“…a story about how we begin to remember…”- Paul Simon

Listening to Under African Skies while driving under them with my son was an incredible privilege that moved me to tears.  And he too, felt something profound in the words and music from Paul Simon’s Graceland Album as we drove along our 2+ week journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein

What were we remembering?  Our connection? Joy in discovering together? Gratitude for our time?  Something deeply profound about humanity?

These are the roots of rhythm

And the roots of rhythm remain

I have learned so much on this journey and am so grateful.  I arrive home quite tired, yet with renewed commitment to teaching improv in a way that helps people tap into divine play with others. This too, is profound!

As we experience playing together in a safe and honoring environment we remember and celebrate our humanity!

Please consider signing up for a PILL class and dipping your toe into this safe, fun, joyful art! Visit us during our open house or check out upcoming classes!  And shoot me an email if you have questions! Bbbboynton@gmail.com

And it is a different song on the same LP, but hey…

We all will be received in Graceland!

Presenting the PILL Poster People of Portsmouth!

Beth Boynton, RN, MS & Liz Korabek-Emerson, MFA

Beth and Liz love teaching PILL classes! Sometimes serious, oft times silly, and always kind; it is no surprise that they have fun putting up PILL posters promoting classes and events.  Even on cold icy New England days! (We were very careful not to curtsey on icy areas! 🙂 )

This poster is going up at the RiverRun BookstoreThanks to all businesses in downtown Portsmouth, NH who have a community bulletin board! Click To Tweet If you see one without a PILL Poster please let us know! 🙂

 

Applied Improv & Trust! Glorious, Glorious Trust!

One of the differences between applied improv and improv comedy is that we take the focus off of performing and put it on the process of play.  One of the most fundamental and powerful parts of that process involves trust!

What does trust mean to you?

For me, it means feeling safe, respected, even loved,  along with a sense of ease in my body, mind, and soul.  Trusting someone means I can count on them to do what they say, give me a break for my imperfections, own their own part in a conflict, accept me, even celebrate me as I am…things like that. I’ve had some betrayals in life and don’t take these things for granted.  Insecurities and sensitivities are part of who I am.  Join the club, right?

Taking improv classes has been really helpful to me in exploring trust and having fun doing it.  The very principles of play support trusting relationships.  They do vary from teacher to teacher a little bit.  At Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab, fondly referred to as PILL, we follow these principles and in parenthesis, (their relevance to trust).

PILL Principles of Improv 

  • “Yes and…” (This golden rule of improv ensures that players share responsibility for co-creating scenes and stories.  I learn that I can count on i.e. trust my partner!) 
  • Support your partner (I help others devlop trust as I am trustworthy.  I gain insight and experience into what trust looks and feels like.)
  • You have everything you need (Here I learn to trust myself to offer something of value while trusting my partner will make it work.)
  • Celebrate “mistakes” (It’s ok to be human!  YAY! I’m OK, you’re OK, we’re OK!)
  • Avoid questions (This one is a little harder to explain, but deep inside, there are times that I and others will ask questions to avoid fully participating in a relationship.  Avoiding them, for some people, means trusting themselves and others.)
  • Feel free to make things up (Actors already know this, but some people who are new to improv need permission to get out of their heads.  The pressure of being right or knowing something can be set aside.  I make something up trusting my partner will run with it giving me feedback that trusting is safe).
  • Observers play an important role (This gives people new to improv the freedom to not take a risk if they don’t feel safe. I learn to trust the teacher here and have control where I may need it. AND I can be helpful by watching and sharing insights.)

Despite difficulties broken trust situations have caused for me, these experiences have taught me to place a high value on trust and helped me to be sensitive to what others are experiencing.  It is part of how I continue to grow as a person.  And as a teacher to be more effective in creating a safe environment for students to take risks, play, and grow together.

You don’t have to have trust issues to enjoy or learn from PILL.  I don’t always feel trusting, but when I do it is indeed a glorious feeling.  Do you have experiences with trust in taking or teaching applied improv? What would you add?

Check upcoming PILL classes and open house.

Do You Nurture Your Playful Spirit?

I remember my father’s playful side.  Not often, but once in a while it came out! One example that comes to mind is when I was 12 or so and there was a hail storm going on outside.  He called to me exclaiming there were huge hailstones I should see!  So, I ran to the front door he was holding open and peeked onto the front lawn.  I immediately knew what he was talking about.  There were two big clumps of ice    sitting there….easily 10 times bigger than what I could see falling from the sky.

