Glimpses and pieces of the #GII2019

I had the pleasure and the honor to have been (and in many ways still are and will be) part of the community of the “Global Improvisation Initiative Conference 2019” (#GII2019) in Mai 2019. I shared and co created four inspiring, sparkling, nourishing, motivating days together with over 150 people from all over the world, that apply improvisational methods and approaches, research on improvisation in many fields, are improvisers themselves, are academic, researchers and curious people.

I am grateful to the St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences, that made this journey possible for me in financial and structural means. I will bring lots of methods, links to projects and approaches, ideas back to my work in the fields of higher education back and also lots of personal evolvement.

In this blogpost I list some methods and links to projects I saw, experienced, were geschenkt to me. Ofcourse comments are welcome of things I forgot or didn’t grasp!!

I will use a form of writing here as a respond to an ongoing process of reflecting gender that in panels and many workshops happened: I will use she_he or her_his to express, that there are also people who don’t want to be put in a certain “gender”-cliquè.

On every method I experienced / used I reflect, how it could be evolved (EV) in this (or other) setting(s). This is an approach take from the methodology of Design Based Research (in short: literature research, research question, find methods, try something out, evaluate, redesign methods (perhaps also aspects of research question; do ore literature research), try out once more and so on – sum up and offer insights for eg. evolving a theory, a way of teaching something…


And to every topic I add some links, and/or hints to literature.


Day 1

Improvisation & Civic Engagement

Workshop “Comedic Improvisation as a Pedagogy for Civic Engagement” with Olivia Hartle.

As introduction and warm up, she asked to form a cycle and that every participant should say her_his name and combine it with a movement of the body showing something typical of the own life story (I choose playing the guitar) – than everybody would repeat name and movement simultaneously.

Nice start where everybody is given the chance of a short moment of stepping out, being in the focus, bringing in a contribution and to experience, that she_he is seen / recognized by others.
(EV) …repeat this and after that make another repetition where names and movements are used one by one, remembering / recreating it together.

A method used there I know by the name “props game” or as “Homage to Magritte” of Augusto Boal.

Olivia placed a bottle in the middle of a circle of the participants and asked everyone to step out and imagine it was something completely different und use it in a pantomimic way, till people in the circle called out, what item they recognized.

I experienced it as another possibility, that people evolve their courage to speak up and at the same time are in the focus of everybody. And here as possibility how to motivate people, to think and act outside the box. Also it evolves the readiness to give someone one’s and his_her ideas intense mindfulness.
(EV) The Instruction could be, to think of items, that are related to a certain topic / aspect of a project of Civic Engagement. Or after one person steps out, uses the item another steps out and they use it together and it is being transformed in this dialogue. Or there is a second item in the circle and after first is being used in a different way, the second one should be something, that is related to the first.



Bowles, N. & Nadon, D-R. (2013). Setting the Stage for Social Justice: Collaborating to Create Activist Theatre. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Breed, A. & Prentki T. (Ed.) (2018). Performance and Civic Engagement. New York: Palgrave

Cabrini, D., Watterson, N., Rademacher, N. (2015). Common Ground Through Dialogue: Creating Civic Dispositions. In. Delano-Oriaran, O., Penick-Parks, M, Fondrie S. (Ed.). The SAGE Sourcebook of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement. Thousand Oaks. SAGE Publications

Freebody K., Balfour, M., Finneran, M., Anderson, M. (Ed.) (2018). Applied Theatre: Understanding Change. New York: Springer.

Harteveld, C. & Suarez, P. (2015) „Guest editorial: games for learning and dialogue on humanitarian work“, Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Vol. 5 Issue: 1, pp.61-72,

Rossing, J. (2017). No Joke: Silent Jesters and Comedic Refusals. Rhetoric and Public Affairs, 20(3), 545-556. doi:10.14321/rhetpublaffa.20.3.0545 (Link)

Rossing, J. P. (2016). Emancipatory Racial Humor as Critical Public Pedagogy: Subverting Hegemonic Racism, Communication, Culture, & Critique 9.4, 614–632. DOI: 10.1111/cccr.12126 (Link) (more on J. Rossing, see day 4! And he has written more on topics relating to civic engagement

The “Theater of Public Policy” is doing shows also dealing topics on civic engagement. See here and

Blogpost by Josh Stearns What Improv Can Teach Us About Innovation and Community Engagement

Interesting project using improvisational methods while walking through communities


Playing with Gender

Workshop “Defy your Default: Gender, Power and Intersecting Spheres of Influence” with Barbara Tint and Simo Routarinne. (The card deck and this combination of the aspects of a person are © by Barbara and Simo).

