Life-Play E-Handbook


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Noncompetitive games played over the phone or in person. You can cocreate a story, express an emotion, improvise a poem or examine a belief. Games are created so anyone can play. It’s fun and easy to learn!

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Life-Play E-Handbook

  1. 1. Life-PlayHan d b ookTraining, Examples,Essays, and More! $10 USD
  2. 2. AcknowledgmentsBy Carman DeweesIn the summer of 2009, David shared with me that of all theaccomplishments of his career – including The CompassPlayers, the first improv theatre in the United States – he wasmost proud of Life-Play. This surprised me because withoutCompass there would be no Mike Nichols, no The Graduate.Without Compass, improv in its cabaret form might not exist.Life-Play is about people exploring life and themselves. It isone person playing with another person, by phone or inperson. The noncompetitive games connect us, rejuvenate us,and allow for growth.Many events and people have spontaneously come together inthe creation of this Handbook. I want to thank David Shepherdfor his poetic nature and creative instincts that have helped memore deeply appreciate each moment of my life.Also I would like to thank Michael Golding for sharing hisimprov teaching experience. Chris Britt, thanks for yourvision, sharp questions, and friendship. Anne Grossetete, yourheart and playfulness has been very important to us. Also, Iwould like to thank: Nancy Fletcher, Tony Czajkowski, WillieWyllie, Howard Jerome Gomberg, Sky Halm, Mike Fly,Rosemary Dewees, Michelle Burke, Aimee Swift, SeanVernon, Jill Pellarin, Laurie Blair, Sarah Bazydola, ConnieMichener, Suzy Quinn, Walter Leopold, Devon Fitzgerald,Mária Dewees, Doug Britt, Bill Gural, Will Luera, Eli Gerzon,Lisa Rowe-Beddoe, and Ann Lorda. This Handbook is printedby CollectiveCopies, in the Pioneer Valley. January 2011 I
  3. 3. It is well to remember that the greatest value of play isenjoyment. Play develops the capacity to enjoy as well as theresources necessary to enjoyment. Play also contributes tosound intellectual achievement. Play creates happy emotionalcondition of the organism-as-a-whole. Play involves socialvalues, as does no other behavior. The spirit of play developssocial adaptability, ethics, mental and emotional control, andimagination. ~ Neva Boyd, sociologist, teacher, and a mentor to Viola Spolin II
  4. 4. Table of Contents• Introduction: What Is Life-Play?…………………………………….1• Why Do You Play Life-Play? ……………………………………….2• Introduction: Our History…….……………………………………...3• Training: Introduction ……………………………………………….4• Training: The Life-Play Format……………………………………..7• Training: Strong Emotions…………………………………………...8• Training: Emo-Pitch (warm-up)……………………………………...9• Training: 1, 2, 3 Sentence (warm-up)……………………………….11• Training: Four-Sided Where (warm-up)…………………………….13• Training: Repetition Poem (main game) …………………………...15• Training: Ideal Meal (main game)…………………………………..17• Training: Event Puddle (main game) ……………………………….19• Training: The Latin Version of Event Puddle – Ana Maria Salicioni…………………………………………….22• Training: Tomorrow If (main game)………………………………...23• Training: Believe It (main game)…………………………………....25• Training: Two Views (main game)………………………………….28• Training: Zoom Story (main game)………………………………....30• Training: The Life-Play System……………………………………..33• Play: Discovery – David Shepherd …………………………………34• Skills: Learning, Playing, and Teaching Life-Play – Carman Dewees and Michael Golding………………………....35• Skills: Active Listening – Scot Coar………………………………...37• Skills: Smart Play – Carman Dewees……………………………….39• Skills: The Guide–Player Relationship – Carman Dewees and David Shepherd………………………….41• Skills: About Feedback – David Shepherd………………………….43• Connect: Your Fellow Players – Howard Jerome Gomberg………...45• Connect: Life-Play with Teens – Michael Golding…………………46• Connect: Life-Play for Groups – David Shepherd…………………..48• Invent: How to Develop Games – Carman Dewees ………………...50• Invent: The Future of Life-Play – David Shepherd………………….52• About: Bios of Contributors…………………………………………53• About: Recommended Reading……………………………………...54• About: Contact Us…………………………………………………...58 III
  5. 5. Hearing is the first of our senses to be switched on, four and ahalf months after we are conceived. And for the rest of ourtime in the womb—another four and a half months—we arepickled in a rich brine of sound that permeates and nourishesour developing consciousness: the intimate and varied pulsesof our mother’s heart and breath; her song and voice; the lowrumbling and sudden flights of her intestinal trumpeting; thesudden, mysterious, alluring or frightening fragments of theoutside world—all of these swirl ceaselessly around thewomb-bound child, with no competition from dormant Sight,Smell, Taste or Touch…. If we are looking for the source ofsound’s ability—in all its forms—to move us more deeply thanthe other senses and occasionally give us a mysterious feelingof connectedness to the universe, this primal intimacy is agood place to begin.” ~ Walter Murch, godfather of film sound design IV
  6. 6. Introduction: What Is Life-Play?Life-Play is a collection of noncompetitive games playedover the phone or in person. You can cocreate a story,express an emotion, improvise a poem, or examine a belief.Games are created so anyone can play. It’s fun and easy tolearn! Mária and Rosemary enjoy Life-Play.Who Plays?-• Friends and family• Students and teachers• Artists• Seniors• People in remote places• Social workers and therapistsLook for discovery when you go into a relationship withanother Player. Discover what that relationship is or could beor has been. ~ David Shepherd, cofounder of Compass and Life-Play 1
