Improv principles to help with social anxiety--input needed

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Improv principles to help with social anxiety--input needed

Postby Dan » December 2nd, 2010, 2:58 pm

Hi everyone,

I received an invitation to lead a workshop for a social anxiety group in Austin. Most people in the group have problems with thinking of how to start conversations, how to deal with anxiety that keeps them from starting conversations with people they don't know well, and how to keep a conversation going. My idea is to take some improv principles and apply them to conversations, to give people tools they can use to overcome anxiety and have great conversations. Since I'm still new to this improv stuff, I would love some feedback from all of you about my descriptions and applications of these principles. I'm also very open to suggestions for other improv principles that you think might have relevance to conversations or general interactions.
Anyhow. Here's the principles that I'm thinking of. I've got the descriptions of the principles included so that you could critique my descriptions and offer suggestions for how they could be better explained to non-improv people.

"Yes, and!" A key improv principle is "Yes, and!" It's the idea that, in an improv scene, you should always accept the ideas that the other actors bring into the scene (that's the "Yes") and build on those ideas (that's the "And). Often in improv you will have an idea in your head of how the scene will go, and it's difficult to let that go when another actor does something that contradicts the idea in your head. But good improv comes when you are willing to drop your plan and simply react to your partner, because what you can create together is always better than what you can create alone.
Similarly, in conversation, you might have a plan in your mind for how the conversation will go. You might have something you really want to talk about, or you might have developed a plan ahead of time so that you felt comfortable in the conversation. But by practicing the principle of "Yes, and!" you will how to drop your plan and react to what your partner brings to the conversation. Not only will this help you have smoother, more natural conversations, but it will give you a tool to use in conversations where you don't know what to say next or how to keep the conversation going.


"Detail/Emotion" This idea comes from an improv warmup game. In the game, you tell a partner a story from your past. The story is supposed to be a "rich" memory--something with lots of details and lots of emotional significance for you. Then, at any point, your partner can interrupt you and say "Detail!" or "Emotion!". If they say "Detail", then you must go into continuing detail of the part of the story you were just telling. So if you say "I would always ride my bike to school" and they say "Detail!" you need to talk about the color of the bike, what you passed on your bike route, where you bought the bike, etc--all of the different details about that experience. You keep describing details until you completely run out of details or your partner says "Ok", at which point you continue with your story.
If you say "Emotion", the same thing happens. You have to talk about how riding your bike made you feel, the sense of freedom you got when you rode it, etc.
In conversation, emotion/detail works as an easy-to-remember tool you can use to keep a conversation going or to deepen a conversation. Basically, when you're not sure what to say next in a conversation, just use an emotion question or a detail question. Let's say someone just mentioned that they recently returned from a trip to Italy. You're not sure what to say next, so you remember "Emotion/detail". You might ask an emotion question like "How did it feel to be in Italy for the first time?" or a detail question like "Tell me more about the museum you visited."

"Can I have a suggestion from the audience?"
Starting improv scenes is hard, so often improv actors will begin a scene with a suggestion from the audience. This might be a suggestion for the location, the characters, or an emotion. Whatever it is, it serves as an inspiration for the rest of the scene.
Similarly, starting conversations is hard, but by using a suggestion from the environment, you can get ideas for great conversation-opening questions.

Bonus principle: "I'm an alien from the planet Vorblax!" One key concept in improv is that if you do something with confidence, the audience will accept it. If you step onto the stage and announce "I'm an alien from the planet Vorblax!", and say it with confidence, the audience won't question it. In conversations, you might sometimes feel anxiety because you become concerned about how something will come across, but remember that if you present yourself in a friendly and confident way, most of the time people will accept what you're doing.

So that's what I'm thinking. The workshop would work by explaining each principle, then going through exercises that would help participants learn the principle and then apply it to conversations.

Any suggestions/comments/etc? I'd welcome any and all feedback and ideas.

Also, are there any improv games that work well with people who are not familiar with improv, particularly in a large group? I'm considering running a game of Stringing the Pearls as an introduction to improv (since people only need to contribute a single line, it shouldn't be too difficult for non-improvers) but I'd welcome other suggestions as well.

Thanks!

