How to Network and Stay Sane

QUICK POLL: How do you feel about networking? (in person events, etc)

My Facebook friends have very strong feelings about this topic. Here's the summary:  

  • Feels like speed dating.
  • Terrible. I feel anxious every time.
  • Live for it!!
  • Awful, and not useful.
  • I've gotten most (if not all) of my jobs from my connections and networking.
  • Panic.
  • I enjoy it.
  • Gross. ESPECIALLY as an actor.
  • If we called it just meeting people I think I'd prefer it better.
  • Is this still a thing?
  • Sooooo much better and more effective than sending emails.
  • Death by small talk...
  • I hate this awkward pretense of "selling" myself. Can we just talk like people?
  • I've always been a huge advocate of CONNECTING but not NETWORKING. 

 

I want it to feel like this.

I want it to feel like this.

How do I feel about networking?

I'm an improviser, storyteller, facilitator, teacher, which means I'm on a stage and in front of audiences all the time. Guess what? I still hate networking! Those awkward, unstructured events make my introvert side (I'm 50% intro/50% extro) swell into 100% "GET ME OUTTA HERE".

Also - business cards! What to do with them? After I connect with the person on LinkedIn I recycle them. Sorry people but that's the truth. (I miss the Bump app).

But I do like interesting, smart humans and if I just shift how I think about networking...It is about making connections with new people. 

 

Here are some tips shared from a recent training I led with Shana Dressler for emerging designers from the Netherlands. 

HOW TO NETWORK IN THE U.S (with a New York City bias)

  1. Know yourself - Practice your elevator pitch. (Make it a one liner and make me care)
  2. Know who’s in the room. (Research!).
  3. Know what you want from who’s in the room / the event. (Prep!)
  4. Be bold. As soon as you make contact introduce yourself. (Force yourself through the awkwardness!)
  5. Ask specific questions.
  6. Listen more than you talk.
  7. If someone is not giving you attention or interest - politely excuse yourself. (Don't waste your time, you've got at Netflix show to catch up on after).
  8. Take notes and follow up. (Not with everyone, only those people who you can learn from!) 

Go forth and prosper. 

Do you have other tips? Please share...

My Interview with Improv Refinery: Improv + Dating

Improv skills translate to the professional sphere, and surprise, surprise to the dating world too.  

Thanks to Improv Refinery for having me as a guest on their recent podcast where we chat about the intersections of improv, teaching, dating, and life. And my work-in-progress book about my dating experiences from 100 First Dates.

LISTEN HERE

 

 

 

Why Less Time is a Good Thing

"I'm soooooo BUSY!"

"There's not enough time in the day."

"If I had all the time in the world..."

The tech revolution has helped us do more things in less time, but surprisingly we still feel like time is our enemy. 

When people ask me why I'm not doing more of X, where X is something creative and energizing that I used to do more of when I was younger - writing fiction, drawing with charcoals, or playing the violin - I've answered with these excuses.

I've blamed Time like she's the problem. But the thing about Time is she's consistent. She does not change. I'm the one who needs to change. I'm the problem. 

How to be friends with Time again to get back in touch with our creative selves?

First, accept that you don't need more time - you need less of it. Using time as a constraint for a creative challenge pushes you to think less and when you think less good things happen.

Instinct kicks in. You go with your gut. You trust your ideas (and your colleagues' too). You stop judging your ideas (and your colleagues' too!). You ACT. You DO.  

Many of my exercises with groups or by myself involve a challenge with a time limit. Sometimes we attack that same challenge with half that time. Then half again. 

When you suspend judgement you come up with creative solutions that have real potential. You realize that the ideas you generated in five minutes are far better than the ideas you would have come up with after an hour.

What will you do with your gift of 55 minutes? 

Next time you need to get into a creative mindset time yourself. Give yourself less time than you think you need. Then half it.

Ready. Set. Go!

What Do You Do? (Hint: Find Your Why)

This is a hard question to answer. Does this person want to know what I do for money right now? Or what I do on the side that isn’t making me any money now but I hope will in the future? What if I’m in between money-making gigs and baking cookies all day?