  7. 7. Why Do You Play Life-Play?I play to explore widely, from a safe space.I play to build trust …with others and within myself.I play to be present, to be honest.I play to communicate directly.I play to paint with my full palette of emotions—angry tosad, mad to glad.I play to express feelings, shift feelings, and let them flowthrough me.I play to be amazed at how many feelings I have about even asmall event.I play to engage with other people’s perspectives.I play to hear the rhythm of a new voice, which gentlycoerces me to be in the moment.I play to connect with friends and family through sharedexperiences, which brings us closer despite being separatedby thousands of miles.I play because it opens me up to rich parts of myself thatI’ve forgotten even existed.I play to see my life clearly, sharply!I play because I can be in my bathrobe. And it doesn’t cost apenny of gas. 2
  8. 8. Introduction: Our HistoryLife-Play came out of a need—felt acutely by three men in2008—for noncompetitive games to be improvised over thephone. Chris Britt, filmmaker, and Carman Dewees, radioproducer, were friends—ex-magicians living close to Boston.David Shepherd lived in Western Massachusetts, nearAmherst. In 1955, David produced the first improv theatre—Chicago COMPASS—and later Improv Olympix, whichbecame Canadian Improv Games, now in 300 high schools.Since 2008, Life-Play games have evolved through play byfamily and friends.My experience is what I agree to attend to. ~ William James, psychologist and philosopher Carman, David, and Chris 3
  9. 9. Training: IntroductionThe Basics- • Feel free and open to express all feelings (sing, shout, laugh, cry, express any emotion or nonsense). • Foster a safe environment. • Avoid sarcasm. • Be flexible. • Be willing to end an improvisation after 2 to 3 minutes. • Accept the rules of the games and your Guide’s directions. • Play with confidence, pleasure, and responsibility. Playing-It’s usually two people playing—over the phone or person toperson. We have had three to seven people playing onconference calls and have had bigger groups playing at in-person gatherings. Player and Guide-Most games have a Player (actor) and a Guide (director).Some games have two Players and no Guide (1, 2, 3 Sentenceand Two Views). • The Guide changes. Different people take on the role of the Guide. • And the Guide provides the Player with sentences to start stories, with places for improvisation to take place, etc. • The Guide helps the Player to create the details and emotions without which the work is boring. • The Guide aims to make the Player look good—this involves active listening and active support. • The Guide follows his or her intuition, slicing in quickly. When it’s hard to slice in, you may have to 4
  10. 10. talk over your partner. Better yet, slice in with a short word like “More,” “Detail,” “Color,” etc.Trainer- The group leader for calls and gatherings. Equipment (optional)-If playing by phone (or Skype), use a headset to expand yourfreedom of movement and improve the call quality. ManyPlayers like to keep a copy of the Menu by the phone, as areference. Safety-At any time, either theGuide or the Player canstop a game. Etiquette-Ask permission beforeyou share yourpartner’s play withothers. Types of Games-We have Warm-UpGames (Emo-Pitch, 1,2, 3 Sentence, andFour-Sided Where) andMain Games (all the rest). Warm-Up Games help Playersengage their emotions, turn off their brain, and explore theirenvironment with detail and emotion. 5
  11. 11. Which Games to Learn First?-• Easiest Games: Emo-Pitch, 1, 2, 3 Sentence, Four-Sided Where, Repetition Poem, Two Views, and Ideal Meal.• Intermediate Games: Zoom Story, Event Puddle• Advanced Games: Believe It, Tomorrow If• [Games Being Tested: Time Warp, Emo-Switch, I Dream, Never Say, Let It Talk]Be prepared to be flexible and adapt, because our gameschange and grow, as do the rules. 6
  12. 12. Training: The Life-Play Format 1. Event/Theme and/or Suggestion-• Player—Introduce an event or theme from your life that is important, emotional, surprising, amusing, and/or pleasurable.• Guide—If needed, help the Player clarify the event or theme. Then, if needed for the game, provide a suggestion. 2. Experience-• Player—Choose a Main Game that you will develop as your event/theme.• Guide—Slice in, developing a back and forth, an interaction. Add short comments and questions! Be real. 3. Insights-• Player—Insights are moments of reflection, where the Player (and/or the Guide) says something interesting about what happened within the game, talking completely from the heart. It’s working out an idea that’s in your head, in real time, out loud. It’s trying to make sense of something that touched you deeply. The Player and/or the Guide talks about him or herself but also describes something universal.• Guide—The Guide helps the Player uncover an insight by asking idea-oriented questions, cajoling, joking, and not being afraid to be awkward. When you help the Player uncover an insight and the Player is speaking from the heart, ask follow-up questions, spelling out the implications of what is being said. Support the Player in moving toward a surprising insight about him or herself, your relationship, and/or Life. The Guide then clarifies any part of the rules that were not understood or followed. 7