Dan

P.S COME TO THE FANCY PANTS MASHUP EVERYONE!
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Postby karenjanedewitt » December 2nd, 2010, 3:42 pm

The improv principle that has helped me most in my personal life is the Failure Bow or saying "I Fail!" if you do indeed mess up. Just take note that you messed up, laugh a little, and move on. Obsessing over failures, denying them, or not allowing yourself to act at all for fear of possible failure only leads to further anxiety or missed opportunity in social situations.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » December 2nd, 2010, 4:35 pm

one of the most helpful principles for me is the notion of status. i've always been the big guy with the loud voice so physically give an air of high status, and a bit insecure so especially in my younger days would overcompensate with a lot of boasting and this need to prove myself, have people think i was the best, be "alpha male," etc. which would inevitably just come across like i was a conceited jerk.

but working with status helped me realize that people tend to root for the "peasant" rather than the "king," so being more humble and self deprecating (in the form of being able to laugh about myself and perceived flaws as opposed to constantly putting myself down) seemed to ingratiate me to people more. i was able to roll with teasing and jokes at my expense better and not feel the need to engage in territorial "pissing contests" with other guys. which paradoxically all helped bolster my ACTUAL confidence and let me open up more in honest and vulnerable ways rather than putting on an assumed persona of loud bragadaccio. lose the scene, win the show. ;)

all of this, of course, has to be reenforced with your earlier point of confidence...people get tired of the sad sack always down on himself, but are drawn to those who are confident at being flawed/shy/insecure and comfortable enough in their own skin to show it. 8)

(i've also noticed it occasionally has the side effect of people telling you what you ARE awesome at...which, again, works wonders for the TRUE confidence instead of the pretend compensating kind. :P )
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Postby Dan » December 2nd, 2010, 5:00 pm

These are some great ideas guys. Keep it up :)

Also, I want to demonstrate a Stringing the Pearls game to the group before having volunteers do it themselves, and I think the easiest way to do that would be to reproduce a "recorded" game. I'd give volunteers their sentences and places ahead of time, and then they would deliver their sentences in the order they were delivered in the game.
So could all of you play a game of Stringing the Pearls for me? Let's assume 5 spaces, and space 1 is the start of the story, space 5 is the end. When you post a reply, announce which space you're taking, then write the sentence that goes there. As in the real game, spaces 1 and 5 need to be taken first, but then it can go out of order.
Also, since your sentence will be performed by a socially anxious stranger, let's keep things PG and not too awkward please :)
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Postby valetoile » December 2nd, 2010, 7:16 pm

I'd definitely start with some warm up games, especially if it's a group of people who don't know each other. One of my favorites is "come over here if..." People take turns saying "come over here if..(something true of themselves)" If that applies to you, you clump around that person. It's a loose kind of free for all game, and it gets people moving around and interacting in a low pressure way. I usually do a few myself to get it started, then let the students start yelling things out, and jump in if the energy seems to lag.

One of my favorite improv lessons is "Everything is a gift." If you are feeling insecure of yourself, it's easy to see something another person says as an attack or a stumbling block. But if you treat each offer as a gift, you maintain composure and joy and delight both people. This also deflates other people's negativity.

I can't think of any exercises about this point off hand, maybe it will spark someone else's imagination?
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Postby Spots » December 2nd, 2010, 7:48 pm

I don't know a good buzzword for this...


But the fact that the 2nd person in the scene establishes context. That's a huge factor people need to recognize.


The first line is basically just thrown out there. It's practically meaningless. Then the 2nd person establshes everything: Puts everything in context..I think this lack of control is exactly why many people have social anxiety.

It's one of the main factors for me.

Why should I approach a stranger just so they can reject me? Why go into a job interview and beg for a job so I can be laughed at?

These scenarios are all fun in an improv setting. But in real life that lack of control is terrifying.

So it becomes glaringly obvious the more improv you do, the less important it is what you use as an opener. (as long as you're positive). You can start a job interview talking about a fake lemon meringue pie you ate for breakfast. You can talk about your love of sea horses. But from there you can carve a conversation/dynamic that can go ANYWHERE.

Improv helps you become less terrified of this fact. Because it puts you in the driver seat.
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Postby Spots » December 2nd, 2010, 7:55 pm

In other words I would try experimenting with scene starts. Play a game called "Worst Opening Line Ever" where the goal for person A is to start the MOST awkward conversation ever. But person B's goal is to make the scene work however they feel. (encourage "yes and" of course, anything but straight up denying the line that was given as a gift).


So that's my advice. Play a lightning round of "Worst Opening Line Ever"
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Postby PyroDan » December 2nd, 2010, 11:43 pm

I like 5 things or 7 things because it helps to ease people out of self editing, which is usually a huge sticking point for people being anxious and lockjawed.
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Postby Asaf » December 3rd, 2010, 10:27 am

Two things that I tell people in my intro classes are this:

"Mistakes take a moment. Worrying about mistakes can take forever. Which length of time do you prefer?"

AND

"There are no such things as mistakes in improv, only unexpected results."

