What Do A Digital Mindset + Improv Have in Common?

My former improv team making stuff up.

My former improv team making stuff up.

I've spent a bunch of time doing improv in NYC, and teaching digital acceleration classes at Hyper Island and for a while I assumed these things were completely different.

When I go to improv rehearsal I put my phone away because it's an artform based on people making up stories in the moment using only their words and bodies. if a scene has a phone in it, we mime it and yes there is a right and wrong way to hold an invisible smartphone. 

Turns out that a digital mindset and an improv mindset are exactly the same. Surprise, surprise. When I say "mindset" I mean a set of behaviors and attitudes that make someone to "understand the power of technology to democratize, scale and speed up every form of interaction and action" and make someone to be a good improviser.

(Note: I said a good improviser because anyone can do bad improv, but trust me you don't want to inflict that pain on innocent people.)

Here is the secret sauce of a digital and an improv mindset: 

5 Key Ingredients: 

1. Be Agile

2. Be Curious

3. Believe That You Can Learn Something New (aka Growth Mindset)

4. Be Comfortable in the Uncomfortable

5. Be Open to Different Perspectives

Mix those up in a big bowl in your brain and you will be extremely employable and a fabulous entertainer at company retreats!

But seriously think about those 5 characteristics. They're pretty much the stuff that awesome, smart, successful, and fun people are made of. Do you have these qualities? Or do you just say you do? How can you get them? Do they sell them at the dollar store or Amazon?

(Soon enough Amazon probably will...)

Like everything hard and worth doing this mindset takes dedication, focus, and daily practice. Improv has helped me work on this and I've watched myself grow as a facilitator, as a program director, as an entrepreneur and a collaborator.

Here's my two cents:

  • Take an improv class if you work in digital.
  • Take an improv class if you hate everything digital.
  • Take an improv class if you want to be more open-minded at work, or with your partner, or with your mom.
  • Take an improv to become an overall awesome human being.
  • Take an improv class if it scares the shit out of you because if it does then that is exactly what you need. 

Follow the fear...find the fun. 

 

 

 

 

Writing About Writing

Cappuccinos are required to write in Italy 

Cappuccinos are required to write in Italy 

Writing is easy. We can all make shapes into letters that become words in sentences. It's easy to live your life and once in awhile jot some clever thing down with your new favorite pen. Look guys, I'm journaling!

Writing regularly is hard. The routine of writing words that become paragraphs that tell a story is really hard. No is listening to your story. No one is reading your words. You write for some invisible future person who you hope will gasp at how beautiful your story is and the intimacy in which you shared it. You also hope you are alive so you can hear this praise, but if invisibile future person hates your story then he best shut up.   

If you really think about it writing is totally insane.

For the past seven months I've been experimenting with writing routines. In the mornings every day, or every other day or only on the weekends, or only during the week, sometimes at my home or at a cafe. I've written when I have absolutely nothing to spit up but garbage and I've written when I was struck in the face by a brilliant idea in my bed or on the subway.

For a person who hates routine I've been pretty good about writing regularly sometimes transferring notes from paper to a computer and other times composing directly on a screen (like right now!). For the next month I'm trying something new and leaving my computer at home. 

I'm bringing a fat blank notebook to Italy to write with blue Muji pens every day. I say "every day" but if I skip a day I will forgive myself, which I've learned is harder than writing itself. 

Will my thoughts be different as I express then with a pen moving across a page while my other hand holds the notebook steady? Will I feel more complete as I watch my thoughts move from my brain into permanent things on a page? 

Some people say that the brain processes the world differently when you handwrite. Some say it's better than typing. Those same people lament the demise of cursive as part of the elementary school curriculum. Others say cursive is fancy nonsense for lazy people (maybe it's only me who says that).

I don't know. I both need paper and screens in my life as much I need a routine change now and then. I'm excited for a mini-break from this blog, from work, from the tap-tap-tap sound.

What comes out on the other side will be stories for my invisible future person who could be you. 

What Would Thich Nhat Hanh Do? The Art of Communicating

This guy knows how to chill. (source)

This guy knows how to chill. (source)

In a week I’ll be married and I’ve asked every married person I know for advice, tips, and not-so-secret secrets. Guess what?

It’s all about open communication, all the time.

I shouldn't be surprised as communication is a big part of what I teach, but I've realized I've spent more time and energy on my work communications - with my team, bosses, and clients - and less on my communications my with partner.  Much of the time we assume our partners are our partners becuase just "get us". We don't need to explain everything because they love us! [insert LOL emoji here].

My future husband and I both recently read the The Art of Communicating, by Thich Nhat Hanh who is very wise Zen monk. He points out how technology makes it so easy to stay in touch with people, “yet our communications may be lacking in genuine meaning.”

We are out of touch with ourselves (perhaps we're too busy posting our best faux selves on Instagram through a filter), and if that’s true “how can we ever expect to communicate authentically with other people?" This really resonated with my heart.

Various communication tools surround us all day long but are we being authentic when we use them? Why are we saying what we say and do we mean it? How are we saying what we mean, and what if our perceptions of others' words are dead wrong?

Thich Nhat Hanh provides methods to get more in touch with ourselves by taking a deep breath before speaking or writing, to use loving speech, and listen with compassion. These steps aren’t easy but they’re accessible and can be practiced daily assuming you don't live in a cave alone. Basically every time you interact with another human being is an opportunity to be a better communicator.  

In fact I used his method yesterday on the phone with my cable company. I wanted to scream and yell at the customer service guy who is reading from a script because my wifi had been down for a week, and two techs had already come over to “fix” it. But instead I took a deep breath and expressed my anger through honest and loving words.

I don’t love that Spectrum guy who lives halfway across the world but I loved myself a bit more. I felt better and calmer throughout the rest of that very long phone call. (If you're curious, a third tech is coming over tomorrow. Fingers crossed.)

Imagine what authentic communication can do for your personal relationships! And your work relationships! And your relationship with yourself!

Now when things get heated at home my fiance and I break the tension by saying out loud: “What would Thich Nhat Hanh do?”. I recommend saying this in a ridiculous and silly voice, which leads to laughter and more openness.


 

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.