  13. 13. Training: Strong EmotionsAlarmed Giddy PessimisticAmazed Grateful PiningAngry Grieving ProudAnnoyed Guilty PuzzledAnxious Happy RapturousAshamed Hateful RemorsefulAroused Hopeful RepulsedAwed Hopeless SadBlissful Horrified SatisfiedBlue Hostile ScaredBored Hurt SensitiveCheerful Impatient SkepticalCompassionate Inspired SpellboundConfident Irritated StimulatedConfused Jealous SurprisedContemptuous Joyful SuspiciousDazed Lonely TerrifiedDiscouraged Longing ThankfulDisgusted Loving ThrilledDismayed Mad TickledDisturbed Mystified UneasyEmbarrassed Nervous UnhappyEnthusiastic Nostalgic UpbeatEnvious Open-hearted UpsetFascinated Optimistic WearyFrightened Outraged WorriedFrustrated Panicked ZestfulFurious Passionate 8
  14. 14. Training: Emo-Pitch (warm-up) Instructions-Does the Player understand that this is a Warm-Up game?Emphasize getting emotions flowing. Trainer, be the Guide.Give your Player a strong, simple emotion to play with (ifnecessary, see the emotion list). Ask the Player to express itnonverbally, gutturally, in gibberish, sighs and/or coughing.Then speak and finally sing the emotion. Speak or sing it,faster, slower, or even chant it. The Guide should push with atleast one comment like, “Feeling,” “More!” “Stronger,” or“Detail.” Basics-The Guide pitches the Player a strong emotion (the Player canreject); nonverbal vocalizations, leading into words andthen song; the Guide pushes for more emotion and/or detail. Example-[David playing about his partner Nancy]Guide: Let’s see…“Love.”Player: (Pauses and breathes.)Sigita sigita so bo Sigita sigita so bo…boshigo, boshigo. La, lala shi go! Sho bid do loo. Yo did it go shee Yo sho yack dee.Cas shidi ca shid da Shod iit do do.You are so wonderful in the kitchen. You are so wonderful inthe bed. You are so wonderful in the shower bath. You are sowonderful talking and giving me advice. You are so wonderfulgoing about your business and then telling me how to fix mycomputer. You are so wonderful, I can’t get over you. I’mgoing to honor you and care for you for the rest of my life.(Sings without words) Observations-• Let the Player become comfortable expressing himself or herself in as many ways as possible. If the Player is not 9
  15. 15. comfortable singing, ask him or her to imagine that you are not there! Then ease the Player into song: First sing each word, then tie them together; explode or whisper them. Get the Player out of prosaic speech and into other tempos, rhythms, and pitches. Explain that our adventures take Players in many new directions, from moaning and groaning, to roaring and tweeting—whatever will get them ready to play with a full range of emotions!• This is a good time for a Player to learn the difference between a strong emotion like joy, shame, anxiety, anger, boredom, guilt, or fear, and a weak one like annoyance, contentment, irritation, loneliness, condescension, or playfulness. Reading from a longer list, the Trainer can ask the Player to judge whether specific emotions are strong or weak; if necessary, have the Player express them outright.Metaphor- Faucet (such as, turn on the “emotion faucet”)I don’t sing because I’m happy. I’m happy because I sing. ~ William James, psychologist and philosopher Marnie turns on the “emotion faucet.” 10
  16. 16. Training: 1, 2, 3 Sentence(warm-up) Instructions-This game involves two Players (no Guide). Either Playerspeaks one word, then the Players go back and forth, eachimprovising one word. When one Player jumps to two words,the other Player follows to three words and a sentence. Andthen back down again. Build toward ping-pong rhythmbetween the Players. Basics-Follow pattern of 1, 2, 3 Sentence and back again—fast ping-pong rhythm, words, and gibberish. Example-(Both Players pause. Either can begin with the first word.)Cats; Porch; Kick; Mountain; Ahhh; Egg; Fart; River; BigWave; Thunderstorm; I love; I love thunderstorms; Babieslove thunderstorms; House shutters are red; One day I waswalking down the street and my friend who was next to me, gothit by lightning; The ground is really warm in the summer;And after it rains it’s so damp and … so wonderful; And it’sdry under the ground; Ahhhhhhh; The sky is blue again; I likerain; Smells like new paint; I just painted; Everything’s green;Green grass; Pink windowsill; Full refrigerator; Owwww;Tired?; Hungry!; Ham; Turkey; Bacon … Period. Observations-• Increasing the speed of the game turns off the intellect, but only when combined with listening.• Practice listening for the feeling underneath the word(s) spoken.Metaphor- Ping-Pong 11
  17. 17. When you are in a state of reflection you are includinganother; when you initiate you deny yourself. ~ Viola Spolin, mother of improvisation 12
  18. 18. Training: Four-Sided Where(warm-up) Instructions-The Guide gives the Player a “Where,” such as “yourapartment,” “a café,” or “a supermarket in Arizona.” ThePlayer explores all four sides of the location. The Guidesupports by pushing for “Feeling” and “Detail” from thatenvironment—front, back, right, and left.Basics-All four sides; the Guide pushes for feeling and detail. Example-Player: In front of me is a silver lamp that my father boughtfor me. It matches another lamp in the corner of the room thatspirals upward. He bought it for me when I lived inCambridge. And I have fond memories of going to pick out thelamp in between Harvard and Central Square, in an ultra-modern furniture store.Behind me is this huge hole—the closet. And blocking the holethere’s a red fleece jacket that’s hanging up and a blue shirtand blue jacket. There’s also a purple shirt that’s a button up.Guide: Are these garments wet?Player: No, they are all dry in the closet, waiting to be worn.Guide: How does that make you feel? Do you look forward towearing them?Player: It makes me feel that I have too many things to wear.And then I think, I always wear the same thing and am lazy.So, it makes me feel like an asshole for having all these shirts.To my left is my desk. It’s a slab of wood on top of two filingcabinets. My father made it for me. He got this slab of woodsomewhere and he cut it. It’s shellacked on the top—especiallysmooth. 13
