This is Sam. This is a blog that I posted on my author's page (www.samjtanner.com). I'm posting it here as well, because it's about improv. Thanks for reading. If you enjoy this, check out my books on Amazon.
My sons Solomon and Samson were fighting in the other room.
"You're Pa Pa Booey," Solomon screamed at Samson.
Samson howled. "No, I'm not. I'm Samson! You're Pa Pa Booey."
"No, I'm not Pa Pa Booey. I'm Solomon. You're Pa Pa Booey!"
"No, I'm Samson. You're Pa Pa Booey!"
Solomon is four. Samson is two. Their fights mostly involve intense yelling. And howling. Gnashing of teeth.
My wife Katie broke the boys up. She told them that nobody was Pa Pa Booey. Still, the exchange above has happened any number of times over the last two months. Solomon accuses Samson of being Pa Pa Booey. Samson denies this. He accuses Solomon of being Pa Pa Booey. Solomon denies this. The cycle continues. They fight. Katie breaks them up.
Who is Pa Pa Booey? Beats the hell out of me.
Later, Solomon was brushing his teeth. He looked up at me.
"Dad, I'm not Solomon. I'm Pa Pa Booey."
Solomon had scrunched his face, and was speaking with a deep baritone. Was he playing a character? Yes, he certainly was. This was Pa Pa Booey.
"Are you Pa Pa Booey, Solomon?" I asked him.
"I'm not Solomon," he yelled at me with a deep voice, "I'm Pa Pa Booey."
"Okay," I told him. Solomon continued to explore this new character. Each sentence began in third-person, before moving to first-person. Like this:
"Pa Pa Booey is nine years old. It's my birthday tomorrow. I'll be ten."
"You'll be ten, Pa Pa Booey?" I asked him. "What do you want for your birthday?"
"Pa Pa Booey wants a really fast watch. With Toejam and Earl on it."
Solomon wanted a Paw Patrol watch for his fourth birthday. With Ryder on it. Clearly, Solomon's performance of Pa Pa Booey was rooted, as all acting is, in his own experience. Pa Pa Booey was older than Solomon, and it seemed clear he would want a Toejam and Earl watch instead of a Paw Patrol watch.
Solomon marched out of the bathroom. He strode through the house with his fists at his side, and with great confidence. He spent about twenty minutes as Pa Pa Booey before returning to Solomon, to himself.
I was impressed by my son's performance. I was an acting teacher in a previous life. I would coach my students to conjure characters. I provoked them to make choices with their bodies, voices, and faces to portray these new people. Solomon made strong choices when he walked around our house as Pa Pa Booey without any coaching.
Improvisation is all about creating characters.
Happy Valley Improv continues to flourish. I'm teaching an level one improv class this spring. It's joyful. I'm so glad to be teaching improv again. Still, I remember what hard work it is to get people to explore different characters.
"We are always playing characters in our real lives," I've told any number of classes during my career. "Acting simply requires us to better understand the people we play, and transform into different version of ourselves."
Metaphysical, right? I believe this, though. Ninenty-percent of the the challenge of getting people to succeed at improv is convincing them to let go of their normal selves, whatever that might mean to them. The teacher or director or whatever needs to create a space where people are provoked to imagine and inhabit different people. They have to really believe in this transformation for it to work. Tricky work.
People seem so convinced that we have a true, normal self. Imagining that we might become (or already be) different people seems ridiculous, scary, whatever. This is the power of improvisation for me. Acting too. If we do it well, we actually transform what we are. And I believe that people have a transformational relationship with reality. We transform and are transformed by our relationship with the creation. Improv provides a particular way to embrace the shifting natures of what and where we are. We tell and inhabit new stories and, if we do this with sincerity, we can't help but be changed by the process. Deep, eh? Maybe. Seems deep to me, anyway. Important.
It seemed so natural for Solomon to imagine and inhabit Pa Pa Booey. And he did so without any shame. He was so sincere. I embraced his transformation. Like a director of improv, I coached Solomon to further explore this new character.
I asked questions. I played with him within the context of his improvisational game. What is Pa Pa Booey's favorite color? How old is Pa Pa Booey? What does Pa Pa Booey do for fun? Etc.