A very important tool used in this workshop was a deck of cards with four colors, representing aspects of a person, Rank (position in a hierarchy), Status (behavior in a setting with other people), Social Currencies (social & professional traits and resources) and Confidence (self-efficacy) – each card also had a number representing the intensity of the aspect. Everybody took one card of every color, thought of a character, she_he had played / encountered before and started to walk in this role through the room. After that the Instruction was, to walk further on and on meeting other characters have a short dialogue.

Good way of really tapping in various aspects of a character and experiencing what effects have Instruction in relation to an intensity of an aspect of a person.
(EV) Walk to the room in the character without a card. The take one card: What is changing. Put the card aside, experience the difference in walking / posture / mimic; take another card and repeat the process. Then combine two different cards; vary the combinations; add a third card… Also always play with variations of short dialogues with others. Exchange one, two, three cards with other persons in the room, experience the difference. Imagine a door in the room, that relates to the story / the origin of the character; what is different in pace, intensity, posture, mimic, entering the room with different cards as Instruction?

Finding groups playing “islands & sharks”: Facilitator calls out a number; as fast as possible form groups consisting with exactly that number of people. Who can’t find a group fast enough normally is “eaten by the sharks” (is out of the game), but her waits shortly till another number of people is called.

Fast way of building groups with completely new variation of people, who are part of it. It is important to explain firstly, that no one will be thrown to the sharks, and the idea is, to act as quickly as possible.
(EV)  Define a space in the room, that is “shark safe”, where people who are not fast enough and wait till the next round or till somebody else joins this space.

A card was added, naming a specific social currency. Groups of four persons. The Instruction was to have a discussion about climate change, stepping into roles, inspired by the cards given.

Nice way of applying the method of short improvised scenes.
(EV) The characters enter the scene one by one, without dialogue, doing things like (in pantomime) puring water, drinking coffee, arranging the room… The Instruction is to watch each other closely. The scene ends by leaving the room established one by one, using impulses of the discussion.

Also used was an overview of “gender” with scales of male <-> female (biological sex), masculine <-> feminine (gender identity / gender expression), male <-> female (sexual orientation). Four participants (two male, two female) were asked to sit in a row. They were asked to look on the scales and define, where their character is now, they were also given the five cards, named above. After that they played a variation of a podium discussion here: gender and improv).

In a way the scene was a nice, eye twinkling comment to a panel discussion, that took place at the start of the conference.
Play it at least twice, with different cards and/or Instruction relating to the scales of gender.


Zumhagen, P. (2005). Using Improvisational Workshop to Explore Gender Issues in „The Untold Lie“. The English Journal, 95(1), 82-87. doi:10.2307/30047403

Seham, A. (2016). Performing Gender, Race, and Power in Improv Comedy. In Lewis, G. & Piekut, B.  (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies, Volume 1. Oxford University Press.

Old and still interesting / inspiring: Seham, A. (2000). Whose improv is it anyway

AINx-Talk: Status and Gender untied with Barbara and Simo

Blogpost on Gender in improv – a trans perspective

Blogpost Stop gender-casting your improv show



Workshop “Improvisational mindfulness in leadership: A strategic and action-orientated mindfulness practice” with Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren.

Full description see here:


Bermant, G. (2013). Working with(out) a net: improvisational theater and enhanced well-being. Frontiers in Psychology, 4.

Cole, J. (2016). I’ve Got Your Back: Utilizing Improv as a Tool to Enhance Workplace Relationships. Dissertation. UNiversity of Pennsylvania.

Farnaz, T. (2013). Effects of improvisation techniques in leadership development. Dissertation. Pepperdine University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,

Gagnon, S., Vough, H., Nickerson R. (2012). Learning to Lead, Unscripted: Developing Affiliative Leadership Through Improvisational Theatre. Human Resource Development Review 2012 11: 299. DOI: 10.1177/1534484312440566


Day 2

Intense listening

Workshop “Living Words” with Susanna Howard and Oliver Senton.