  19. 19. And then to my right is an abstract painting that I did lastweek; it has spirals.Guide: How do you feel about the painting?Player: It’s very colorful and relaxing to look at. It’s verynaturally shaped with the green blue and green spirals.Period. Observations-The Guide should feel like he or she is in one place with foursides. Detail and feeling make the four sides come to life.Metaphor- Box Yourself OutThe question isn’t What do you look at? but What do you see? ~ Nina Michelson, author of “Silence and Music,” unpublished manuscript Ryan plays from his dorm room. 14
  20. 20. Training: Repetition Poem(main game) Instructions-The Guide gives the Player an emotion and then a shortphrase (repetition) to start every sentence of the poem, suchas: • I won’t … • What I’ll do is … • I love … • Sorry … • This is a great day for … • Why don’t you … • Come over here … • Do you doubt …If a Player can’t deal with this combo of emotion and phrase,he or she should ask for another suggestion.Most Repetition Poems are composed of 6 to 15 lines andgradually build to one strong attitude. New Players canplunge easily into poetry because they can hang onto a phrasethat becomes as familiar as a friend.Note: Rhyming is not required when improvising this game.Repetition comes to an end when the Player says, “Period.” Basics-The Guide gives a strong emotion (like mad, glad, sad, orscared) and a “repetition;” Player improvises a poem. 15
  21. 21. Example-Guide: The emotion is “Irritated,” and the repetition is,“That’s quite enough.”Player: That’s quite enough … the phone rings andrings … Quite enough. Oh, so many cars, that’s quite enough. Houses, roads ... that’s quite enough. Space, there’s never enough space. Birds, birds, that’s quite enough. Swimming, swimming ... so peaceful. Books, books everywhere, that’s quite enough. Laundry, letters, bills, that’s quite enough. Reaching toward mountains, hills, noises, that’s quite enough.… Period. Observations-Pitching conflicting pairs (like the emotion “Love” and therepetition “I hate …”) is passive aggressive, leading the Playerinto the intellect, rather than the heart.Metaphor- Drive, Drive, DrivePoetry often enters through the window of irrelevance. ~ M. C. Richards, poet, potter, and writer 16
  22. 22. Training: Ideal Meal(main game) Instructions-Here’s an adventure in cooking and eating—to be improvisedin 2 to 3 minutes. The Player describes what ingredients areavailable. The Guide asks quick questions such as “Howmany?” and “How much?”As the Ideal Meal is cooked, the Guide asks quick, sensiblequestions about the process that can be answered in a word ortwo: “How long?” for instance. Or “What kind of knife?” TheGuide imagines him or herself as an assistant.To add drama to the Ideal Meal, the Guide can create aproblem in the preparation, such as “Uh-oh, that egg looksrotten.” Or “You dropped your spatula on the floor.” Showhow much can happen on the road to an Ideal Meal. And if thePlayer does not do so, the Guide should introduce anothercharacter into the kitchen as a surprise. For example, yourfriend stops by to eat dinner, or your mother calls.Finally the Meal is eaten. As the Player describes serving itand how it tastes, the Guide can ask, “Is it still hot?” Or “Is itdone?” Make the improv a product of two imaginations.“Period” or “The end” signals that the Ideal Meal is over. ThePlayer chooses an ending, but if the adventure stretches longerthan 2 or 3 minutes, the Guide can request or impose anending with “Find an ending,” or “Wrap it up.” Basics-Describe part of cooking and eating; the Guide brings in asurprise character (if the Player does not do so him or herself);2 to 3 minutes. 17
  23. 23. Example-Guide: What’s the theme or event?Player: A recent cooking experience.Guide: Okay.Player: Right … Where I live, I am reputed to be a nothingcook: I don’t cook anything, anytime, anywhere. So, mypartner, Nancy, got me to cook applesauce. And for that sheprovided half a dozen apples, cider, and also figs. And I wasvery happy with this very simple task and I did it expertly. Icut up all the apples without touching the skins. I thought thatwas very good; we’re going to have skins with our applesauce.And I proceeded to look for the other ingredients, likecinnamon and maple syrup, and got the whole thing going inthe oven. Then I went to talk to my son on the phone. And inthe process of deliberating with him, and coming to severalagreements, I forgot about the applesauce completely. When Iran out into the kitchen, the pan was baked solid to thebottom. And I had to call up a friend of mine and ask him tobring something over to serve as a kind of dessert for the Life-Play session I was going to have at my house. However, later,I scooped into the mess and discovered it was delicious....Period. Observations-There should be some surprise introduced by the Guide—either in the cooking/eating process or in the introduction of acharacter.Metaphor- Food StoryThe only way we know you are good-natured is when you fail,you stay positive. ~ Keith Johnstone, author of Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre 18
