit zum gemeinsamen spielenden Forschen, gemeinsamer Kreation, Weiterentwicklung, Verknüpfen und Erschaffen von Wissen! Hier noch die Bilder zu diesem Event.

Rückblick 1 Jahr Arbeit an Dissertation improflair & Ausblick

Wie berichtet habe ich am Ende des vergangenen Sommers mit der Umsetzung meiner Dissertationsarbeit begonnenn zum Thema des Einsatzes von Methoden aus der angewandten Improvisation offline und online im Bereich der tertiären BIldung. Dazu habe ich jetzt einen Rückblick der Aktivitäten zusammengestellt sowie einen Ausblick auf das laufende / kommende Dissertationsarbeitsjahr.

Schön vielfältig und spannend! Ein großer Dank hier an einige Menschen, die diesen Weg ermöglichen / begleiten, besonders an meinen Doktorvater Christian Spannagel, an Alexandra Kolm und Heidi Ramler von der FH St. Pölten, sowie ebenso von dort an Sepp Weißenböck meinen „hausinternen Mentor“ und meinem Kollegen Wolfgang Gruber. Weiters an Annette Hexelschneider, mit der ich gemeinsam impromäßig noch einiges vorhab und die sich von meiner Begeisterung anstecken läßt. Dank gilt auch den Menschen, denen ich bei der AIN Konferenz im August in Oxford begegnen durfte, von wo ich mir wieder viel Kraft und Inspiration mitnehmen konnte. Und natürlich auch Danke, an meine allerliebste Barbara, meine Kinder und Bonussöhne sowie an Swetlana für ihre Geduld sowie unterstütztende Worte und Taten!