Guardian Masterclass (improv without the improv)

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I have “this much” to teach (PHOTO: Seth Carnill)


I’ll be in London in June to teach a Guardian Masterclass, called The Art of Improvisation, and I’m really excited about it.

Of course part of that excitement is because it’s a Guardian Masterclass, and that sounds quite fancy, and impressive (to me anyway). But I’m especially excited about the subject.

The idea, teaching improv to non-improvisers, isn’t exactly new – the benefits of improv training for the non-improviser are well-documented; it’s a field known as Applied Improvisation. Applied Improv is simply the application of improv tools and exercises and thought processes, to a professional context. This is also what I’ll be doing. Kinda.

See, I’ve taught (and teach) Applied Improvisation-type workshops to student and professional groups and businesses. I like it, but it misses something that I really love about improv: the personal connection to the concepts and ways of thinking.

So for this course I’ve thought instead: what would I like people to know about working improvisationally? And what techniques and ways of thinking will be most beneficial to the non-improviser?

And I found that these questions got me inspired, so I’ve been reading tonnes of books and articles, and doing lots of thinking and looking through old course notes, and basically creating something that feels new to me. It’s a hybrid of applied improv for professionals and straight-up improv for performance; it’s improv for people.

Improv without improv

I’ve taken approaches to creative work, to narrative, to presentation, to collaboration, and to thinking,  and removed the emphasis on performance, and neglected the practical applications (which Applied Improv stresses). In the place of these elements has arisen something else: improv for fun, for self-reflection, as a general approach and way of thinking to augment what it is that we already do.

I’ve already been teaching in this way. For a four-week course called Foundations in Improvisation at Mezrab in Amsterdam. We’re halfway through, and it’s been wonderful. There’s an amazing group of storytellers, comedians, tour guides, film-makers, writers, and more, all very talented and accomplished to begin with. And I’ve been seeing a lot of lightbulb moments, hearing a lot of positive feedback, and seeing some great breakthroughs, all without the stress of trying to create funny scenes.

(And, interestingly, the improv they have been doing has been great.)

Without getting too far ahead of myself, I will say this: this stuff is red hot jazz dynamite. And I’m really looking forward to taking it to London and the Guardian Masterclass, where more people can be exposed to this “improv without all the improv” thing.

I haven’t been this excited about teaching so-called ‘beginners’ in a while. I think it’s because giving individuals, skills and attitudes and techniques that they can apply to their own life – and whatever their creative pursuits are – is something quite powerful.

It may sound woolly, but is actually the most tangible, practical and rewarding approach I’ve found to date – for students and for the teacher.

2017-09-14T08:43:38+00:00 May 15 2015|