  24. 24. Training: Event Puddle(main game) Instructions-The Player jumps into the past week and picks out, in onesentence, an event to reveal—for instance, a party, a fight, or anew friend. Then, without telling a story, the Player stacksup all emotions felt at that moment. Many of them mayseem contradictory—affection, anger, confusion, pride. Spillthem all out!With the Guide’s help, the Player slides from one rememberedemotion to another, touching as many as 3 to 5 distinctemotions. The Guide makes sure the game pulls forth manyemotions, without becoming a story.Players find that a barely remembered event may be loadedwith meaning. If a Player can’t remember last week, he or shecan pick out any event from the past and play that as EventPuddle. Basics-The Player picks one event and states it in one sentence; thePlayer explores emotions, supported by the Guide (not a storygame). Example-Guide: What’s the one sentence to begin your Event Puddle?Player: My car breaking down when I lived in New Mexico.Guide: Great.Player: I felt stupid (laughs uncomfortably). And I felt veryfrightened because I was in the middle of the desert andthere’s nothing but ranches around. And the towns are likefifty miles apart. And …Guide: What did you hear? 19
  25. 25. Player: [Pause] I heard silence … silent night. Stars werebright and I tried to take solace in how beautiful it was. But Iwas afraid of who I would encounter in the night. Theunknown and Republican North ... West, North-East NewMexico, where people drive with shotguns behind their heads.And I couldn’t find anyone out and it was getting late, and Itried to go to sleep. And I could not find a comfortableposition in which to sleep. Mmm …Guide: If your car could speak … what would it be speakingto you about, in that moment?Player: You … you knew you needed more gas to get throughthis area and you didn’t take the time to do it. It would havejust taken a second to fill up. The … the gas station that wejust passed obviously has been closed since eleven and that’sa ridiculous time for a gas station to close. So I was … I wasjust out of luck. I had kind of put myself in this positionintentionally. [Pause] With the intention of frightening myself,I guess. And I ended up sleeping on the desert floor and beingvery afraid someone would come and shoot me or rape me orkill me or something. I was just at my wit’s end… I had nosense of reality. All of my sense of reality was negative ...Period. Observations-• This is not a story game!• The Guide must demand two simple things from the Player: State one event in one sentence and wade around in one puddle of feelings until you come out with 4 or 5 emotions.• This adventure enables a Player to discover from a seemingly ordinary event exactly what emotions have been throttled and swept away. In preparing to play Event Puddle, we review the flat facets of our lives, sharpen them into prominence, and appreciate the rich texture of living.• Plunge the game into your experience. Do not push your experience into the game. 20
  26. 26. • This is an emotion game. We don’t want analysis—feel the feelings!• Larry Quigley, the originator of this game, explains how he discovered it: “I work weekly with a group of men who follow a four-round process intended to reveal personal issues and then do something about them. The first round creates presence. The strategy is to grasp what’s going on in the body and then describe what emotions this body experience evokes.”• Here are two exercises to help you deepen your experience of the game: o Delve into the life of someone you know or want to know well. Imagine, for instance, a moment when that person’s sister blew up at him. Well, his obvious feeling is dismay, but behind it may lie a smidgeon of guilt at having provoked her anger. And on top of that there may be curiosity. Why was her reaction so sharp? And regret: How can this breach be repaired? Or anxiety: Will he be able to repair it? Even self-justification: What right does she have to upset me? o Ask the Player to suggest a typical event in the life of a friend or relative, then examine it as Event Puddle. See how many different emotions light up on this one happening.Metaphor- PuddleWhen we are not sure, we are alive. ~ Graham Greene, English writer, playwright, and journalist 21
  27. 27. Training: The Latin Version ofEvent PuddleBy Ana Maria SalicioniThe Life-Play game Event Puddle reminds me of a veryfrequent, spontaneous, almost stereotypical occurrence inmany Spanish-speaking societies. I even dare to say it is thevery essence of the so-called Latin-blooded spirit.The illustration that comes to mind could be a sudden,unplanned encounter of the Player with the Guide. These twopeople may be friends or just acquaintances. After the Guide’svery quick “How have you been?” or “What’s new in yourlife?” the Player may just go off with a very dramatic, nonstopaccount of something that happened to her last week. (In casethe reader wonders why I use “she,” my answer is, yes, it’susually women telling stories so openly.) The story is told in avery dramatic tone, even full of gestures and a rich bodylanguage; it is also very brief in many cases. The Guide islistening, and rarely commenting, with a “Oh, wow,” “Oh,no!” or “Oh, my God”—he or she might not even have theopportunity to do so, mostly because of the very agitated waythe account takes place. Eventually, the Player may saysomething like “Well, I have to go now,” to which the Guidewill just respond “Good to see you” or “Take care.” David, Andrea, and Carman play Event Puddle. 22