Pa Pa Booey was so different from Solomon. Solomon is somewhat shy. He's timid, too. Pa Pa Booey was powerful and assertive. These are traits that Solomon doesn't usually exhibit. It was interesting to watch my son use his character to play with different elements of his being. Transformational? Who is to say? Still, I believe it is always good for us to explore different facets of our being. Children might do this naturally. Maybe adults learn that it's not appropriate to act out of character, to improvise. Certainly, I was admonished when I acted out of character as a teacher. At least out of the character my peers and supervisors expected me to play. I think that adults should improvise more. We might better understand ourselves. We might open up more possiblities for our relationship with the creation.
We should take our lead from Solomon. We should play more. It might be good for us.
Happy Valley Improv is excited to announce our participation in this year's RAWR Improv Comedy Festival. Happy Valley Improv will be performing on Friday, April 6th, at 7pm. The festival will take place in room 111 of the Forum Building on Penn State's Campus. Admission is Free but we request that our fans help keep the RAWR festival an annual event by supporting in anyway they can by donating here: https://www.youcaring.com/fullammoimprov-1083222. To help with the funding, Happy valley Improv is giving $1 per ticket sold to our April 5th Show back to the RAWR Festival.
We asked the students behind the event, the Full Ammo Improv Troupe (website | facebook | twitter | youtube), to tell us more. This is what they had to say!
The RAWR Improv Comedy Festival is Penn State’s celebration of all things improv. RAWR VII Creature from the Black Lagoon will be Penn State's own student Improv Troupe Full Ammo's seventh festival! For this weekend of fun, we have teams from all over the country coming to perform right on our campus. This year, we have college, indie, and professional teams coming to show their skills in improvised comedy and we’re excited to share their family friendly talent with you! (The content of the improv sets aren't required to be focused around cult classic horror movies, only our set, theme, and decorations will be!! Despite the name and decorations, this will not be a haunted house-esque event and is not designed to scare anyone)
The festival is two days long, running from Friday April 6th from 6:30pm to 10:15pm and Saturday April 7th from 1pm to 11pm. Come and go as you please during any point of the weekend to watch some amazing comedy created completely on the spot by insanely talented improvisers! This festival is a must-see for anybody in State College who likes to laugh and have a good time and it’s completely FREE! Want to get on stage and join the fun? You can do some improvising yourself in our jam with all of the improvisers after the show on BOTH NIGHTS!
Check out our Facebook event page for the schedule of teams and more info on Full Ammo! https://www.facebook.com/events/155223418492484/
Want to help keep this festival a staple in the performing arts community of Penn State? Donate HERE! https://www.youcaring.com/fullammoimprov-1083222
We rely on donations from kind, fun loving people like you to allow the tradition of a successful RAWR weekend to continue!! Thank you!!
We hope to see you there!!
Even though Happy Valley Improv does not have any events happening, State College and the rest of Happy Valley has a plethora of options to keep you occupied over the weekend! Here are a few events:
1. Hops & Vines
“Christie Clancy and Jonathan McVerry join forces for original covers, originals, eclectic pop and rock and damn good fun. #RockandRoll”
Start Time: March 23 @ 6 pm
Location: Big Spring Spirits
Address: 198 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823
Phone: (814) 353-4478
2. Miranda Lambert
“The Livin’ Like Hippies Tour receives its name from the lyrics of Lambert’s aptly titled song “Highway Vagabond” which appears on The Nerve side of Lambert’s 24-song, double album, The Weight Of These Wings. Joining Lambert on the Livin’ Like Hippies Tour for all dates is Capitol Records Nashville’s Jon Pardi. In addition to Pardi, for select dates, Lambert has tapped Brent Cobb, the Turnpike Troubadours, Lucie Silvas, the Steel Woods, Sunny Sweeney, Ashley McBryde and Charlie Worsham to perform. “
Start Time: March 23 @ 7 pm
Location: Bryce Jordan Center
Address: 127 Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, PA 16802
3. Mister Rogers 50th Anniversary
“The Mister Rogers Neighborhood stamp will be released on Friday, March 23. Mr. McFeely invites everyone in the neighborhood to join him for a stamp dedication event at the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte on Saturay, March 24 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Meet Mr. McFeely. Bring an envelope and the American Philatelic Society will give you a Mister Rogers stamp to mail form their post office. Pose with the WPSU Daniel Tiger and Trolley TV props. Make a stamp cachet. Kids 8 and under take home a Daniel Tiger activity booklet.”
