Improv – The Long View
As anyone who has perused the Laughter for a Change website can easily tell, I am a great believer in the extraordinary power of improvisational theater to change lives and even to change the world. Now, just so there is no mistake, please do not jump to any conclusions that what I’ve just stated makes my take on improv either too serious, too intellectual, or in some way not funny enough. In fact, the opposite is true. The very things that give improvisation its power as a social change agent are the same things that lead to the best and funniest moments on the stage (and in real life since humor is such an important part of a healthy life). Those things include developing skills as a better listener, a more trusting partner, a less judgmental participant in a group creative process, a more confident creative force, and someone who recognizes that more gets done when you’re saying “yes” than when you’re saying “no” (with some obvious exceptions like don’t say “yes” when your really drunk friend wants to drive your car home).
So, the “funny” and the change go hand in hand. Which leads to a bigger point regarding the “long view” of improv. That is, a belief I have that improv is, in fact, a very important and appropriate tool in an evolutionary shift that is taking place on our planet and in each of our lives. I have already blogged on the remarkable statement of Nobel laureate James Watson and his belief regarding the next step in the evolution of mankind. And more recently, I saw a three-part documentary hosted by former improvisational actor Alan Alda called “The Human Spark” which documents his search through neuroscience, psychology, anthropology and biology for clues as to what sets us apart from other animals. Chimpanzees he shows (with the help of a top researcher of chimp behavior) have large brains that can process a lot of tasks, but what they do not have is the amazing ability that humans possess to share information. The human species has the power to collaborate, and that is one of the things that sets us apart and makes us human. The implications for this of course are immense, especially given the explosion of new media and their convergence. As a perfect example, take a look at the use in the last couple of weeks of text messaging as a tool for donating money to the relief effort in Haiti. As Jeremy Rifkin points out in a new article in the Huffington Post, the combination of the media’s reporting of the Haiti earthquake and the ability of people to use mobile phones to donate money has led to a historic and unprecedented ability to make an “active choice” (improv term) and make good on a feeling of empathy from millions of people to the tune of millions of dollars in aid to “our brothers and sisters” in Haiti. This is about collaboration and empathy and is a perfect example of the use of the tools we have at hand, both emotional and technological, to collaborate more powerfully than ever before in the history of the world.
Improvisation is all about collaboration. The tools of improv are more important now than ever. We have the tools to make (and I believe we are in the midst of) an evolutionary leap that depends on collaboration and community building, trust and compassion, honoring our own creativity and the creative abilities of all of our fellow citizens on this planet. Improv teaches those lessons. Laughter for a Change is based on the belief that the games we play allow us to practice the skills that can save our world and make it a more livable place, a more humane and healthier place, and, happily, a funnier and more fun place to live for us and for future generations.