An impressing and touching frame of the workshop was created by using pictures and a video out of the work of “Living words”.

The start was a variation of sociometric methodology: A line on the floor, and the participants lined up in a distance to it. The facilitatory named various assumptions, topics / biographic aspects / feelings, related to the topics of mindfulness, listening and dementia. Everybody who agreed with the named aspect stepped forward to the line.

Everybody is in action at the same time.
It is not only “be in the line with others” and “step to the line”; you can choose the distance like on a scale of approval, the nearer, the more. Let participants rephrase topics to explore aspects of them, motivate them, to bring in own topics.

Find a partner. Aske her_him the question “How do you feel about your life at the moment?”. The partner has three to four minutes time to answer. The one who put the question is repeating aspects of what the other said, also using phrases of the partner. And she_he also writes down these words. After that the words written down are read to the partner. She_he can utter her_his feelings do that; aspects of that could also been written down.
Couples who want, sit in front of the others. The words written down are read aloud to the others (in a neutral way).

A very intense way to really listen to somebody else.
(EV)  Start with a mirror game, where A shows the answer to B who is mirroring every aspect without altering it. After the first reading:
Repeat words and phrases that touched you most several times; Repeat them in a certain rhythm; perhaps, you could also sing them.
Repeat words that stukc to you mind and at the same time move through to the room, letting the words guide / inspire the movements


Lobman, C. (2015). Performance, Theater and Improvisation. Bringing Play and Development into new areas. In: Johnson, J. et al. (Ed). The Handbook of the Study of Play, Volume 2. London: Rowman & Littlefield.

Krueger, K., Murphy J., Bink, A.  (2017) Thera-prov: a pilot study of improv used to treat anxiety and depression, Journal of Mental Health, DOI: 10.1080/09638237.2017.1340629

Stevens, J. (2012). Stand up for dementia: Performance, improvisation and stand up comedy as therapy for people with dementia; a qualitative study. Dementia, 11(1), 61–73.

Zeisel, J. et al. (2018). Scripted-IMPROV: Interactive Improvisational Drama With Persons With Dementia—Effects on Engagement, Affect, Depression, and Quality of Life. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & other dementias.

Talk: Using improv to improve life with Alzheimer


Accept and Engage

Engaging the whole person with Dan O’Connor.

Built couples. Worked while standing with the game “Color / advance” with the addition of “emotion” (see description of game here).

Good “entrance” to this workshop and for getting very close in contact.
(EV) Adding a number from 1 to 3 (or perhaps up to 5), indicating the intensity (pace) of color / advance / emotion. Choosing one moment and “color / emotion” one very tiny detail in it (e. g. tear running down a cheek). Adding “dialogue” – the partner has to phrase, what somebody has been saying in that moment.

New couples. Firstly, Dan asked to stand with our eyes closed and to envision a room we have lived as a child with all senses and as many details as possible. After that – with change – the instruction to lead the partner through the devised room and she_he asking for details (e. g. what is on the wall? What do you see / smell / hear from the window? Where is the door? Where is your secret hiding place?) and partner answering / showing spontaneously.

Very intense way to “follow” somebody in the path of an aspect of her_his life.
(EV) Inspire questions through side coaching like “Tell your partner, to take a book out of the bookshelf and read out of it to you.”; “Lie beside him on the bed / sit with him in a sofa on chairs in the room” (using the floor to act it out);

New couples.

Last part of Workshop was a intense way of realy seeing each other. It is explained in this document (c) by Dan O’Connor



Be the street: Collective Storytelling and Community-Engaged Performance”, Moriah Flagler

(also see this video about this fantastic project)

Started with a circle. Found a rhythm with clapping. Clap: Say own name, second Clap: everybody repeated it, third Clap: next name….

Another possibility to the way to co creating mutual awareness.
(EV) Second round: Whisper the name. Third round: shout out the name. Make the clap faster. Repeat names together without the “first clap” (together remember the names in the circle).

Moriah asked to go in couples (A & B). A tells the story of her_his name in one minute, swap. After that A & B summed up this story with speaking on one breath of air. After that asking the partner, if this summary acknowledged the one minute story.