Start Time: March 24 @ 2 pm
Location: American Philatelic Society
Address: 100 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823
Phone: (814) 863-6223
4. Spring Awakening Presented By The Penn State Thespians
“Based on Frank Wedekind’s groundbreaking and controversial play (once banned in Germany), Spring Awakening tells the story of sexual awakening, youth revolt, and self-discovery in a new century. It’s 1891, and grown-ups hold all the cards. Headstrong Melchior and naive Wendla stumble into each others’ arms, passionate and curious, while anxious Moritz struggles to live up to the stringent expectations of society. With only each other for guidance, this group of young men and women travel the fraught and rocky path of adolescence, discovering their bodies, their minds, and themselves along the way. An electric, vibrant celebration of youth and rebellion, Spring Awakening fuses issues of morality, sexuality, and rock and roll into a story that packs a powerful emotional punch.”
Start Time: March 24 @ 1:30 pm AND 7:30 pm
Location: Schwab Auditorium
Address: Schwab Auditorium, State College, PA 16801
Phone: (814) 865-5340
5. The Zombies (with special guest Don DiLego)
“The second U.K. band following the Beatles to score a #1 hit in America, The Zombies infiltrated the airwaves with the sophisticated melodies, breathy vocals, choral back-up harmonies and jazzy keyboard riffs of their 1960’s hit singles “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.” Ironically, the group broke-up just prior to achieving their greatest success – the worldwide chart-topping single “Time of the Season,” from their swan-song album Odessey & Oracle, ranked #100 in Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time.’ To this day, generations of new bands have cited The Zombies’ work as pop touchstones, and the band continues to be embraced by new generations of fans.
Don has released 5 studio albums and 1 full-length score for the motion picture “Ranchero.” His last album, ‘Magnificent Ram A’, (One Little Indian/Velvet Elk) was “DiLego’s Masterpiece” if you are to believe No Depression, and a “Stunner of a record”, if you’re willing to concede that opinion to Paste Magazine. Either way, Don was quite pleased with the album title, which he scribed after his umpteenth trip to The Museum of Natural History, in NYC, where he currently resides, on Avenue C.”
Start Time: March 25 @ 8 pm
Location: The State Theatre
Address: 130 W College Ave, State College, PA 16801
Phone: (814) 272-0606
Enjoy your weekend! To stay updated on all things Happy Valley Improv by joining our mailing list, following us on Twitter (@HV_Improv) & Instagram (@HappyValleyImprov) and liking us on Facebook!
As we grow older, there tend to be fewer and fewer opportunities to step outside the proverbial box. There comes a point where each day is like the last unless we force ourselves to try something new. While there are benefits to sticking to your routine, trying something new can help you grow in unexpected ways.
There are any number of ways for people to grow. You can learn new computer languages through Coursera, go on a yoga retreat in Australia, or volunteer for one of these crazy projects. This article, however, is going to talk about taking an improv class.
A wide range of articles have explored the benefits of improv training. From this general article in Forbes, to this article in the Atlantic on using improv as therapy for anxiety, to this article in US News on the health benefits of improv, to this one from the Startup Institute on how improv will make you better at business. I don’t want to recreate the wheel, but what I do want to do is explore why people took their first improv class.
The following are quotes from improvisors around the country I spoke with asking the simple question of: Why did you take your first improv class?
Thus I present to you, 10 Types of People Who Take an Improv Class
1. Someone who wants to learn improv.
Basic but true. Many people hear about improv and are curious. Gina Dugan, member of ImprovCity in Irvine, California (website | facebook | twitter | instagram), told me, “I wanted to learn the skill of improv in the most basic sense.” and Mona replied with, “I had always wanted to do it, and I felt it was a good way to get my mind thinking in a different way. Once I started, I realized I did not want to stop.”
Olivia Traini, from Arcade Comedy Theater (website | facebook | twitter) and Unplanned Comedy (website | facebook | twitter | youtube) in Pittsburgh, PA said, “I've wanted to perform comedy ever since I realized I could make people laugh. I also read Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. She spoke highly of the impact improv had on her life, and I wanted a taste!”
2. Someone looking for new friends in a new city.
Making friends as an adult is hard. We like to joke about this, but it’s a reality many of us face. Taking an improv class can introduce you to a welcoming community and help you create a community of your own.
Allison Gross from the Baltimore Improv Group (website | facebook | twitter) admitted, “I was always interested in comedy and making people laugh. But the real reason I started doing improv was to make friends in a new city.” Nilesh Shah from Irony City Improv (website | facebook | twitter) has a similar response: “I was living in a new city after college and had a hard time meeting people and finding things to do.”
