Do you remember that scene from The Miracle Worker when Helen Keller finally understands the lessons of teacher Annie Sullivan? The moment that a student understands a lesson is probably the most inspiring moment for teachers. It fills us with a feeling of profound gratitude. My favorite A Ha, Ha Ha experience happens during the second class of our improv level 1 program.
The first class paves the way for second class. The first class focuses on the basics of every first class, i.e. rules and expectations, basic lesson, review of the class.
The rules of the program are:
Keep yourself safe, and your partner safe
Be unique in your choice
So far, so good right? Right.
Then we cover expectations. First, we explain that we respect our students and ask for the same. We explain how we might look like adults, but are really big kids that like to play well with others. If we have to be adults we will, but we’d rather not have to resort to that.
The two most important expectations are:
There will be NO THINKING in this class. Improv is about using the first idea that comes to mind. If you’re thinking chances are you’re editing your first thoughts and instincts.
You will FAIL! We expect you to FAIL! We encourage you to FAIL! Then we explain the benefit of a mistake. We also explain that we do not encourage anyone to try to fail. Trying to fail is like trying to be funny and it always comes across as fake. But when we honestly fail or make a mistake we celebrate it and move on. We give permission for mistakes to happen and express that our class is a non-judgment zone. No one is to judge another.
We then play games improv games that focus on the basic tenets of improvisation such as observing, connecting and responding. Inevitably the students will make mistakes, and we will celebrate each mistake with applause and cheers.
The next lesson explains the core of improvisation, which is to collaborate and communicate through “Yes And.” The importance of these two words means we will accept the idea presented and add-on.
“Yes,” I hear the offer. “And” I will accept and build.
No matter what the offer “Yes And”.
Player A: “Let’s go to the movies.”
Player B: “Yes and I’ll buy the popcorn.”
Player A: “Let’s clean the house.”
Player B: “Yes and I’ll vacuum if you dust.”
Sometimes the offer can be perplexing, difficult, frustrating. In those instances, we need to allow ourselves to breathe and then communicate with “Yes And”
Player A: “Let’s go skydiving.”
Player B: “Yes, and I’ll take pictures of you from the ground.”
After this lesson, we play games to cement the concept. Finally, we warm down with a basic review of the class and shared experiences.
The second class is no doubt my favorite! After a basic review of the lessons from the previous class we launch into playing one of my favorite games for all ages “Slow Mo Warriors of DOOM!”
Two teams are created and we form two battle lines facing the other team. We are ourselves with our “poisonous swords of DOOM”, which are our arms from fingertip to elbow. Then in slow motion, we approach the other team. If someone moves fast, they are eliminated. If they get tapped on the body they must have an epic Oscar-worthy death. Then I ask as if I forgot the answer “what did I say is the most important expectation of this program?” I’ll pause a few seconds in search of the answer then drop it and start the game.
We play the song Mortal Kombat and it’s game on! One by one they kids die in slow motion and lie on the floor. Eventually, there are two kids that circle around and around refusing to get to close. However one will succeed and the teacher will use their powers to eliminate the last player standing. While all the students are on the floor we’ll what is the main expectation of this program? Pause and then ask “who won.”
Someone will say the last person standing.
We’ll then respond with there is more than one answer to a question. Again we’ll ask “Who won?"
Another will offer “no one because we all died”.
Now it starts to get interesting because they start to view the game from differently. “Who won?”
“We all won because we all accepted the offer.”
They seem pretty pleased with their response, and another will add on to it saying “because we all played well with others”.
Then we’ll ask “Who won first?”
And what happens next is that A Ha Ha Ha moment.
That person will shout out in perplexed disbelief “I won first!”
“Why did you win first?” We’ll ask.
“Because I accepted the offer and failed first”
We’ll then talk about the lesson, and they’ll share that their death was the best part of the game. Some have said that the focus of play was more fun than trying to win. Some will say they died too fast. Then, they’ll ask to play it again, and when they do their death scene, their epic fail is definitely Oscar worthy.
The first time I ran this class a student said: “we failed to succeed the task.” And that statement blew my mind because depending on how you look at it he was correct.