Showing posts with label present. Show all posts
Showing posts with label present. Show all posts

Sunday 13 January 2019

Guest blog: Why Improv?

Having discovered improv comedy a year ago and having fallen under its spell, I find myself trying to explain what compels me to return again and again to what feels like its magic.

Having dived deep into another weekend course this one called “Efficiency in Scenework” with Nathan Keates. I find myself already missing its end, even though I’m only half way through.

So the word magic seems apt.  This is the best way I can explain what occurs in improv. But don’t get me wrong it’s not that all that happens is magic, it’s just that sometimes magic happens.

And what is this magic I hear you ask? Well I don’t know what it is, but except it brings a feeling of joy. A place where you are in a world of imagination, on the cusp of discovery and where you sometimes find gold.

Perhaps we should call it fools gold, because once you discover it, it has gone again and that can never be repeated in the same way, but it then it does return in another, later place, often in one you are least expecting. And at that moment its like you’ve been kissed with delight and often a response of laughter. One more note about improv is that the magic it can be found in watching others find their own gold and also it is often found in collaboration with others.

One area I have had a similar experience is working with clay, in which out of something formless something emerges and often almost without intention and impersonally. It's as if we are responding to the clay in some symbiotic dance between creator and potential where on some occasions there is some magical conclusion, and also sometimes not.

So there is something more generally to be said about being in touch with this creative edge and being in the moment and it being impersonal.

Improv is one place I can find this, but creativity in any form can be the edge we need. To be present, playful and enquiring allows us to drop the fa├žade that we are in charge of this manifesting present, we are a part of the play but not in charge of the script, as it is continually unfolding before us. At this edge perhaps we feel most in touch with the creative spirit within us and creativity around us, and it feels right and we feel good and we want more.

So why improv?  
I think it’s about the creative magic, of how you lose yourself in the present, and sometimes out of it comes a real present. For which I say thank you please come again. And I do.

By Chris 

Wednesday 28 November 2018

The ‘Improv And’ Series: Anxiety

In this series of ‘Improv And’ blogs, I shall be quickly discussing the use of improv for certain diagnoses and other uses. For this posting, the topic is anxiety. This is close to my research and an important topic in modern society.

Picture from uofmhealth

Anxiety can be diagnosed in various ways, this includes Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more. These all have differing criteria for being labelled with, which you can look at on the NHS website. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), as well all of them, impact life in a major way. SAD makes social situations become an overwhelming fearful circumstance. As it affects everyday activities, relationships and people’s self-confidence, there is need to find a solution. What is also the case is that many people feel anxious and may not be diagnosable, but still require help. There are many remedies that are offered. Some people found improv comedy to be beneficial. 

The research suggests that using improv comedy could be an effective intervention. When we improvise, the basic requirement of the participants are that they support one and another. This equates to a room full of people that are being non-judgmental and accepting. A social situation, which includes everyone knowing that others are in the same position, means that no one will be forming negative perceptions on anyone - not that this would occur in any other group, anyway. Also, improv forms communities. These communities and new friendships build trust in the participants and create long-lasting relationships that help sustain positivity and a supportive group. Furthermore, the fact that we do comedy, create funny moments, means that we gain laughter from watching and participating. This laughter leads to catharsis and can notably be healing. A group of people laughing together forms stronger bonds and builds trust once more. 

It is important to state that improv comedy is not therapy and should not be used like it is. The advice organisations suggest is to attend these classes as well as the therapy that professionals advise. There are programmes that are run that use improv and therapy in one intervention; these are usually run by therapists that are keen to bring the value of improv to anxious people. In some cases, improv has out-performed therapy. For example, an intervention that mixed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and improv, gained the same results in a shorter time. This was found to be better through the use of externalisation (an outward focus) as it gives a positive affect. 

Overall, the benefits of improv could be: 

  • Being with supportive and non-judgmental people; 
  • Forming positive feelings through community-building and new friendships; 
  • And laughter as having catharsis and can be healing.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