Sometimes it’s not moving to a new city, but moving back home that can be tough. Emily, another member of Arcade Comedy Theater, told me, “I had moved back to my hometown and realized that I was only hanging out with my 1 and only friend from high school who was still here. I needed a way to make new friends, so I decided taking a class would be a good way to go. It was between improv and dark room photography, so I figured actually seeing people’s faces would help with building friendships.”
3. Someone who sees an improv show and say, wow that’s cool.
“Improv breeds joy.” That’s what Happy Valley Improv (website | facebook | twitter | instagram) founding member Sam Tanner likes to say. And I cannot argue with that statement. For many people, seeing their first improv show just hooks them, and hooks them real good! Another founding member of Happy Valley Improv, Nate Rufo, wrote a blog about how he, “...went to a show during the 2013 Charleston Comedy Festival and was so enamored with the art form that I signed up for classes two weeks later.”
Nilesh Shah, besides wanted to meet new people, had a very similar experience. “I saw a show at The Second City, and at the end of the show, they say they have classes. So I thought, hey, that looks fun!”
Kayleigh, another member of Arcade Comedy Theater in Pittsburgh, recalls, “ I studied abroad in Montreal and found an improv theater. I went to see a show and the performers were insanely talented. I wanted to learn from them”
4. Someone who is preparing for an audition.
David Razowski was the first teacher to convince me that improv is acting. I’ve been a different improviser since. It shouldn’t have been such a surprise; improv is about storytelling and creating characters and scenes. How did I not see this before? This is why many people who are preparing for an audition take improv classes. Alex from Theatre 99 (website | facebook) in Charleston, SC, took his first class “...in preparation for an audition. I really wanted that part.” Not sure if he got it, but I’m going to guess finding improv outweighed getting the part.
5. Someone who wants to be better at stand-up comedy.
This is where I fall. As with most people, I felt that improv was about telling jokes and being funny. During college I was doing stand-up and figured improv would help. Jay Black is a stand-up mentor of mine and I remember telling him I was going to take improv classes. “Most improvisors don’t like stand up” he told me. I can see why as they are two completely different artforms. Luckily there are a good number of people, including myself, who can see the differences and the joy both can bring.
Christopher Scriva, another member of Unplanned Comedy in Pittsburgh, had a very similar experience. When asked he told me, “I originally signed up for an improv class to improve my on-stage presence as a stand-up comedian and writing ability but I am now hooked for life and enjoy performing improv as often as possible.”
6. Someone looking for a place to be themself.
As corny as it may sound to an outsider, improv provides a safe space to just be you. This life can be crazy hard to navigate alone; I truly believe an improv community can help anyone struggling to get on a solid path. Lyndale Starks of Spectacles Improv Engine (website | facebook | twitter | instagram | youtube) in Fullerton California was very open when telling me her reasons. “To be more social. I have depression and anxiety and I wanted to meet people. An improv class was the best place because I already believed I was funny and I knew if people seen that side of me I'll make friends. Improv is a safe zone for me. When I'm improvising I can truly be myself.”
7. Someone forcing themself to try something outside their comfort zone.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, trying something new can be difficult. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t brave individuals out there pushing themselves daily. Kayleigh also told me, “I joined my college improv team with no experience or skill, and often felt like I wasn't very good at it. I was forcing myself to try something outside my comfort zone so I could better myself, but it was painfully embarrassing at times...Now, years later, I am on a house team at Arcade Comedy Theater. ”
8. Someone struggling with perfection.
How can improv help if you’re struggling with being a perfectionist? Emily also told me, “ I was listening to a lot of comedy podcasts at the time, namely the Nerdist with Chris Hardwick. He discussed with several different guests how improv helps with being able to live in the moment and being OK with failure – ie you do a bad scene, but hey, that’s only 5 minutes of your life. I’ve struggled a lot with perfectionism in the past, so I felt that this would teach me some valuable life skills. I’m not completely cured by any means, but really did help!”