At many points in my life people have paid me to do things I hate because society isn’t advanced enough where I can barter my skills for food and wares. Other times I have been in-between jobs, temping, checking coats at hotels, or in grad school. I never liked how this question made me feel especially when I wasn’t doing work I was 100% passionate about.

A few years of ago I decided to take control of this question and instead of worrying about what the asker wanted I answered it the way I wanted. I began sharing my “why” and not my what. When you share you “why” (or your purpose) with someone you are really sharing who you are. And let’s be real this is far more interesting than what you do. Because if you’re like me what you do changes often and no one wants to hear your verbal resume.

How to figure out  your WHY? I did some self reflecting and mapped out my past jobs and roles. I went as far back as high school (barista before that was a word, clothing store cashier, and camp counselor) and up to the present writing down which aspects of each job I really loved. This was also difficult.

It's easy to remember things we hate because everyone loves a good “nightmare boss who blew pot smoke in my face” or “coworker who walked barefoot around the office” story (yes those are real stories). However by focusing on what I enjoyed at each job I saw clearly a common theme emerge:

EMPOWERMENT.

This theme showed up in different ways - teaching English as a second language, raising money for women’s non-profits in developing countries, training executives - but my role always had the same purpose: Helping people learn, grow, and lead to solve challenges on their own.

“What do you?”

“I empower people to be strong creative leaders.”

Understanding this about myself empowers me to answer this difficult question with a smart, authentic response that never changes no matter what I do. And as long as the work I do connects to my "why" I will feel energized.

So I ask you: What do you do?

--> Create an action plan to do what you love on June 8th. More info here.

"You must not be your own obstacle"

Creativity and ego cannot go together. If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly. Just as water springs from a fountain, creativity springs from every moment.

You must not be your own obstacle. You must not be owned by the environment you are in. You must own the environment, the phenomenal world around you.

You must be able to freely move in and out of your mind. This is being free. There is no way you can’t open up your creativity. There is no ego to speak of.

 

On this International Women's Day let these words by Jeong Kwan, a South Korean Zen Buddhist nun, inspire you to get out of your way, to free your thoughts and allow creativity to flourish.

(Learn more about her in Netflix's Chef's Table, season 3 episode 1)

Why We Need to Have Women's Backs

Photo by Reuben Hernandez

Photo by Reuben Hernandez

Something is happening in the world. Well, many things are happening but this thing is good. Women are speaking up for themselves, and are speaking out on behalf of others. This feels like the Year of Women.

With so many ways to contribute to this movement I've been thinking about:

How will I show up and support?

My experiences this year already have shown me that right now I can make the most difference empowering women in the professional space. It's no secret that women get less opportunities for growth at work. 

Since January, I've worked alongside women creative entrepreneurs at the New Women Space, where we gave and received feedback on our projects. I've facilitated leadership workshops for the Advertising Club of NY Women's Fellows, and the 92Y's Women inPower Fellows.

And this Saturday Feb. 25th, I will co-lead a communications workshop open to all women: Amplify Your Voice: For Women in the 21st Century Workplace (seats still available).

Where can you make the most difference?

This question isn't just for women, it's for everyone - especially men allies. How will you make sure that women have a seat at the table, and once they do that women have real space to be heard?

 As a leader and facilitator, you can set guidelines before a meeting or brainstorming session with participants such as:

  1. Everyone first writes down their answers or ideas on post-its in silence. Then each person shares out loud only speaking once.
  2. In an open discussion notice who hasn't yet spoken and ask them: "Lisa, we haven't heard your thoughts yet. What do you think?"
  3. Ask the group up front to self-lead: If you are someone who always speaks first, try speaking last, and vice versa.

Let's help women succeed because when we build each other up we break down the face of traditional leadership. 

I've got your back,

Lisa

2016 WRAP UP (or BEAT DOWN)

Happy New Year to Partners.jpg

Poor poor you, 2016. People despise you. They are hosting “BUH-BYE 2016” parties all month long and drinking copiously to forget about you forever.

You deserve it, don’t you? You are a murderer — of humans and dreams. You are killing people as I write this (George Michael, Carrie Fisher, her mom Debbie Reynolds — who’s next?). And the dreams, oh the dreams. Do I need to recap the bloodied dreams of Brits, Americans, and very possibly every being with a soul on planet Earth?

