I recently enrolled in an improv class.
Improv (short for improvisation) is a state of being and creating action without pre-planning. Commercially, improv is taught mainly as a comedic art-form.
My first class, I stepped on the stage and the lights were shining bright in my eyes. Anxiety took over my body and my heart was pounding. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I make a fool of myself? Who in the group will be my ally?
Trust became of overwhelming importance for me.
So often, we forget trust is not something you automatically receive, but something that is earned. One essential ingredient to improv is listening. If you are able to hear your partner on the stage, then you can reflect, and work together to build the scene. You must trust that what they have to say is important and you are a team. In many cases, you are nearly strangers working together to build this beautiful story that includes lots of laughter. Patience is critical.
This makes me think about the families we work with, who work to build a new life and move out of poverty. Often times we start the relationship as strangers. We cannot forget that we are on the same team, and the opposite of poverty is community.
We have a bad habit of predetermining others’ needs and telling their story for them. We become impatient and forget to listen. We fail to recognize that we ALL have something important to contribute. We forget to trust them.
I think we have something to learn from the art of improv to better build relationships across class lines to create stories of transformation. Here are a few lessons I’ve gleaned:
LISTEN | not just to react but to truly understand.
TRUST | step out on faith and remember just starting the conversation takes tremendous courage.
THERE IS AN AUDIENCE | our story is not just about us, but about the community who wants to be part of it.
HAVE FUN | it’s important to enjoy the journey and laugh some along the way.
As I continue the improv class, I’ve gotten better at working with my team and creating scenes together. We are building trust. Trust comes from sharing stories with each other over and over again. Trust builds when we feel listened to. Trust gives us motivation to take on challenges, sometimes things we’d never consider doing on our own.
Today, I went on the stage. The light was shining bright in my eyes. My heart was pounding again with anxiety. Our instructor said, “Just say something. You’re doing great. It’s your story.”
I can say anything. The courage it takes to be there is enough, I am not a fool. I have allies surrounding me waiting to listen and create a new story with me.
by Heather Cunningham — to learn more about Heather’s work, please visit thinktank-inc.org