9. Someone who does tech for improv shows.
Tech for improv shows? What? Yes. One of the most important parts of an improv show is the gal/guy on lights (my wife, Kimberly, does the lights for Happy Valley Improv and she tells me it is super stressful. She actually plans on taking a class once it’s taught by someone who isn’t her husband.) Dave Hart, also of Arcade Comedy Theater, seems to have had the same experience. “I was a tech guy. I always loved watching Whose Line? I felt super nervous when I needed to pull lights on improvisors onstage. I had an opportunity to take a class to learn. Needless to say, I now perform almost once a week and haven't been a tech for a show in ages.”
10. Someone who is terrified of improv.
Yes. Another member of Specatcles Improv Engine told me, “I took improv because I was terrified of it :)” Smiley face and all.
Taking an improv class can be very beneficial. From just wanting to learn more, to finding new friends, to helping with anxiety. I hope you take a chance and seek out your local improv theatre to take a class!
I hope you become the next type of person on this list. If you are in State College and want to learn more about what Happy Valley Improv has to offer or to sign up for the level one improv class, visit the classes page.
Thank you for reading. Until next time...
We here at Happy Valley Improv often get the Monday blues. Here are THREE ways we prepare to get through the week!
1. Wake Up On Time
We know, this might sound like a silly thing to do on a Monday morning. However, by waking up on time (or even earlier) not only will your day be off to a great start, but so will your week. We are all victims of hitting the snooze button a few times too many (especially at the start of the week), but try waking up early and getting ready for the day. You will be on time, but you will also be in a great mood!
2. Plan, Plan, Plan
Planning your week allows you to stay organized and on task. The amount of unnecessary stress that can be avoided by doing this is extreme. While you’re at it, don’t forget to plan some time to check out Happy Valley Improv’s show at The State Theatre on April 5!
3. Be Positive
It is easy to allow all of the overwhelming tasks to build up, but don’t forget to be positive along the way! Being an improv troupe, we try to center our lives around positivity and although it is not always simple, the results are what makes it all worth it.
If you enjoyed this, check out our other blog posts!
Also, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@HV_Improv), Instagram (@HappyValleyImprov), and throw us a like on Facebook!
Even though Happy Valley Improv does not have any events happening, State College and the rest of Happy Valley has a plethora of options to keep you occupied over the weekend! Here are a few events:
1. From Centre County: Through a Lens
“Join us to view a variety of photographers while sipping local wines from Mount Nittany Vineyard & Winery and enjoying tasty Hors d’oeuvres by local caterer, Paul’s Provisions. 10% of the proceeds from opening night sales will go to the Centre County Historical Society. Local artists include Gerald Lang & Jennifer Tucker, Chuck Fong, Thomas Berner, Art Heim, Pat Little, Bob Lambert.”
Start Time: March 16 @ 5:30 pm
Location: State College Framing Co. and Gallery
Address: 160 Rolling Ridge Drive, State College, PA, 16801
Phone: (814) 234-7336
2. For The Love Of Fiber 2018
“For the Love of Fiber is a local event celebrating fibercraft. It is held by the Centre Knitters Guild in collaboration with the Spinners, Weavers, and Embroidery guilds of Centre County. FLoF features fibercraft vendors, a silent auction, mini classes and demos, and guild members who are more than happy to share the love of their craft with you.
This is a wonderful learning experience for all ages and admission is free! (Donations and food bank donations are accepted). We hope to see you there!”
Start Time: March 17 @ 10 am
Location: Ramada Inn and Conference Center
Address: 1450 S Atherton St, State College, PA, 16801
3. Lady Grey’s Wonderland
*This show is restricted to patrons 18 and over, due to mature content*
“We’re all mad here! Come fall down the rabbit hole with Lady Grey and her Lovelies as they share their unique and enchanted interpretation of Alice, complete with your favorite quirky caterpillars, cards, cats, and queens! Dress in your tea party and croquet tournament finest, lest you annoy the Queen of Hearts!
Featuring: Bearcat Betty (Frederick, MD) as The Mad Hatter, Lady Grey (State College, PA) as the Queen of Hearts, Mary Jane Twatson (Philadelphia, PA) as Alice, and Lady Grey’s Lovelies.”
Start Time: March 17 @ 8 pm
Location: The State Theatre
Address: 130 West College Ave, State College, PA, 16801
Phone: (814) 272-0606
4. Encaustic 101: Play with Wax
“Learn the basics of working with encaustic wax - an alternative to traditional painting. This class is focused on fun and experimentation. Each person takes home their own piece of artwork. You will learn how to apply, fuse and manipulate wax. No experience necessary.”