You deserve to end, 2016. But before you do I need to say “I’m sorry”. Because you are hated but you were not all bad. You were pretty good to me personally and professionally and for that I thank you. (Compared to my 2009 you were a chocolate frosting covered dancing unicorn).

In memoriam of my retired but still readable blog 100 First Dates where I honored each year in a “Year End Wrap Up” post, here is one for you, 2016, you little beast.

1 ENGAGEMENT

The Takeaway: Holy crap, after hundreds of dates I have a lifelong partner on lockdown. I am grateful for him.

1 LEAP TO FREELANCE

The Takeaway: Self-leadership, more yoga and less commuting everyday equals a long, happy life.

2 SKETCHES WRITTEN, PERFORMED & FILMED

The Takeaway: Do stuff that is ridiculous and weird as often as possible. And get it on film. (Watch ’em here: Brainstorm Gone Wrong + Blair)

3 CLASSES TAKEN — ACTING, NONFICTION WRITING, SKETCH WRITING

The Takeaway: I can write. I like to write. I will finally (really, I swear!) write a book in 2017.

5 COUNTRIES TRAVELED — Costa Rica, Germany, England, France, Greece

The Takeaway: If we want to make America great again we have to leave America. We need to understand how other communities take care of their people, and we need to emulate them. (Also Greek salads really are better in Greece.)

14 WORKSHOPS FACILITATED & DESIGNED

The Takeaway: The key to living a happy, creative life (besides yoga and not commuting) is to play. Don’t forget to play.

30 DAYS OF YOGA

The Takeaway: Every day is different and that is ok. Some days I am strong, some days I wobble, but every day I am me.

290 PEOPLE EMPOWERED THROUGH MY WORKSHOPS

The Takeaway: People are smart and funny. I constantly learn from their diverse perspectives. I need people!

Goodbye forever, 2016. Hello nice to see you, 2017

What I Learned the Night After Election 2016

For some genius (read = sarcasm) reason I scheduled to lead a creativity workshop the day after Election 2016. I thought it would be the perfect time for people to re-energize and we'd all be happy it was over.  

Now, as we all can see, nothing is over and arguably more important things are beginning - actions, movements, collaborations. We must now decide who we are personally, professionally, nationally and globally. 

"Follow the Fear" is a saying from the godfather of modern improv Del Close, which means to recognize and accept what scares you and to confront it. Because when you move towards your fears you find that they aren't so scary after all. You find that the stories you told yourself, and the assumptions you made were not based in reality.

You find that when you push outside your comfort zone, you are capable of more than you thought.

I'm sure that many people who voted for Trump were driven by fears but instead of following them and remaining open to collaborative solutions, they shut them down and ran away to feel comfortable. But this comfort will only be short-term. Fears do not go away, in fact, they tend to multiply like Gremlins after getting wet.

None of us walked into that post-election workshop room feeling positive or creative. But we pushed through, opened up, played, and laughed. A few hours later we left smiling and energized. 

What that night taught me is that improv-based training is more important than ever before. Improvisation is an artform that teaches acceptance, empathy, feedback, team-work, and to respond truthfully from the heart. We can all use a little more of that in our lives. 

Next lunchtime workshop is Dec. 6 in NYC. Sign up.

 

 

How to Build Trust with Your Team? Don't Drop Them.

Once at summer camp I was expected to trust my new group of campers enough to fall backwards from a platform onto their arms - for a “Trust Fall”. Don't worry they won't let you fall, said our counselor with a smile, as I stood terrified looking down at their puny arms. We’re only 10 years old, how are they going to catch me? I wondered. But, I was a young and she was older so I believed her. Trusted her. Trusted them. I fell backwards blindly.

And kept falling...through their arms all the way to the ground right into the dirt with a thud. As I brushed the dirt off my bruised butt, I suggested they change the name of the exercise to just "Fall". You can imagine how the rest of that summer went.

Now I’m older and I understand what my counselor was trying to do. I know that groups and teams need trust to be productive, to perform well, to accomplish goals, and to overcome challenges. But how to build trust is often elusive to new leaders. I’ve been a part of and have run many team-building exercises and workshops, and the successful ones - you guessed it - do not include Trust Falls.