The difference is that mistakes are things we try to undo, correct, erase, etc. while unexpected results are still building materials.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » December 3rd, 2010, 11:41 am

Spots wrote:In other words I would try experimenting with scene starts. Play a game called "Worst Opening Line Ever" where the goal for person A is to start the MOST awkward conversation ever. But person B's goal is to make the scene work however they feel. (encourage "yes and" of course, anything but straight up denying the line that was given as a gift).


So that's my advice. Play a lightning round of "Worst Opening Line Ever"


i would say save something like this for towards the end. people might be hesitant to make fun of themselves at the beginning, whereas they might be more comfortable with it towards the end. and since Person B is also in the workshop, it takes some of the pressure off of them for having to justify someone else's "awkwardness" right up front when they're there to work on their own because they'll have the skills and comfort they've learned IN the workshop to cope with it.

Asaf wrote:Two things that I tell people in my intro classes are this:

"Mistakes take a moment. Worrying about mistakes can take forever. Which length of time do you prefer?"

AND

"There are no such things as mistakes in improv, only unexpected results."

The difference is that mistakes are things we try to undo, correct, erase, etc. while unexpected results are still building materials.


yes. this. ALWAYS this.
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Postby Spots » December 3rd, 2010, 12:58 pm

Great points Jordan & Asaf. It's true that worrying about "breaking the rules" or "getting it right" ate up unnecessary time for me & many improvisers. Latching on a good philosophy toward "mistakes" seems to do wonders.

How about some suggestions for games that would help *a mistake philosophy* sink in? For folks suffering with SAD some games that don't hit a snag or skip a beat when people mess up would really be beneficial. (games that don't require any adjustments midgame)

Something that comes to mind: A name game that I played with Shana (I forget the name of it) where we form 2 circles and basically call out a person's name as you point to them. Try to go faster & faster. Inevitably you will take a chance and fuck up. Then you proudly bow out as people applaud you and join the other circle assuming a super hero pose while saying "i messed up!". All the while the game never skips a beat as other people are also taking chances and fucking up all around you.

You actually do a disservice in that game by always getting it right. You don't experence the "fun" of the exercise.
Last edited by Spots on December 3rd, 2010, 3:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » December 3rd, 2010, 1:25 pm

Spots wrote:Great points Jordan & Asaf. It's true that worrying about "breaking the rules" or "getting it right" ate up unnecessary time for me & many improvisers. Latching on a good philosophy toward "mistakes" seems to do wonders.

For folks suffering with SAD there are some games that don't hit a snag or skip a beat when people mess up.

Something that comes to mind: A name game that I played with Shana (I forget the name of it) where we form 2 circles and basically call out a person's name as you point to them. Try to go faster & faster. Inevitably you will take a chance and fuck up. Then you proudly bow out as people applaud you and join the other circle assuming a super hero pose while saying "i messed up!" and join that circle.

I thought that game was the perfect name game/introduction to improv.


The explanation provides itself to the player. It's like "duh! so THIS is what improv is all about.


absolutely. games that are high pace and high energy and built to encourage and GUARANTEE failure would work best for this, because you don't have time to think "i'm failing." you just fail and everyone laughs (including you) and move on to the next awesome failure. 8)

bippity bippity bop comes immediately to mind. ;)
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Postby Spots » December 3rd, 2010, 1:40 pm

(I'm a serial post editor, Jordan! I still worry about "getting it right!)

Absolutely! Related note: I love Asaf's 101. I took it even while in 301 because the exercises sort of barrage you and instantly make you feel like a super herro. Just one awesome thing after the next with no hesitation (this was my experience anyways).

After class I remember standing around outside with fellow students:

Me: Man we did this game and this game... man what else did we do?"
Student: I forget. We did so much.
Me: Oh! We did *this game* too!
Student: Oh yeah, that was awesome. Well see you next week!


It really seemed to minimize the amount of beating yourself up. You just come out of class with energy and feeling. Not really dwelling on the rules of various games or your performance (adherence to rules, whether or not it was funny, whatever). I definitely love a good barrage.
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Postby jillybee72 » December 5th, 2010, 10:08 pm

Les McGehee's book has a wonderful Johnstone exercise called "Two Eyes" that teaches yes and, and is performed seated in pairs. Each pair has a piece of paper that already has two dots on it. The dots are eyes, and we work as a team to make a face out of it. You draw one line, then I draw another until it's done, then we name it by alternating writing a letter.

Enemy/Defender works well too. In Enemy/Protector, everyone walks around the room, filling empty space with moving bodies. Everyone, silently and without signaling their choice, thinks of the name of one person in the group. This person is their enemy. They then think of the name of another person in the group. This person is their protector. The leader calls, "Go," and everyone's job is to keep their protector between them and their enemy. In the second round, you keep equal distance between you and your enemy.
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Postby valetoile » December 6th, 2010, 12:01 am

jill! Those are like my two favorite games ever!
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