Powerful and very intimate; tapping in the biographic of an other person in a very intense way.
(EV) Combine the breath of air with one body image and perhaps also distinct movement. A & B repeat the image / movement together (or everybody in the room).

Moriah used after that sociometric approaches: She defined where in the room was north, south, east, west, the center of the room was defined as Middlesex. Everybody stood at a place, representing (and the calling out) the place where she_he lives now and after that the place of his_her birth.

Fast way of making diversity visible.
(EV) Call also out name before place of living birth as a method of getting to know each other. When I use this approach I insist, that people don’t say e. g. “Turkey” as a place of birth but the exact name of the city. The place of birth is an important brick stone in the biography of a person.

We got together in couples. First working alone: “What is home to you?”, was the question given and to transform it in a repeatable movement of the body. After that we showed the movement to our partner who learned it by repeating it several times with us and the other way round. And we combined thee two movements. After that we met one or two other couples and everybody learned everybodies movements. We then showed this performances to the other participants.

Beautiful way of embodiment the “feeling of home” and at the same time stepping in an intense way into the “feelings of home” of others!
(EV) Combine movements with sounds and/or words that emerge. Repeat movements in slow motion and then increase speed. Create a “movement of the group”, that incorporates elements of every person in the room.


Named by Moriah as source of inspiration for the chosen methods:

Dawson, K. & Kiger Lee, B. (2018). Drama-based pedagogy. Activating learning across the curriculum. The University of Chikago Press.

(also see this site for more on Drama-based pedagogy, that uses lots of approaches and methods of Applied Improv


Holdhus K. et al. (2016). Improvisation in teaching and education—roots and applications. Cogent Education (2016), 3: 1204142.

Lehtonen, A. (2012). Future Thinking and Learning in Improvisation and a Collaborative Devised Theatre Project within Primary School Students. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 45, S. 104–113.

Ross, D. (2010). Improv ED: Changing thoughts about learning. Dissertation, Montreal: McGill University.

Ross, D. (2012). Improvisation-based Pedagogies. Changing Thoughts on Learning. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 28(1). S 47-58


Day Three  and Four – Open Space

Intense talk with Andre Besseling (short info in Englisch)


“not funny improv”

Improv has the call of “always having to be funny” as it is compared to “Whose line is it anyway?”. I personally don’t think so.

After a short phase of discussion, we decided to try out intense forms of improvisation methods:

Variation of “complete the image” (one source for this method is Augusto Boals Theatre of the oppressed): Couples. A offers a body image. B completes this image by adding her_his own body image, which can be an addition, an extension, a contradiction… Taking in this common picture by breathing together. Then A says “thank you” to B for the picture. B starts with a completely new picture and so on.

Second Variation: A offers a body image. B starts to find different variations of a competition by trying out different “answer / comment” body images; when finding the “one”, going on with “thank you”, change and start from scratch.

Third: Standing in a circle. A & B co create a picture. B & C another one, implementing an element, an idea or inspiration of the first picture.

All variations: Slowing down the variation of creating a flow of body images without the break of breathing, saying thank you and start from scatch.
(EV) Adding one sound to each picture before saying “thank you” or one word that emerges in the moment.

Couples: made intense eye contact. A is starting a repeating movement. B is mirroring it, but tying out decent variations of the movements e. g. by making them softer, a bit bigger, a bit more playful, a bit more gentle…

Interesting variation of a mirror-method. Very intense way of practicing mindfulness.
(EV) Try out slow motion variation, to explore more details together. A is starting to integrate aspects of the decent variations in own movements.


Reflection in Blogpost by Chris Mead

also see this video with Jason Mantzoukas

And this blogpost


Jill Bernard’s Mad-Sad-Glad-Afra(i)d”

One person entered the scene with a simple line (“It’s Tuesday” or “I bought milk”) and the other person responded with a huge emotional reaction, that is mad, sad, glad, afraid. (see this analysis of the method). Everybody had the possibility to try this out.

This format is and feels different from “it is Tuesday” (A says “it is Tuesday”, B reacts in an intense way, A overreacts to B and so on). Very deep insight in the feelings of a role. Strong offer for the partner(s) on stage.
(EV) Name the number of words / lines, that can be used in the scene.