Start Time: March 18 @ 5 pm
Location: The Makery State College
Address: Calder Alley, State College, PA, 16801
Phone: (814) 571-8113
5. Anne Sullivan, harp, and Friends
“Harpist Anne Sullivan will perform a solo recital on the UUFCC Music Series on Sunday, March 18. The program will include works by C.P.E. Bach, Zabel, Flothuis, and Cui. The featured work will be Carlos Salzedo's Scintillation for solo harp. Ms. Sullivan will be joined by flutist Diane Gold Toulson for a Phantasy on Japanese Folk Songs, and clarinetist Smith Toulson will join them to perform a trio by the Russian composer Cesar Cui.”
Start Time: March 18 @ 3 pm
Location: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County
Address: 780 Waupelani Drive, State College, PA, 16801
Phone: (814) 237-7605
Enjoy your weekend! To stay updated on all things Happy Valley Improv follow us on Twitter (@HV_Improv), Instagram (@HappyValleyImprov) and like us on Facebook!
This is Sam. I’m going to write about covenants in this blog. This seems like a fitting thing for me to do. Jewish blood runs in these veins. I come from a long line of prophets. And the prophet speaks, now (in the third-person):
We spent time coming up with answers to a very simple question last weekend. What is improvisation?
You might think this is a silly question for an improv company to take up. Especially after we’ve been working together for over a year. You’d be wrong, my friend. Improv is a many splendored thing. And by that, I mean improv is complicated.
Improvisation is not a concrete art. There are different, competing traditions, and folks conceptualize improvisation in all sorts of ways. All of us have years of experience with improv. But we come from different places. We kept meaning to come up with our tenets as Happy Valley Improv, but it just never happened.
Until we decided to expand our troupe.
We held auditions in January. People participated in a three-day audition. Afterwards, we realized that we needed specific language to describe how we were evaluating improvisers. Further, how were we evaluating ourselves? What ideology were we adhering to?
We made lists. We scrutinized every word. We spent a Sunday afternoon agonizing over our work. We cut things. We edited. What did we believe? Why did we believe it? Our work resulted in the following covenant. Read it with reverence, my friend. We share it with collective solemnity.
I’m not going to go through these beliefs in detail, here. That’s an academic paper. And a book. And a novel. And an epoch. There’s so much work to be found in explicating and nuancing the ideas above. At least for me. I believe that the five statements above contain something that points to the mystery of living well. Go read my books for elucidation:
Excuse me. That was a self-promotional hiccup. But seriously, these two books are about the improvisational nature of my being. So is my upcoming book, Playing with Sharp Objects. Improv, in concert with other things, has taught me how to live. And the five statements above are central to how I see human beings living well (and healthily) with each other. Especially in our precarious age.
I’m proud to be part of a community that adheres to the tenets above. We’re proud to be building such a community.
Yes, improv is joyful and funny. Ridiculous too. But it also might provide alternative ways for people to be. And the five tenets above might guide us in that direction.
So sayeth the prophet.
I love making resolutions. I know that I’m in the minority on that one. But my approach to Resolutions is less guilt-based, less drudgery, and more fun. I use New Year Resolutions as a chance to take stock of my life, habits, and intentions, and to make changes—big and small—that I WANT to make. Not changes that I feel like I SHOULD do because I’m SUPPOSED to. I use Resolutions as an opportunity to give myself permission to do what I’ve got to do to be the me I want to be.
This is not to say that I don’t fall short. Last year, I truly did WANT to cultivate my avian appreciation skills, so I made a resolution to keep track of all the birds I spotted. Well, that didn’t work out and my specially-designed birding checklist was consigned to a makeshift grocery shopping list in no time. Oh well. I’ll try again on that one. Or maybe not.
Another resolution I made a few years ago was to go ziplining. That one I technically met because I did get on a zipline in my cousin’s backyard, but I only made it halfway across because I let go when I realized that I was too scared to stop myself by bracing my feet against the oncoming tree. The result was a spectacular, face-first fall into the mud below, which was not my finest hour, but it was hilarious for all who were watching. I like bringing joy to others.
A few years ago, I resolved to try improv comedy. So when I found a weekend camp for that, I signed up quickly before I could talk myself out of it. The rest is history (read my other blog post about that.) Lots of people have asked me why on earth it even occurred to me to pick up a new hobby, and why improv of all hobbies. So below I’m going to list some of the things I wanted more of in my life. I should add that I’ve been greatly influenced by several of my spiritual heroes and life philosophers whenever I make lists like these, including that fateful list-making session on New Year’s Eve in 2015. So, I should give a shout out to Gretchen Rubin, Brene Brown, Holly Temple, and Daniel Tiger. These 4 people/puppets help me figure out what I want to do and how I want to be.