The first step to building trust is to allow team members to get to know each other beyond job titles and functions, as real human beings. Trust grows from empathy and relating to others. This means facilitating a safe space where this can happen.

One easy and fun tool to break the ice and connect with new people is called “3 Things in 3 Minutes”. My friend and fellow facilitator (Kiely Sweatt) and I used it in a recent team-building workshop with the Tourist Office of Spain for 100 people.

Ask the group to stand up and find a partner, someone they haven’t met yet. The pairs have 3 minutes to find 3 things in common, but they must discover deeper similarities than “we both have brown hair”, and more like “we both have 3 year-old daughters”. Tell them to cut out the small talk and get to the meat of who they both are - what drives them, what are they passionate about, what matters to them the most? 

The workplace is still about people and we all have dreams and quirks and pet peeves, and the sooner we share them the quicker we can collaborate.  

Do you have any other useful, engaging team-building exercises? Share away...

 

4 Tips to Create Your Own Fill-in-the-Blank Residency

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." 
- Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki

I'm back in NYC and the question from friends and family is how was the Fill-in-the-Blank Residency? I attempt to fill in the blanks for them and for myself, as I'm surrounded again by familiar people, things, and places, it's taken a few weeks to digest my experiences.

I'm a fan of breaking things down in useful nuggets so here are few tips to create a DIY residency.

1. Do Not Learn the Language*

Berlin is full of history and horrors and people who are not from Berlin, or even Germany. However German is always spoken first and they are proud of their language. I learned enough German to read a menu because I enjoy eating, and a few hello, goodbye phrases. That was all. Because I did not know the language I was able to surrender to the stories in my head uninterrupted. These thoughts informed my creative writing, which I did daily. When people asked me questions or yelled at me (so many rules in Germany!), I chose the ignorant path without guilt: 

"Sorry, ich spreche Englisch", and I'd be on my way. 

*for short-term residencies, if you're living in another country I recommend learning the local language

2. Do Take Classes

From my Creative Nonfiction City Writing class I discovered the joy of being in school again with no other obligations. We observed the city around us, wrote essays, read them out loud, workshopped them, wrote again, read again, left with almost final pieces. From my Fundamentals of Acting class I discovered that physical movement is often more powerful than words to communicate. Dancing and sweating with strangers from all over the world who I'll likely never see again was completely liberating. 

3. Do Follow Signs and Posters

Walking, biking, or traveling on the U-Bahn with my head not buried in a book or smartphone, I noticed posters and signs for things happening around Berlin. Yes, I know these also in New York, but my daily routine prevented me from taking the time to stop, look, and take in the messages. I made travelling from place to place in Berlin part of the adventure process always observing people and my surroundings. I was never in a rush. I discovered flea markets in cozy neighborhoods, new museum exhibits, a circus show in park, and other random stuff that I actually did - not just talked about doing.

4. Do Not (SERIOUSLY!) Get A Smartphone

Once I got to Berlin I suspended my home phone and data plan, found a T-Mobile store and bought a simple mobile phone. Remember those? I used it for calls and simple texts with the T-9 dictionary (which was so frustrating to use I usually called people). My friends and I met up at real places in real-time without  

Dear god whatever you do use your smartphone, don't get data plan. Get a paper map or google things before you leave the house and trust yourself to be a capable adult who did once exist before wifi and smartphones. I got a simple phone that could only makes calls and basic texts. The primitiveness of the T-9 dictionary to text forced me to call people (by people I mean my boyfriend only) instead. And it worked, we spoke and met up all without emojis and colored screens. 

*Note: Most of these tips don't require you to leave the country or even your town. How to keep the beginner's mind at home? That is the question...

Everything in Europe is a Sandwich

In Germany, in England, in France and beyond, sandwiches are for breakfast. The signs say ham or cheese, or tomato and cheese, or egg and tomato - only the main ingredients. Some are on baguettes and others on brown seeded country bread, but it doesn't matter because all of it is freshly baked. You can smell it. 