  28. 28. Training: Tomorrow If(main game)Instructions-There are three ways to start this adventure: 1. Imagine moving into another’s space. 2. Imagine one or more people coming into your space. 3. Imagine moving and discovering a new space.You play the game by imagining what you want to happen,good or bad. The game should show exactly where you mightbe or want to be—tomorrow.Your Guide makes sure you describe faces, clothing, andmotion of people you meet—by insisting that you havemovement and sketch out the colors/details. Basics-Spoken in present tense; the Player moves through a scene, inhis or her future; the Guide pushes for movement andcolor/details. Example-Player: I’m in Venezuela. And I’m visiting my long-lostdaughter. She’s happy to see me. She’s about 10 or 11.Guide: What is she wearing?Player: She’s wearing a dress, something plain.Guide: What color?Player: Red. It’s a summer dress. The weather is in the 80sand 90s. And, I’ve just gotten off the plane and she’s meetingme there. We embrace … she runs up to me and I swing heraround while we’re embracing. Then I put her down. Shedoesn’t speak any English, so I have to use my Spanish. It getsin the way sometimes, except when I’m drunk. I have not beendrinking on the plane, so I don’t have that advantage. But Italk to her, I ask her basic questions like, “How are you doing 23
  29. 29. in school?” and “What do you like to do when you’re not inschool?” And I’m feeling glow … I’m feeling connections …completed circles that have been dangling since I found outabout this child and was told I would never meet her and shewould be moving to Venezuela. I’m still angry about that. Butthis is a great relief to me—to actually see her and be held byher. Observations-• Speaking in the present tense, step into the future.• This is a scene game, not a story game!• If you play regularly, notice what patterns your imagination takes. For instance, David’s Life-Play partners have noticed that every time David plays, he wants either to transform where he lives or jump into a totally different world. The game was shouting at him: “You don’t like where you are living, so why are you staying there?”Metaphor- KeyholeIf your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, this is thebest season of your life. ~ Wu-Men, Zen monk from 13th-century China Devon plays Tomorrow If. 24
  30. 30. Training: Believe It(main game) Instructions-The Guide suggests a topic (like society, politics, behavior,or marriage) from which the Player will pull his or herstrong opinion opposite to what he or she believes. ThePlayer is free to reject and ask for another. Then the Playerexpresses the opposite point of view—vehemently.The Guide supports the Player by pushing with short, specificquestions and comments aimed at heightening the emotion ofthe Player. The aim is to get the Player to play morevigorously and show passionate belief in what he or shedoesn’t believe. Finally, the Guide should ask the Player,“What do you really believe?”Here are some topics to “believe in”—the more sensitive thebetter: • Marriage and divorce or separation • Education—at any level • Local, domestic, or international politics • Employment and wages; unemployment and benefits • Nutrition and what to buy, eat, or shun • Where to live: country, state, town, or neighborhood • Where to travel or vacation and where not to go • How many kids to have and how to bring them up • How to organize or decorate your home • Whom to socialize with—at work or at home Basics-The Guide suggests a topic; the Player pulls a clear andopposite opinion from that topic; the Player passionatelyexpresses his or her opposite opinion (speaking it like he or 25
  31. 31. she believes it); the Guide pushes with short, specificquestions or comments to uncover the Player’s passion. Example-Guide: How about … child labor!?Player: Child labor.Guide: I hope that’s controversial enough. (laughs) I have adifferent one if you want.Player: No that’s good. I like that.Guide: Okay.Player: If you go to any country, you’ll see little childrenselling gum. They get experience in the world. Experiencedoing things: being out in the world. Not just corrupted bytheir parents. Not just distorted by what their parents think.We need this in developed countries also; we need this inEurope, we need this in America, we need this in Canada.What you need is the kid working in a family business. Get thekid out of the house.Guide: They shouldn’t go to school?Player: No, this is school. Learning how to market! You haveto learn early and you’ve got to learn to fail, fail, fail. Oh, youcan’t sell this, it’s difficult. You learn what your angle is.Guide: Who gets the money?Player: Part of it goes toward the kid’s future education. Ibelieve it should be put aside for the kid in the future. And thekid learns a little bit of responsibility, how to apply themselves[sic], a little creativity. How to fail! You think those little kidsselling chiclets in Mexico city learned the first time? Theydidn’t sell any chiclets until they rubbed dirt on their face.Rub a little dirt, learn, they came home many days failing,failing. But it teaches work ethic. It teaches people that there’sa bigger world out there.Guide: Don’t the families need the money right away? Isn’t itlike using the children a little?Player: Well, in America, essentially school is daycare. Sowhen you send your kids out, the money should be put aside. 26