“WOW”, I said, excited to share this wondrous event with him.

A second later I noticed their shape and an instant after that I knew he had fooled me! Click To Tweet

There sat two ice cubes in the grass and behind me my father was trying not to laugh.  I love this memory of him.  Even thinking of it, I smile. In that moment of playfulness we were connected in a special way.  It felt safe, loving, and trusting,…even though I was being tricked.

And while sitting here working on this post at Profile Coffee Shop in Portsmouth, NH where they have all sorts of albums on display, another funny memory is triggered.  When my son was 10 or so, we often had music going on and we both enjoyed a wide variety; from Broadway hits, to Folk music, to Disco.  BUT, I had a Patsy Cline CD that he could not stand.  He would groan, beg for me to turn it off, or even do so himself. Then there was a spell of not listening to it. I couldn’t find it and forgot about it until reaching into the bookcase where he had carefully hidden it!  It was funny then and it is now thinking of it.  (So I just emailed him a photo of the album.  I bet he’ll smile too).

Play is integral in PILL classes and the more I teach and get feedback, the more obvious it is that people are grateful for opportunities to laugh and play together.  My friend and colleague, Liz Korabek-Emerson and I were talking about our class that combines mindfulness and improv.  We have come to realize that our success in this venture, (in addition to being commited and caring teachers), is that we are playful together.

What Sparks Your Playful Spirit?

Play is an important human experience and contributes to our health and wellbeing. Even neuroscience tells us that it is important for our brain!

Don’t miss the beautiful pics of dog and fawn in Neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp’s TED Tx about the science of emotions and play!

So what can we do to nurture our playful spirit? Why not take a minute and reflect on our own human experience.  Do you enjoy playing with your children?  What about watching horses frolicking, a silly dog, a funny movie?  Take a moment to think of something that makes you smile.  How does it feel in this space of divine play when you experience, watch it, remember it happening? Connection? Presence? Safety? Joy?  Love?

For me, it is all of these in these moments with my dad and son and at PILL.  And the memories are powerful too! Seeking out experiences that make us laugh and smile is like eating healthy, exercising, and meditating.  Good for the body, mind, and soul, don’t you think?

Alan Alda Has a Passion for Using Improv to Help Scientists Communicate better!

There's something about improv that opens you up to another person.-Alan Alda Click To Tweet

Building trust, developing empathy, and practicing communication skills are going on all the time in the divine play of applied improvisation activities!  Improv techniques have the potential to help us in all interactions!  One pioneer in applying improvisation is well-known and loved actor, Alan Alda! This is a great interview with him and Dan Rather that includes a couple of fun clips of students improvising, even some gibberish! And pretty nice to hear them talk so lovingly and respectfully of their wives.  I’d say, grab a cup of tea and enjoy this interview!

Stay tuned to PILL-Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab for classes open to everyone!

 

Brene Brown Suggests “Show Up for Collective Moments of Joy & Pain”!

Professor, Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW is well known for her TED Talk, research, and writing on courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. In her latest book,  “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone”, she makes the case that we are in a spiritual crisis and that “…the key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection is to show up for collective moments of joy and pain”!

The idea of collective moments of joy is exactly what seems to be happening in PILL improv play and mindfulness exercises.  Playing, laughing, and meditating together builds trust and a sense of ease with others. As a teacher, (and I bet colleague Liz Korabek-Emerson would agree) this divine play is beautiful to watch!

Brown’s book is an enaging read with a call to action for each of us and she has a zero BS mindset.  There is so much chaos, fragmentation and sadly, violence in our world today that making it a priority to connect w/ compassion seems crucial.

“…true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity.”—Brene Brown

 

What is the most powerful language in all the world?

Gibberish!

In PILL classes we have lots of fun with Gibberish activities.

We played Gibberish Poet in a recent class and one of my students shared her observation that it was wonderful to see trust developing as one person spoke Gibberish and the other translated.  We heard poems about daisies, garbage, and much more.

When you think of it, most (about 90%) of our communication is going on without words, right?  So if we put the actual content aside, which we do in many Gibberish activities we get to focus on other things:

  • Trust
  • Attentive listening
  • Self-expression
  • Relationship-building

As fun and funny as Gibberish activities can be, the deeper transformations that can take place are quite profound. In the video below you can see a top BBC Journalist in an interview with artist, Alex Sternick.  Watch it for a few minutes and focus on all the ‘stuff’ going on between these two people that isn’t about words!  Let me know what you think!