And there are definitely other things stuffed and spread inside like arugula, butter or cream cheese but you can't tell.

At home in the US pre-made sandwiches (which are for our rushed lunches) are meticulously labeled with every ingredient for allergy-health-gluten-who-knows-what-else-conscious folks, and if you want the turkey sandwich with everything except the mustard then you ask for a fresh one. Actually you'll take the mustard but on the side, in fact do you have honey mustard?

Yes my American brain thinks I'm absolutely eating too much bread, but my European body keeps shoveling sandwiches in. Because they're delicious! 

I'm in the middle of my Berlin Fill-in-the-Blank Residency and there are many things I don't understand - the language, the strange rules, the culture - but like the sandwiches I go for it. I make a choice and trust it. And that keeps me full. 

See more pics on Instagram #berlinresidency2016

Berlin: My Fill-in-the-Blank Residency

The challenge: bring a carry on size suitcase for 2 months

The challenge: bring a carry on size suitcase for 2 months

I'm heading to Berlin today for two months. A lot of family members have asked: Why? To which I answer: Why not?

Also...I fell in love with the city of Berlin, Germany four years ago when I visited my friends who'd moved there from NYC. I learned many things, which you can read about in a post on my 100 First Dates blog here.

I couldn't get Berlin out of my head because it captured my heart. I knew I had to live there someday. Today is that day. 

My boyfriend who's coming with me is an artist. Whenever he travels for long periods of time he calls it his photography/film "residency". I laughed the first I heard him use such a formal title for what I considered an extended trip, but he's right. A residency is a time to get away from routine life and reflect, explore, and create. That is what I will be doing.

So what to call my time in Berlin?

- creative residency?

- exploration residency?

- acting/writing residency?

- drinking beer residency? (let's be real it's GERMANY)

I've decided to call it my Fill-in-the-Blank Residency.

Because the most important thing is that I'm leaving my routine life. And that opens me up to blanks - unknown, unnumbered possibilities. 

Design Thinking + Improv: Sexy Bedfellows

I'm an improviser not a designer. Luckily there a ton of amazing resources on the interweb to wrap my head around design thinking like Stanford's D.School (where the above image is from), and Design Gym based in NYC. The more I read, the more I realized that the design world and the improv world have much in common.

EMPATHIZE 

Design Thinking (DT) - Find out who your audience is and what they care about

Improv - Find out who your character is and what they care about

DEFINE

DT - Establish a point of view based on your audience needs/wants

Improv - Establish a point of view based on your characters needs/wants

IDEATE

DT - Come up with a ton of creative, wild, crazy solutions 

Improv - Come up with a ton of creative, wild, crazy scenes or characters  

PROTOTYPE

DT - Take one of the crazy ideas, develop it, and show it to others

Improv - Take one of the crazy ideas, develop it, see where the story goes (while performing in front of others)

TEST

DT - Share your prototyped idea with your original audience. What worked? What didn't?

Improv - What worked? What didn't? Who laughed at what, when? Overanalyze this in the "green room" (usually a closet) with your team with full knowledge that you'll never perform that same show again 'cause it's improv.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO (THE global design firm) believes that play leads us to better creative solutions. Improv is play...so why not use it to spark your design thinking? 

Last week that's exactly what we did in my workshop at Design Gym. Learn more and read my post on their blog: The Secret of Creativity here.

 

Women Are Funny B*tches

These days there’s a lot of chatter about women in comedy. More and more women are starring in and writing for comedy shows and movies, and are killing it on stage in the stand-up world. (To name a few...all the ladies of SNL, The Mindy Project, Broad City, Samantha Bee, Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler).

We can thank the internet for disrupting traditional TV, both the production and consumption of it, and maybe even American society for waking up to the fact that WOMEN ARE FUNNY!*

*no shit.

Great! Let's all pack up our pink bags and stop b*tching about women being marginalized in the comedy scene, and go back to sipping our sweet tea on the porch.* 

*fire escape. Also I hate sugar in my tea.

If only it were that simple. The truth is I've been in the improv world for over 6 years now and my heart still bursts with joy when I see an all lady team perform, or a team where ladies are the majority because it is so rare.

