Okay so I have to be honest, I first came up with this idea as a bit of a joke. I mean, Brexit, with all its ramifications, businesses with huge European and Global reach, and me banging on about improv. So I did some research to find out what it really is that businesses are faced with and the one thing that came back with alarming regularity was…uncertainty. This is from Burges Salmon:
Political, policy, economic and trade uncertainty will continue until the UK reaches future agreements with the EU and other countries and implements such new legal and regulatory regimes as are considered appropriate. This is likely to impact business planning for 2-10 years.
Uncertainty and change. That is what we deal with as improvisers all the time. That is what we learn how to deal with. That is what we strive to remain calm in the face of. So here are 5 of the ways that we deal with uncertainty on stage.
Remaining calm is key to keeping our senses aware, listening to and seeing what is in front of us and being able to respond appropriately. Not calm in a passive, disengaged sense, but calm and open to those around us. The best improvisers I know all share that sense of calm openness when on stage and sure enough, they can deal with anything that is thrown at them in the moment without panicking. That calmness comes from hours, weeks and years of being in uncertain situations and drawing on our natural resources to deal with them. You might say that improv is not the real world and that situations that arise in business and in life are way more stressful and the stakes much higher. Well, that is true, and that is why it is so good to be able to practise and train our responses to such situations in a safe space.
Restate what you do know
One of the best ways to deal with a scene that has too many unknowns is to return to what was established at the start. Going back to the basics and reiterating the facts that remain true. We call it ‘Who, what, where’ and it underpins many scenes that can spiral out of control otherwise. Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I? We can always answer these questions, even in the face of massive change and it can be not only reassuring to go over these, but can reveal strategies that may have been overlooked otherwise.
Connect to those around you
Teamwork is at the heart of Improv. If you know you can rely on your stage partner then it takes the burden off yourself. ‘I’ve got your back’ is a common sentence in an improv class. We cannot be expected to have all the answers, do all the legwork and come up with all the ideas. In order to work as part of a successful team, we must be and feel connected to the individuals, and to the ethos of the team as a whole. Connection is not something that happens automatically. Connection is made through being in a variety of different situations, seeing different aspects of each other’s personality an resources and coming through stressful situations together.
Trust is earned. Trust is an emergent property of a healthy and long-standing relationship. We find it very difficult to really trust people we have just met, or people we only see one facet of. There are so many words that go with it, honesty, vulnerability, respect. All these need to be displayed, problems dealt with openly and challenges overcome together before genuine trust is earned. We need to laugh together, cry together and make music together (okay that’s just the hippie me now). Seriously though, the more diverse and rich our shared experiences are, the greater our trust can become. Improv allows us to embody these situations, play at being different aspects of ourselves and it certainly gives us the chance to laugh, cry, sing and dance together.
It can seem a contradiction to prepare for uncertainty. However you can be sure that you won’t have the time or resources to prepare once the proverbial shit has hit the fan. We are often asked whether we rehearse as improvisers. After all, what is the point when we do not know what we will be doing on stage? A simple analogy is that of a football team. Yes there are set pieces that will come up in a match but the vast majority of the play will be essentially improvised. When the moment comes to cross the ball square onto the head of the approaching teammate, you’d better believe that it’s the hours spent on the training pitch that you rely on in that moment. So it is with improv. It is the hours spent together, becoming a tighter team, finding out about each other, getting along and falling out that prepares us for the uncertainty of going on stage without a script. Spend time together, spend time doing unusual and different things together, do improv even?…
Do this in the quiet times as there’s no time when things get crazy. And things are going to get crazy.
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