We live in divided times, friends. Many of us are doing our best to advocate for what we believe in, and create a safer, more peaceful world. In my experience as an improviser, there are several skills and rules of improv that are hugely meaningful when applied to our peacemaking strategies - especially when it comes to differences in political or religious convictions. There are 10 to be exact! I hope these skills are as impactful in your bridge-building efforts as they have been in mine.
1. Treat your scene partner as a creative genius. If you decide to believe that someone is a creative genius, even if they might not being showing up like that in a specific moment, treat them like it! Believe that there is a reason they are on your team and that they have good ideas to bring to the table!
2. Listen with full attention. Don't just wait for your turn to talk. You might disagree with what they are saying, but truly listen!
3. Choose Curiosity over Judgement. When we are authentically curious about what values might be behind what someone believes, we might be able to find some common ground with someone. If we approach a confrontation with the interest of changing someone's opinion, we aren't going to have a productive conversation. Say your thoughts through a lens of curiosity, so you can really explore on a deeper level your common values with this person.
4. Your obligation is to yourself and your scene partner - not the audience. It's easy to get discouraged on stage if a joke doesn't land well with the audience. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we'd do anything for a laugh. In that moment, what we're really searching for is approval. But you have to stay true to yourself. When talking about politics and beliefs, it's okay to believe in something that might not necessarily get applause or recognition from the people around you. Be honest about what feels true to you.
5. It's safe to do your part and let your scene partners do their part. You can't be every character in a scene. Each person on a team has a role to play, and sometimes in life, it's easy to try and do someone else's part - especially if they're doing something in a way that might not necessarily be how you would. It's okay to not intervene in those times. Do your part and let your scene partner do theirs.
6. Silence is not an emergency. It's natural to want to fill in those gaps of silence during a scene, but it's so important to remember that silence plays an important role in comedy! It can help with the timing of a joke, or give the audience time to process the scene. Silence has a role to play in confrontations, too. If we're continuing to pile on information in a confrontation, we could derail all the good work we've been doing in that confrontation. Let silence do it's job; give people time to process what you're saying before piling on new information.
7. You're not always needed on stage. It's okay to wait backstage for a few minutes while your scene partners work through something together on stage. Just because they might be responding to an audience suggestion differently than what you may have had in mind, that doesn't mean your intervention is needed. If you don't want or need to be involved in something, don't be.
8. There is always a gift. In improv, we treat everything like a gift. Even a distraction like someone's cell phone going off during a skit or an unanticipated tech issue. You might want to feel frustrated in times when things don't go as planned, but don't miss the gift in that situation! There is ALWAYS a way forward if we stay in the spirit of play, which I can discuss in a future post :)
9. You don't need permission to edit a scene. Editing a scene means ending it temporarily. It doesn't mean you'll never go back to those characters or ideas; you can always go back to it later. Editing the scene, then moving on to something else, is actually a great way to build on those ideas in the long run. Relationship building goes the same way - you can't build a relationship overnight. Sometimes, you need to edit a scene, or pause a conversation in order to build a healthy relationship in the long run.
10. You don't have to be an expert to contribute. Some people hold themselves back from improv because they feel they aren't as funny as Tina Fey or Steve Carrell. But what those people have forgotten is that what they have to contribute is already enough. Don't ever feel like because you're not an expert at something you shouldn't give it a try. You have a unique set of experiences to bring to the table - as does your scene partner. Bring what you've got! Build when it's your turn, listen when it's your scene partner's and trust that something awesome will come from it. That's the secret to building relationships, too: a listen-build cycle built on honest, clarity, and kindness.
It's no secret that our political climate is very divisive right now; there are a lot of very personal issues being debated. In the midst of our disagreement, there’s still a way forward for good, productive dialogue if we can make use of these skills off stage.