Every time I see improv shows at major and underground theaters they’re dominated by men - both in numbers, voice levels, and stage time. Every week I attend jams where anyone can sign up and play on stage, and I’m often the only lady or one of very few (around 10% of total) in the theater.

I've been in many shows where before I speak a word, I'm labeled some dude's wife, girlfriend, teacher, or nurse, and in my head I'm the husband, evil doctor, or bad-ass cop. That's the thing about improv...you have to go with the reality that is given to you. But in the real world, thankfully, you do not. 

This spring the Annoyance Theater launched an all lady workshop called “Set Bitch Free”, and free I felt after spending 3 hours with 15 supportive, funny b*tches. Due to popular demand they added more of these. Annoyance also sometimes runs a lady jam at 11:30pm on a Saturday. For years the Magnet Theater has hosted a monthly mainstage show for lady improvisers of all levels called “We Might Just Kiss”. It was the first show I'd ever performed in where the word d*ck was not uttered.

Major kudos to these theaters, but let's be real - these shows and workshops are still playing in the margins running only once a month or less. We - women and men - (as a comedy community and as members of humanity) must do more to carve out a space for women only.

Here’s why:  

  • When I play with a group of ladies I don’t have to yell so loud.
  • When I play with a group of ladies I don’t have to compete so hard.
  • When I play with a group of ladies I take more risks.
  • When I play with a group of ladies I can be whoever I want. 
  • When I can be whoever I want, I grow as a comedian and a person, and that’s good for everyone.

Maybe one day (soon) a woman will be president and maybe she’ll make some jokes.

Speaking of lady bosses, feel what it's like to play with all women in my communications workshop hosted with BeSpoken - June 18, 12-4pm in NYC. Sign up here.

Hear more about women in comedy from Magnet Theater's funny lady Megan Gray's podcast interview

 

 

 

 

Why Virtual Reality is Basically Improv

Image: Samsung

Image: Samsung

Listening to Jamie Pallot, co-founder of Emblematic Group, at the Games and Media Summit this week it really hit me: 

Virtual Reality is Improv.

Pallot spoke about VR and how it's changing the face of storytelling, such as immersive journalism and and documentaries. He said the three unique effects of virtual reality are: presence, greater empathy, and spatial narrative. 

Presence: Improv is an artform where we must always be present. We do warm-up exercises to stretch our presencing muscles to get us out of our heads and into our bodies. We have to be aware of what is happening at all times around us.

Empathy: Once we're fully present we can actively listen and engage with our co-created reality. When we are open to listen we allow ourselves to understand and be moved by another's point of view. 

Spatial Narrative: (This is where the action takes place.) Improvisers don't use any props to tell their story. They make up their environment by miming objects and actions, and once someone creates something it is real for everyone. If a player sits down at a table in the middle of the stage then there is now a table in the middle of the stage. We must walk around it or bump into it.  

While virtual reality is dependent upon a headset, an improviser only needs her head and someone else to play with. By being present we create empathetic stories told through a spatial narrative.

I've cried, I've laughed, I've felt disgusted, and I've been inspired while watching improv shows. Imagine how you could feel about a story experienced through virtual reality? 

When tech is harnessed for good instead of evil it can change the world and - like improv - can change the way you participate in the world. 

Please cast me in the first improvised VR show. I'm ready!

Build your leadership skills in my next workshop in NYC May 5. Sign up here

 

How Strangers in Sweden Taught Me Patience

After a full week in Stockholm, Sweden filled with intense meetings and booze-filled fun I needed a mini-break. For one day and night I escaped to the small city of Uppsala to catch the Sweden International Improv Festival #SWIMP16.

I signed up for a workshop to practice my improv form nemesis - the monoscene. The workshop, taught by a British guy who studied improvisation in NYC and has played on the same dark, dank stages as me, included 20 improvisers from all over the world. Since our time together was short we didn’t waste it on introducing ourselves individually. We jumped right in. 

That’s the beautiful thing about improvisers, because we’ve all been trained in the same principles - yes, and; listen & respond; support each other - we can create made up worlds on-the-fly and commit with our full hearts and minds, no questions asked.