So Razowsky: Live Life in the Present

To continue the series of articles inspired by or based on words from the famed improviser and teacher David Razowsky from USA, once the artistic director of Second City, on SCTV, and a prevalent voice in the improv community all around. After some immense moments with the man, it has led to a lot of great results. Unlike the previous semi-season of articles, this completes this half of the series with aspects that are congruent with his thoughts. In this article the topic is about living life in the present.
Ambition drives people, but it controls people too. The drive is useful, but it is painful when you end up battling reality with desire. The persistent desire can blind the real, the present situation. As the moral of a Buddhist tale states fools get trapped by their desires. (, 2014)
What is happening is no doubt great. This offers a focus on the present moment. If it is possible to accept the opportunities that surround us, it is viable that the sense of happiness is present. Furthermore, reaching the space where living in gratitude happens it will stop misery from the 'future'. Live in the present, in the now, and be grateful for what is. Razowsky states, on his podcast (Razowsky, 2014), to replace ambition with gratefulness (Victor, 2012). Pick the Brain's editor in chief discusses how seeking more implies that the current is not good enough, there is unhappiness. Also looking to the future, to the ambition is deeming now as unsatisfactory. (Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement, 2007)
In a similar way, Razowsky, (ibid.) says how he felt he would be happy if, at any moment, the job ended. For example, for Razowsky, on 'Main stage' at Second City with Steve Carrell and other such well known names, if it had just stopped he would have been happy. This comes from the happiness in the fact that it happened in the first place; it is not about it having ended. As with all process-based approaches, it is a practice. Everyone fails at some point. Like the aforementioned mental adjustment to that special something stopping, failure is an opportunity to remind ourselves why do it in the first place.
A positive approach to life will be more useful than a cynical perspective. A car could die in the middle of a long journey. However, it got the person that far; what adventure, new experience, will it lead to and become useful or important for later? Steve Jobs states that after dropping out of college, the skills he decided to learn are now our norm in computing. Jobs took classes in calligraphy and without that our fonts would not be anything like they are now. (, (2014)
The origins of the phrase 'every cloud has a silver lining' comes from John Milton in 1634 (Martin, 2014) in the book Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle; the term silver lining is used to offer the better side, the silver side of the moment. In 1840 the proverbial form arrived, which ever since has been a reminder of the positive side of a situation. In improv, seeking the new perspective is taught. In Charna Halpern, Kim “Howard” Johnson and Del Close's book Truth in Comedy they write about perspective with an analogy: "'You've got chocolate in my peanut butter!' The other replies, 'You've got peanut butter on my chocolate!'" (Halpern, Close and Johnson, 1994, p.3) What this gives insight into is seeing anything fom a different view. Everybody has a different look on the same thing, in improv we take advantage of that by putting it onstage. Not only that but being positive and supportive is taught too, hence the reason why the practice of a positive life is more apt. Everything has a purpose, maybe not in the moment or perhaps not directly relating to another era in life, but, as with improv, it builds to a total result, with all aspects accounted for.
Being in the present enables better insight into the moment; internal reactions; people's behaviour; the state of actions in the surroundings. It is these qualities that can start the long process and practice in self-realisation. To realise the reason for an anger impulse will calm it down quickly. Nonetheless, we can be present with the emotion; knowingly live with it or willingly release it. Razowsky uses the phrase, “lose what no longer serves you”. (Razowsky, 2014) A negative emotional state does not do any use, so lose it. It is understandable to be locked into an emotion, but once it is realised it can be dropped. A challenge is to be angry when the reason behind it is fully understood. Along with not externalising issues, obviously, then the emotion will deplete itself. This is what Steve Wells and David Lake (2010) call the dark side. Wells and Lake suggest that people wish to want the problem to exist. (p.144) It seems true that people avoid acknowledging and cannot connect with themselves, which hinders all realisation potential. Razowsky (2014) lets people have there emotion as it is not to do with him, even if it is at him.
Many people get stuck with themselves and are unable to release their capacity to achieve. Everyone has many reasons they tell themselves. A favourite saying Razowsky has from what he says is 'if you says so.' If the individual stops telling themselves these statements, which they hold on to, they will be what they say they want. This is one way procrastination happens. Craig Ballantyne says that people tell themselves these lies that they cannot do this or that. (Ballantyne, 2012) It is a stopping factor; it will stop someone from changing that thing that they want to. Many factors come into the problem, like Ballantyne suggests, such as social re-inforcement and societal pressure. However, we can look at the circumstances of various statements that are made: For example, 'I cannot stop eating chocolate biscuits.' The response to this is 'If you say so.' All these statements derive from the place of avoiding a task, i.e. cannot or can't, and labelling ourselves in judgement, e.g. I am too clumsy. The facts behind these statements are historical and not present. People that wish to change can. Holding onto the past means you are not present with what is. The phrase, 'if you say so' can free people from their lie. Ballantyne (ibid.) states the biggest lie we tell ourselves is we can't do something: we can.
Likewise, Razowsky also says to lose the why and the how of doing a task. Lois Holzman (2014) explains that we are trained to seek the causality of all situations and moments. Holzman describes the cause-effect thinking that most, even in psychology, hold to be useful. This is furthered by the example of how a therapist could open the possibilities of non-causality response by suggesting that the reason for the effect is seeking the cause or the resolution to the effect. The example (ibid.) is the patient is depressed and stayed in bed; Holzman suggests that the therapist states the potential that the reason the depression arose is due to seeking the cause and resolving it with staying in bed. Clearly in the article, Holzman is querying the use of asking why. Another perspective can also be to query why to do this or how to do that will merely be a procrastination to the actualisation of the event. Jenny Maryasis (2002) wrote, “procrastination thrives on a cycle of blame shifting and avoidance.” When people ask why to do a task, they miss the opportunity to find out. Although in generalisation the question is to avoid or judge the activity. A constant shuffling around the next step in the path that is available will only lead to it staying still. Improvisation teaches us to move forwards. If an improvisers hides in judgement or is asking why improvise the scene or how to improvise the scene, that scene will not happen. An improviser lives in the present; they live with what is present; they treat everything as gold, including the people around them.
So the important lessons from what Razowsky has found and speaks about, and linking to improv, is to replace ambition with gratefulness. The happiness this brings shall improve the quality of life, like not holding onto negative emotions; release the anger by realising why that exists. Similarly, procrastination comes in forms of judgement such as asking why to do an activity or how to do it. When it ends, it ends; remember that it at least happened.

Ballantyne, C. (2012). The Biggest Lie You Tell Yourself. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Oct. 2014]., (2014). Buddhist Tales: The Fortunate Fish. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014]., (2014). Text of Steve Jobs' Commencement address (2005). [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Halpern, C., Close, D. and Johnson, K. (1994). Truth in comedy. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Meriwether Pub.
Holzman, L. (2014). Why Ask Why?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2014].
Lake, D. and Wells, S. (2010). Enjoy emotional freedom. Wollombi, N.S.W.: Exisle Publishing.
Martin, G. (2014). Every cloud has a silver lining. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Maryasis, J. (2002). Procrastination: Habit or Disorder?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Oct. 2014].
Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement, (2007). Are Ambition and Gratitude Mutually Exclusive? - Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Razowsky, D. (2014). A.D.D. Comedy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2014].
Victor, P. (2012). My Nephew is a Poodle: Geeking Out with...David Razowsky. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Oct. 2014].