“Let’s play with our racism”

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren (following soon)


Intense Talk with Ralf Wetzel (profile at vlerick business school)

He told me about the “Kaospilot” school in Arhus, who also approach topics from theatre-based view, see e. g. (or this very interesting, the change course free offer).

And the (arts based research and more) a project also run by

And the annual “Future forum” in Luzern

(example for an article, cowritten by Ralf: Wetzel, R. & Van Renterghem, N. (2016) „How To Access Organizational Informality: Using Movement Improvisation To Address Embodied Organizational Knowledge,“ Organizational Aesthetics: Vol. 5: Iss. 1, 47-63.
Available at:


Six Piece Storymaking

Koray Bülent Tarhan (istanbulimpro) showed an two step approach by Mooli Lahad (Six Piece Storymaking):
Take an A4-Sheet, fold in a way, that six equal squares are after that visible.

Write a story, you can only use the space given by the six squares.

After that examine the story from the perspective of Mooli Lahad’s “The Survival Game”. Koray told us, using this, it would be able to tell something about the writer of the story. I see it also as a chance to look more closely to the characters of a scene.


Videotalk by Mooli Lahad “The storytelling animal” (creativity & storytelling as a basic need)

Lahad, M. (Ed.) (2013). The „Basic Ph“ Model of Coping and Resiliency: Theory, Research and Cross-cultural Application. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Jennings, S. & Holmwood, C. (2016). Routledge international Handbook of Dramatherapy. New York: Routledge.


(EV) After writing the story, pass it to someone else, who acts out the hero (who could be supported by other players) and his_her story. Co Create alternative versions of the end of the story.


“Improv in universities”

Berk, R. A. & Trieber, R. H. (2009). Whose classroom is it anyway? Improvisation as a Teaching Tool. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 20(3), S. 29 – 60.

Doug Shaw: Improv at the B-Shool:

Duckert C. L. & De Stasio E. A. (2016) Setting the Stage for Science Communication: Improvisation in an Undergraduate Life Science Curriculum. The Journal of American Drama and Theatre. Vol. 28, 2. (see here)

Gravey, V., Lorenzoni, I., & Seyfang, G. (2017). Theoretical Theatre: harnessing the power of comedy to teach social science theory. Journal of Contemporary European Research , 13(3), 1319–1336.

Inam, A. (2010). Navigating Ambiguity: Comedy Improvisation as a Tool for Urban Design Pedagogy and Practice, Journal for Education in the Built Environment, 5:1, S. 7-26

Leybourne, S., and Kennedy, M. ( 2015) Learning to Improvise, or Improvising to Learn: Knowledge Generation and ‘Innovative Practice’ in Project Environments, Know. Process Mgmt., 22, 1– 10, doi: 10.1002/kpm.1457.

Ludovice, P., Lefton, L., Catrambone, R. (2010). Improvisation for engineering innovation. American Society for Engineering Education, AC 2010-1650.

Rocco, R. A., & Whalen, D. J. (2014). Teaching Yes, And … Improv in Sales Classes: Enhancing Student Adaptive Selling Skills, Sales Performance, and Teaching Evaluations. Journal of Marketing Education, 36(2), 197–208.

Rossing, J. & Hoffmann-Longtin, K. (2016). Improv(ing) the Academy: Applied Improvisation as a Strategy for Educational Development. To Improve the Academy. Volume 35, Issue 2. S. 303–325. (Link)

Rossing, J.P., & Hoffmann-Longtin, K. (2018). Making sense of science: Applied improvisation for public communication of science, technology, and health. In T.R. Dudeck & C. McClure (Eds.), Applied improvisation: Leading, collaborating, and creating beyond the theatre. S. 245-266. London. Methuen Drama.

Schinko-Fischli, S. (2019) Applied Improvisation for Coaches and Leaders: A Practical Guide for coaches and leaders. London: Routledge.

Slazak, B. (2013). Improv(ing) Students: Teaching Improvisation to High School Students to Increase Creative and Critical Thinking. Creative Studies Graduate Student Master’s Projects. Abgerufen 30. 9. 18

Stewart, C. (2016). Effects of Improv Comedy on College Students. Dissertation. Paper 601. Illinois State University.