The monoscene is a challenging form for me. The entire show takes place in one non-geographic location only (think barber shop or restaurant) and the players must choose a character to play the entire time. The story builds slowly and is grounded in reality.

I'm a person who, when things aren't working I want to end them fast, move on, and try something new. I like to solve problems quickly focusing on the future and forgetting about the past. I’m a doer not a talker. Yes, yes, I've been called impatient. 

After three hours of the monoscene workshop I was reminded that patience is not about anxiously waiting for people get in sync with me so we can move forward, it’s about appreciating the present for all its glory and uncomfortableness, and letting people shine at their own pace.

The Opposite of Play is Not Work

dusk water jump.jpg
"The opposite of play is not work - the opposite of play is depression."

Says Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, in the middle of his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.

This deeply resonated with me because when I found myself at one of the lowest points in my life, play rescued me. I started doing improv right after a pretty bad break up, and it fundamentally changed how I saw the world and how I participated in it. 

Stuart defines play as doing something only because it brings you joy and - on the surface - has no other purpose. But guess what? Play is purposeful.

He highlights scientific research that shows how play helps the brain grow, thereby making us smarter and more adaptable. Play is not only an action but also an attitude.

How to find your spirit of play? As kids we instinctively played, we jumped in that dirty puddle, ran toward that puppy, climbed that tree and jumped. As adults with responsibilities, jobs, and bills, it takes a little longer to "jump". 

One easy trick is to start with physical movement - to get out of your head and into your body. This is why I always begin my workshops with nonverbal movement exercises. In the midst of the silliness you'll find yourself thinking less and feeling more. 

With a free and present mind you will be more open to make new connections with the people and environment around you, develop new insights, create new solutions to problems, and respond honestly to whatever happens.

This is what I experienced in my 2 hour intro to improv class 6 years ago, and this is why I still improvise today (and hopefully until the day I die). With a regular practice of play I'm able to choose happiness more often and to navigate hard times more easily.

My story is far from unique. Many of my improviser and actor friends have said that theater and improv helped them find their purpose again when they were down and depressed. 

Improvisation is only one form of play. Play manifests itself in various ways and means different things to different people so...

Go. Find your play. Be happy. 

Play in my next workshop! June 14 & June 18 in NYC. More info here.

Valentine's Day is Over: 5 Tips to Improvise a 1st Date

For many years I dated and wrote about dating over here. During those same years I dove head first into studying and performing improv and quickly learned valuable lessons that I applied to my dating life. 

In honor of Valentine's Day being over (I don't care for forced holidays), I'm reposting an article I wrote for Digital Romance.

I’ve survived over 100 first dates and performed in almost the same number of improvised comedy shows. What I know is this: A first date is like an improv show – you have no idea what will happen.

But like an actor, you can still prepare. Apply these basic improv rules to your dates and you’ll be ready for anything.

1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST

An experienced player makes a choice for herself before she goes out on stage, such as an emotional state (happy or sad), or a character trait (a weird accent). This choice acts as a lens through which she will play the scene. Before a date, take care of yourself both inside and out. Notice your mindset. How do you feel? What do you need to let go of to enjoy this date?

I’ve had one too many dates where the guy whined about his crappy day at work the whole time, while I drowned myself in wine. For your outside don’t forget hygiene (do everything your mother nagged you about as a kid), and choose an outfit that makes you feel confident and comfortable.

2. SAY “YES, AND…”

The rule of agreement is the most important improv skill to master. Whatever information is presented, the players treat as truth – they say “yes” to it – and they add new information to build the scene – the “and”. This principle is the key to moving any scene forward and avoiding conflict.

Avoid conflict on a first date. It’s not cool or sexy, it’s aggressive and offensive. Once a date of mine confused debate with argument, and told me my opinion was entirely wrong. You know what wasn’t wrong? Me leaving that date immediately.

Even if he disagreed with me, imagine how lovely our night could have turned out had he said “Mmmm, yes, interesting, and how about considering this point of view?”

3. LISTEN AND RESPOND

If a player isn’t listening to others on stage, and is instead thinking about what funny thing he will say next, he’s not supporting his teammates and will miss details that are crucial to the scene.

