Have you ever seen “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” It’s a comedy improvisation show and if you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. Your stomach will hurt, your eyes will water, and your cheek muscles will be sore. It’s a great workout! I have the greatest respect for comedians, especially those gifted in improvisation. Of course, improvisation does not require humor, it does require creation without prior planning and without a script. It can be scary to do but it can be exhilarating as well, and without even trying, it can also be funny. For this eighth week of my Arts Immersion To Do List I decided to tackle the “Do Art: Theater” by participating in an improvisation group and it led me to think about what applications improvisation has for our schools.
Adults and students alike need to have time to really PLAY with one another and the theater arts allow for lots of that. I think every staff meeting should start with some sort of ice breaker that at times should be an improvisation theater game. Nothing gets the endorphins flowing with as much ease as laughter and every problem seems more doable with endorphins flowing! This applies to meetings in the classroom as well. If you have a daily morning meeting, try starting with a quick improv game to start your day off on the right foot. (I have used them in both situations with great success!)
Some people have a deep fear of performing in front of others. While we don’t want to force anyone to perform against her/his will, we do want everyone to feel confident in presenting in front of a group. Theater improvisation games can be a fun and gentle way to ease students into conquering that fear. Even if they refuse to participate at first, often later in the activity or on another day when you repeat the activity that student might join in because s/he doesn’t want to miss out on all the fun!
Improvisation, by nature, requires thinking on your feet and listening to others.
We have all experienced that terrible habit of students raising their hands to answer questions and in the meantime not listening to what the current speaker is saying. Improvisation is a great way to help students hone the skill of active listening because each movement or spoken word must follow what came before. Actions and words cannot be rehearsed or preplanned and still work in the context of the improv.
This skill of listening leads to the ability to “accept and include.” In improvisation, if I initiate the scene and exclaim that our plane is crashing the next actor cannot negate that and state that we are actually sailing on a boat. The students must accept what I stated and include it in subsequent actions and words like, “We’re crashing?! Will someone please help me fasten my seat belt? It’s stuck!” You may meet with some resistance when first introducing this idea but eventually the students are willing to let go of preconceived ideas because they have experienced the creative power of a group truly working together.
For some quick ideas, there are lots of websites that have some fun activities to get you started. If you want to delve in a bit deeper, I recommend Viola Spolin’s Theater Games for the Classroom. This guide presents activities specifically for the classroom teacher. And, as always, remember to participate with your students. We could all use a little improvisation to keep us on our toes and keep us laughing at ourselves!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.