Joan Littlewood, the deviant director
In 1958, British theatre director Joan Littlewood received an official letter from the British government saying she was being prosecuted.
The crime? Not sticking to the script.
You see, it was technically illegal in Britain for plays to deviate from the officially sanctioned script (only in 1968 did an Act put an end to 230 years of such censorship). And Joan Littlewood and her theatre company was famous for her improvisations. No two performances were the same. Sometimes, even the actors were surprised by what would unfold.
Laurence Olivier, arguably Britain's greatest trained actor, said of her: "I wish I could work that way. But I'm a trained parrot".
Now, it's the other way around
We live in times where, in the long term, you pay the penalty for sticking to the script. Your employers and customers may want predictability today, but they want better and new things from you tomorrow. They want you to break the script, for "Delight" lies outside the script.
And the far-sighted among us realise that "a human who only operates by a script"is a human going to be replaced by"a program using that script".
Have you seen the TV series"Whose Line is it Anyway?". It illustrates the wonderfully nimble art of "Improv" or "improvisational theatre". Performers are given an unusual, unfamiliar situation and a starting point. When you watch them react, it's like magic. You can't believe it's all unscripted. It seems too polished to be true. Naturally, the answer lies in practice. These performers have years of exposure to "improv" under their belt.
Improv to Improve
There are many reasons why those of us not into theatre should think of bringing its practice into our lives, whether inside a company or at home:
It teaches nimbleness of mind. True agility!
You learn to lean on each other. Improv is like passing a large, fragile bubble from one person to another. Very easy to ruin.
It makes you listen very carefully. It's unlikely you will be tweeting while you play (unless your name is Trump!).
It fosters "Yes, and..." behaviour. In Improv, you have to build on what has gone before you. You can't reject a situation or development because you don't like it. So say "yes", accept it, "and..." take it forward.
It sparks connections. In Improv, 1+1 is not just 11, it could also lead to ii.
It encourages you to reframe the way you deal with unexpectedness, of working outside the given script. Turn that discomfort on its head. In Improv, we are all equally vulnerable.
As for bonding, fun, failing fast, etc., you get them for free.
And now it's your turn
In recent times, we've been exploring the use of 'improv games' as a practice ground to get better at a variety of upleveling objectives in communication and innovation. Like the actors in Joan Littlewood's plays, we often have no clue where things will lead. But we know we will be surprised!
So here's a prompt for you:
“You are sending your clone to work instead of you. What instructions will you give him/her to survive the day?"
(And bonus points if you post your response below.)