Listen to your date, and do this by asking open-ended questions. Don’t space out while he or she answers, actively listen. Hear not only what they say, but how they say it. You can talk about yourself later when you respond. Which will bring more value to the conversation because you listened so well.You’ll bond with your date quicker and hopefully skip to the kissing quicker.

4. FOCUS ON THE HERE AND NOW

Improv scenes are only fun to watch when they are action-orientated. For this to happen the players must address the present, not the past or future. 

Dates are not fun to be on when you forget to exist in the moment. Don’t dwell on your last bad date or work you have to do tomorrow, or wonder if you’ll fall in love and elope in Hawaii. Sure, you might not see this person again, so what? What can you learn about him or her right now?

I’ve had so many good first dates that never led to second dates where we shared stories about art, comedy, startups, travel and other fascinating stuff. People are pretty okay when you’re listening and present.

5. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES

Because improv is made-up on the spot and totally unpredictable, anything that happens on stage is right. There is no wrong – one of the reasons I love doing it.

There is no wrong or right way to date. Do what feels right for you. I have some friends who don’t date at all, some who jump right into a relationships, or some who cultivate friendships first. If you are open, anything can happen. And it will.

When I introduce my improv show I always say “What you are about to see here is entirely made up, never to be seen again.” You’ll never have the same first date twice, so, as we say in the improv world, follow the fun.

 

Creative Thinking: Party of 2, Boomerang

Photo by Daniel Castro

Photo by Daniel Castro

As someone is who is not a millenial when new techy tools and app comes out I often ask: WHAT’S THE POINT?

And when I can’t answer that I assume it's for people younger than me (i.e. Snapchat). When Instagram released Boomerang to loop 1 second videos I didn’t get it. But then I played with it and realized the point was FUN.

“It’s tough to be boring when you only have 1-second.” TechCrunch sums it up nicely.

This super fun not-just-for-young-kids-app became the star of my Visual Improv workshop a couple of weeks ago. 25 attendees created over 200 Boomerangs in under 10 minutes.

The time restraint created both by the app and our challenge forced people to be more creative more quickly, and most importantly to let go of perfection.

The groups couldn’t get stuck in planning and plotting and scripting because there was no time.

So grab a friend and take this Creative Thinking Challenge:

  1. Find a boring household object (pillow, spoon, pencil, shoe, you get the idea)

  2. Make as many Boomerangs as you can with the object in 3 minutes...

  3. BUT you must use the object in any way EXCEPT its actual use. (don’t eat with the spoon, or nap on the pillow).

  4. Go!

  5. Then get another object and try again in even less time.

  6. Watch your Boomerangs together and laugh your butts off.

How did that feel? Easy? Hard? What did you learn from this challenge? I learned there many ways to use a yoga mat besides for yoga. Also, I found out that in less time, I think less, I am more creative, and that is more FUN.

Why You Should Give a Sh*t About the Year of the Monkey

Photo by Reuben Hernandez

Next week the year of the Red Monkey will be upon us and I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t give a sh*t.”

But what if we can learn something from the monkeys (besides how to fling sh*t)?

Over the holidays I traveled to Costa Rica where I met the howler monkey. We canoed into a saltwater estuary then disembarked and hiked through the woods. Our master guide, Jonathan, let out his deep guttural monkey call and high up in the treetops, the howler monkeys answered back. I don't know what they said but I was completely mesmerized.

Turns out the males howl like a pack of wild dogs (listen here) that can be heard up to 3 miles away. They also sleep up to 15 hours a day.

What’s my point? Am I suggesting that you sleep most of your day away and howl at your neighbors during waking hours? You’re an adult, do what you want. That’s none of my business.

What is my business is anything in life that teaches me more about about leadership and improvisation, which in turn helps me teach people (not monkeys).

According to many Chinese Zodiac sources monkeys are:

  • cheerful and energetic
  • flexible
  • confident
  • charismatic
  • inventive
  • strong leaders
  • fun and creative
  • rarely get embarrassed
  • free to express herself fearlessly

Monkeys would be excellent improvisers if they could only master the English language. 

Instead of resolutions pick two monkey traits to emulate this year. I'm going to work on flexibility and freedom to be fearless. I might howl a bit louder too.