So, here, in no particular order, is the list of things that I wanted more of in my life, and improv helps me with all of them.
I, Andrea McCloskey, hereby resolve to be more...
What do you think? Can you add more to this list? Come take a class with us and make your own list!
Teaching and learning is dispositional.
Our disposition is the tendency of our spirit. It is our mental or emotional outlook. It is the way we live and move in the world. And, of course, our disposition informs how we bring ourselves to learning about things. It impacts the way that we teach, as well.
This is Sam. I'm blogging on the behest of Happy Valley Improv. I've been tasked with writing a little something about improv, pedagogy, and disrupting the norm. So here goes.
I first got involved with teacher education in 2011. I'd been teaching high school for ten years, and was working on my PhD at The University of Minnesota. I supervised student teachers in the spring of 2011. I followed potential high school English teachers, as they completed their student teaching. These people were placed in various high schools throughout the Twin Cities. I was given a rubric to assess these aspiring teachers and their ability to, well, teach. Mostly, I was asked to name their dispositional attributes.
At The University of Minnesota, teaching was a dispositional art. How flexible were these teaching candidates at meeting student needs? How positive were they in relating with their students? Were they confrontational, amiable, rigid, etc.? I was given a survey with over 100 questions. I filled out this form for each of the student teachers I was assigned to work with. I'm not a fan of surveys, and the questionnaire seemed formulaic. Still, I liked the idea that our dispositions are central to our ability to teach. This seemed true to me, even if a survey felt forced. In some ways, I measured students on how they lived and moved in their classrooms.
Assessment is tricky, of course, because it assumes that we've prepared students to be assessed. How could those of us in teacher education hope to teach our students dispositional expertise? We weren't grading these potential teachers on their ability to write an essay or pass an exam. No, we were assessing their ability to be with people. Discussion, lecture, or other traditional forms of learning, to my mind, do not impact the ways we move through the world as much as improv can.
Improv teaches us how to be with people in affirmative ways. We learn to build off each other's ideas, work together non-evaluatively, and exist in a temporary, carefully crafted group-mind. We don't learn about these things. We practice them. And our participation in improv, to my mind, changes us. I've come to think that inviting teachers and learners into improvisation impacts our dispositional ability to be with each other productively. We become flexible. We become adaptable. Maybe most importantly, we become open.
The norms of teaching and learning, in some ways, prohibit authentic connections with people in learning environments. We're so busy with predetermined outcomes, tests, or other standardized practices and procedures, that we don't connect meaningfully with each other. An improvisational disposition disrupts this sort of mechanized, formulaic teaching and learning.
This conversation about teaching and learning isn't really new. John Dewey worried at the turn of the 20th century that classrooms ought to facilitate vibrant, social connectivity. He argued that democracy depended on it. Traditional power dynamics should fall away in a good classroom, and people should form new ways of being together. Participating in good improv might teach us how to better be with each other, to be better with each other.
Happy Valley Improv has a couple of missions. Yes, we want to create improv. Improv makes us laugh, and inspires joy. We also want to share that joy with people around us. Still, we also want to better understand what improv is, and what it might afford us in all sorts of contexts. I'm a professor of education, now, and so I want to learn about the relationship between improv and teaching and learning. This blog post is a simple journal, really. I just wonder how our work as improvisers changes us. I'm curious about the impact this work has on other aspects of our lives, namely, teaching and learning.
I've been working with a colleague at Vanderbilt to think about improvisation and pedagogy. He told me that his interest in improv was simple. He went to an improv show, and was surprised at how much joy there was at the event. He compared that improv show to classrooms which, for him, are often miserable spaces. How, he asked me, might we bring that same joy in improv to the classroom?
This is a brilliant question, I think. And I wonder if the answer might have something to do with the dispositional ways we move through the world.
Hello everyone! My name is Jenna Minnig and I am overjoyed to introduce myself as Happy Valley Improv’s newest social media intern. When I first heard about the organization, I knew I wanted to get involved in any way possible. As a college student who is constantly surfing the Internet, a position in social media sounded like a dream come true!