 

 

Late Bird Special! Mindfulness Meets Improv Class-Stronger together!

Does this class sound interesting to you? We love to have you join us.

Stronger Together:  The Extra Strength PILL for Connecting with Fun & Presence?

There is still room in this unique workshop series that Liz Korabek-Emerson and I piloted over the summer!  It sounds weird, but combining these two practices is easy, fun, and sometimes….transformative.

We’ve already got enough signups to run the class and want to see if there are any more takers!

Soooooo….we’re offering a $10 savings to anyone who registers between now and Monday at 6p.  Don’t wait too long though b/c there is a limited # of spots open.

Register/learn more here and look for the Late Bird Ticket!

If you have questions, email me or liz:

Liz:  Korabek@comcast.net

Me: bbbboynton@gmail.com

 

What Makes Applied Improv an Effective Strategy for Preventing Violence?

Ask any teacher of applied improv this question and you’ll likely get a variety of similar answers with a diversity of examples and approaches.  Nevertheless, it is an important question to ask right now.

After all, we seem to be surrounded by devasting violent acts. Some tragedies are manmade like this week’s horrific shooting in Las Vegas.  Some are the results of mother nature, like hurricanes Irma and Maria.  And some are a combination; as with the current situation in Puerto Rico where hurricanes caused massive destruction and we have been slow to help.

I don’t think you get to be human and not experience some kind of suffering.  Yet, minimizing it for ourselves and others seems like a compassionate and purposeful mission.  I believe fiercely in this and that there is hope. Some of which lies with students and teachers of applied improv.

Why Applied Improv?

There are several compelling reasons. First, applied improv is a way to playfully practice and grow fundamental communication skills like listening and speaking up.  All activities help with at least one of these skills while the vast majority help with both. As we practice developing these skills we build the foundation that helps us to manage conflict, embrace diversity, and give and receive constructive feedback with respect and kindness.  These are the building blocks to healthy relationships even among people with different cultures, skin colors, sexuality, age, genders….etc.

Second, participants get to be imperfect and supported at the same time.  We celebrate mistakes in improv which allows us all to be human and stay connected.  While the games of improv can lead to silly, fictional stories like eggplant and applesauce recipes, nano-weights for muscle-building, or knitting book-covers by the millions, there is an underlying and profound sense of trust-building going on. This lets us take risks, try out new behaviors,  and share ideas.  In essence, the process helps us discover who we are and who we want to be.  Our best selves can emerge with authenticity and in friendship.

Third, we get to experience ‘divine play’.  Many will nod in understanding this concept in thinking of a baby playing with his or her food and making funny sounds, dogs chasing each other on a beach, or horses frolicking in a field. This spirit of playfulness is incredibly joyful and improv lets us experience it first hand.

Fourth, as we play together we share experiences that are often, but not always funny.  We also share moments of other emotions such as sadness or anger.  These shared experiences are bonding.  Most people want to care about others and be cared about.  As our world is erupting in chaos, the importance of creating spaces and opportunities for this cannot be understated.

Fifth, a point made by improv student and retired 2nd-grade teacher, Glenna Kimball, “Having time to play together gives us the strength to cope with everything else that is going on”.  This is important b/c getting stuck in despair would be easy to do these days, but not helpful.  Making joy a priority will help us stay the course.

Where can you find an applied improv class? 

I have two businesses that involve applied improv.  One is PILL-Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab, where you’ll find basic classes and along with new projects like combining mindfulness and improv (with Korabek Training) and the upcoming version for young adults (with Project SparX out of Fireside Theatre in Newburyport, MA).  I also teach Medical Improv to healthcare professionals wherever I am invited to.  I have been as far away as Saudi Arabia!  The activities are the generally the same, but the framing involves improving critical outcomes such as patient safety, patient experience, and workforce health.

If you are an applied improv teacher, please feel free to post your related work with any links to it,  additional ideas and approaches you are using in the comment section of this blog.

Summary

Our abilities to cope with, respond to, engage in conflict about, and prevent violence all have roots in our abilities to form healthy and respectful relationships. Our social fabric may be wearing thin or unraveling, but applied improv classes can help.  And there are new teachers and approaches rising up all over the world!  Learn more at the Applied Improvisation Network.