Vesisenaho, M. et al. (2017). Creative Improvisations with Information and Communication. Technology to Support Learning: A Conceptual and Developmental Framework. Journal of Teacher Education and Educators 6 (3). S. 229-250

Example from Stanford University: Using Improv Techniques to Learn Public Speaking

Improv Workshop Universiy of Minnesota




Literature I stumbled upon, researching for all written upon:

Antonacopoulou, E. & Taylor, S. (2018). Sensuous Learning for Practical Judgment in Professional Practice. New York: Palgrave.

Blatner, A. & Wiener, D. (Ed.) (2007).Interactive & Improvisational Drama: Varieties of Applied Theatre and Performance.

Flegar, Z. & Kovačević J. (2015). Lessons in English Language, Literature and Improvisation. Retrieved 23. 5. 19

Fotis, M. & O’Hara, S. (2016). The Comedy Improv Handbook. A comprehensive guide to university improvisational comedy in theatre and performance. New York: Focal Press.

Hainselin, M., Aubry, A., Bourdin, B. (2018). Improving Teenagers’ Divergent Thinking With Improvisational Theater.

Larsen, H. and Bogers, M. (2014), Innovation as Improvisation ‘In The Shadow’. Creativity and Innovation Management, 23: 386-399. doi:10.1111/caim.12067

Lenters, K. (2018) Comedy in the classroom? How improv can promote literacy. Retrieved 23. 5. 19

Vilč, S. (2015). Collective Improvisation: From Theatre to Film and Beyond. Maska Publishing / Kolektiv Narobov) also see here

Vilč, S. (2017). Acting together: the art of collective improvisation in theatre and politics. Philosophy & Society, 28 (1), p. 32-40.


Applied Improvisation as a coaching tool to fight violence and bullyism:


A site I often get great examples:

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

Playful Debriefing

In The Open Space at the Conference of the Applied Improvisation in Oxford (August 2016), there also was a session on debriefing. On my journey of doing a thesis on Applied Improvisation in higher education (offline and online) i very quickly decided, that debriefing will be one of the center stones.

Of course you benefit and you also learn with applied improv from the very first second. And this outcome will be intensified and more structured and more connected to very tangible aims in your life with a good planed debriefing, which also needs enough time.

I am a playful person, I love to use very different games and adapt them. And debriefing till now was something with lots of words and talking. Which is not a bad choice, and there are many other possible choices. Thanks to Anne-Marie Steen who reminded me on that!

She recommend the book “Play” by Stuart Brown (look at this which I also think is a basic literature for anybody who is in the areas of teaching, facilitating, training, using applied improv… Anne-Marie said there are the following categories of how to use a playful way in debriefing:

  • Movement (eg using hands and arms to show a learning outcome on a scale from 1 to 10, movement through the room, body images, dancing together…)
  • Social (eg role playing)
  • Creative (eg first drawing in 60 seconds a picture of a learning experience; showing and explaining it to a partner and then amend the own picture with something that you saw / heard inspired by the drawing / explanation of your partner)
  • Objects (eg using toy blocks, chairs & tables, material from nature or a bag full of objects from which participants draw and explain why they have picked this as a symbol)
  • Inventing together a debriefing game

Of course how to put and phrase the debriefing questions is also important on this methods.

Here are ideas from my side:

  • Using the structure, the language, typical protagonists from a fairy tale to tell (or play out together with others), of course you also make a short fairy tale comic strip
  • Write and sing together the song of your learning journey
  • Transforming results in newspaper headlines or advertisement / pr slogans – then go through the room shouting them out or trying out different emotions in shouting / enacting them


  • Some more ideas are collected here by Michelle Cummings M.S.
  • and
  • “Another method of having learners think about how lessons learned can apply elsewhere is to put them in the role of a game designer. Learners are asked to think about a game idea that would take the lessons taught in the activity they just completed and allow someone to learn how to apply those lessons into a new environment. By providing the learner with a variety of icons to drag into a game design document, the learner’s creativity can be jostled in directions different than a text – only document would provide” Nicholson, S. (2012). Completing the Experience: Debriefing in Experiential Educational Game. In Proceedings of The 3 rd International Conference  on  Society  and  Information  Winter Garden. Abgerufen von (there are more ideas and background in this article!)
  • Also from Nicholson: An emotional timeline; writing and/or drawing and/or showing body images of emotional feelings along one methode or a whole workshop
  • Self assessment with the help of scales