  32. 32. In developing countries, the money needs to be taken, but inthis country it’s the spirit of the thing. This is something thatcould really work in our country and would be wonderful forthe kids, the family, and greater society! Period.Guide: What do you really believe? Didn’t you convinceyourself?Player: Yes, I kind of convinced myself, because my frienddoes homeschooling, so I think it lets kids experience theworld a little bit. Not be so sheltered with people who are justlike them.Guide: Send your child abroad to sell gum? (laughs)Player: Send your kid to Mexico to sell gum for six months.(laughs) I think it’s a good idea for kids to meet new peopleand not be in a ghetto of children. Being only with people whoare just like them, the same age, I think that’s not healthy forkids. But …Guide: What do you really believe?Player: So … what I believe is that kids should not have towork, but they should be able to be around different types ofpeople, not simply with people their own age or with theirfamily. They should be in the community. That’s what Ibelieve. Observations-• As the Player, phrase your opposite belief in a way that you can commit to.• Be specific and passionate in “your” belief.• When Believe It is played correctly, Players may feel strange and begin to wonder what they really believe. Meanwhile, those listening may question or endorse, as well, what they believe.Metaphor- Surge 27
  33. 33. Training: Two Views(main game) Instructions-This game involves two Players (no Guide). Either Playernames a social gathering—a wedding, birthday, BBQ, poolparty, etc. Then, select the relationship—such as two friendsthat went to preschool together, or a new couple. Each Playeralternates speaking, in past tense, about their view of whathappened at the social gathering. Basics-Two distinct perspectives on the “same” social gathering;telling a story, anecdotes, and insights. Example-Son: I’ve got to say, the first thing that that surprised me wasthat my father expected me to pay for myself and for him. Thatwas a surprise.Father: So we get there and my son says he’s invited hisgirlfriend, Cheryl or Michelle. Some name that starts with aC—I don’t remember what it is! Then, you know, he says he’llcall her and tell her not to come. It would have been fine if shewas[sic] there, but he said he called her. That’s how it startedoff.Son: My father doesn’t take my love life seriously. He doesn’tconsider that I have a love life. He thinks, “You’re nineteenyears old, what could you possibly know about love!?” Andyet he feels compelled, every time I’m getting up there with theball, to say, “Hey, check out that girl two lanes down!” I don’tget that!Father: So, we’re getting our shoes and he’s wearing thesereally fancy slacks. So, I’m ribbing Carl a little bit. Then hestarts bowling and he’s always tip-toeing down, glancing tothe side to see who’s watching him. And I’m like, “Get afucking backbone. Just bowl! Bowl, bowl! Come on!” 28
  34. 34. And so on … It’s a story built from two different perspectives.Either Player can say, “Period.” Observations-The game is about the startling contrast between what isbeing imagined by the characters. It’s not simply a story. AsSuzanne Shepherd, actress and director, says of playing acharacter, “It’s not a feeling, it’s a point of view.… It’s abouthow you see the world and you respond to it from a veryspecific point of view.” Paul Sills, cofounder of Compass andSecond City and son of Viola Spolin, suggests, “Wear yourcharacter like a straw boater.”Metaphor Switch While WalkingLike asking the seven blind men to describe the elephant. Eachblind man describes the part he touched. ~ Roger Bowen, founding member of Compass and Second City (discussing how the story of Compass, the first improvisational theatre, could only be told as a Rashomon effect, one event seen differently by every witnessing eye) Walter and David play on David’s porch. 29
  35. 35. Training: Zoom Story(main game) Instructions-A Zoom Story adventure puts the Player close to the Guide,who shapes the game that emerges. Signals are “Zoom in toObject,” ”Zoom in to Feeling,” “Zoom out to Action,” and“Zoom out to Environment.”To start with, the Guide gives the Player a suggestivesentence, in first person, such as, “My brother broke myLeonard Bernstein record.” The Player then repeats the firstline and begins telling the story.“Zoom into Object” takes the story into a physical descriptionof the broken record, its cover, label, and (were this signal tobe used again) even broken plastic.“Zoom out to Environment” takes the story to family andfriends, or to record companies and the public, the world(were this signal repeated).The Player should be prepared to range from a chip of gravelunderfoot to the universe overhead. Guides learn how toexplore this range by signaling for “Object” (down and in) or“Environment” (up and out).Guides should not push for the impossible. For instance, theyshould not signal for more “Environment” when thestratosphere has been reached, or for a closer “Object” when amolecular level has been reached.As for “Zoom into Feeling,” this signal can be used more thanonce, for instance, to explore the loss of a prized possession. 30
  36. 36. “Zoom out to Action” implies lots of activity involving thebrother, Bernstein fans, and record stores, as people travel,touch, and change relationships.The Guide should slip a signal into the improv at least a halfdozen times (if only to show that the game is being played bytwo people). Basics-The Guide gives the first line in first person; the Player repeatsthe first line and continues with the story; the Guide signals;the Guide says, “Find an ending”; the Player says “Period” toend. Example-Guide: Any area of your life that you want to focus on?Player: Making friends!Guide: Making friends.(Pause) Your line is … “I was in the back of the ambulanceand the paramedic said he loved theatre.”Player: I was in the back of the ambulance and the paramedicsaid he loved theatre. So, I looked up at him. He was a big,dumb blonde … waving around a stethoscope as if he knewwhat to do with it. And I …Guide: Feeling.Player: I was in the hands of a moron. So, I said to him,“What type of theatre?” And he said back to me, “I likeclassical theatre! I don’t like anything that was written overthe last fifty years. I like old stuff.”Guide: Action.Player: I reached up and grabbed his hand and said, “That’sgreat! You stay right with your feelings and pick out the playsof Shakespeare and Voltaire and Shaw that you want andyou’re in good shape. Do you write?”Guide: Environment.Player: He looked out the window and said, “That’s a goodquestion,” just as we were coming down Third Avenue. I could 31
  37. 37. see we were pulling into the hospital. And he said, “I write,but stuff comes out bullshit.” And I said to him, “Before youtake me out of this ambulance, take my telephone number andtell me what you write. And send me, maybe, a scene that youwrote, because I’m very interested in your attitude and I’dlove to talk to you more.”Guide: Object.Player: And he took my card and said, “What is Life-Play?”And I told him. He looked at my telephone number and stuffedit into the pocket of his white jacket and smiled. And I knew Ihad done the right thing. Observations-• Shorter signals of “Object,” ” Feeling,” “Action,” and “Environment” are often used to slice in more quickly.• The Guide should signal a half a dozen times throughout the game, as play gets weak when the Guide zooms infrequently.• Here’s another path a Guide can take: In shaping Neil’s story about a funeral procession, Anne, as the Guide, asked for Action, then Feeling—again and again. The result was a more profound grief that refused to lighten up.• Here are exercises inspired by Michelle’s elementary school class: (1) Have a Player purposefully tell a story with a flaw in it, and ask the students to speak up when they see the flaw. Discuss. (2) Have a Player improvise a story. Students raise their hands when they see the need for a signal. Stop the story and find out what signal is suggested. If two signals are suggested, ask the storyteller to try them both. Compare.Metaphor- Hand in HandIt takes two to know one. ~ Gregory Bateson, linguist and anthropologist 32
  38. 38. Training: The Life-Play System Rules- • The basic guidelines for each game should befollowed. It’s like teaching someone to play soccer. If theperson uses his or her hands, no one is going to want toplay with that person!Form is not a mere lopping off of meaning that you don’t haveroom to put into your poem; it is an aid to finding newmeaning, a stimulus to condensing your meaning, tosimplifying and purifying it, and to discovering on a moreuniversal dimension the essence you wish to express. ~ Rollo May, author of The Courage to CreateSpecifics- • Engage with your senses, feelings, and thedetails. Focus on communicating honestly and directly. Balance- • Relationships with ourselves, our environmentand other people depend on having a “safe space.” Bothplayers must foster balance and strive to make others lookgood. Through efforts like active guiding, a space for playcan open.Improv is about discovery of who we are and how we relate toeach other. ~ David Shepherd, cofounder of Compass and Life-Play 33
  39. 39. Play: DiscoveryBy David ShepherdWhen I call a fellow Life-Player, I find my life is instantlyenriched. I’m about to be asked in detail what I felt about lastweek, or what I imagine can happen tomorrow. I’m about tobe plunged into the first words of a story that I’ll carryeffortlessly to its end.I’m going to have to pull from my subconscious, charactersthat suddenly acquire clearly defined voices and behaviors—all unknown to me before I picked up the phone. My moralface acquires fresh features. How does this happen?I’m beginning to scan my life daily. What happened lastweek? Of the few or many people I met, which ones areimportant enough to grab? How did they stand, sit, move?What was guiding them to me, and how fast, slow, orcoherently did they speak? I’m getting my life ready to beplayed. I’m demanding more consciousness, more accuratememory, more detail, and an opinion of myself, by myself. Ireach out, touch, explore, and discover who I am. 34
  40. 40. Skills: Learning, Playing, andTeaching Life-PlayBy Carman Dewees and Michael GoldingCarman: What prevents people from improvising, playing? Within Everyone-Michael: In my experience, when people are hesitant to play,it’s because they feel they’re an “empty vessel” with nothingto contribute. With Life-Play, we have to constantly remindpeople that all the characters, emotions, and stories they feelthey lack are already there within them, crying to get out. Discovery-Carman: When I first tried improv in 2006, I felt anxious,then I began to embrace discovery. How can a Life-Playteacher help new players move toward discovery? Make Others Look Good-Michael: The objective of the improviser is to support theperson you are playing with and make him or her look asgood as possible. How does that work when playing with adisembodied voice over the phone? In the words of AlanArkin, “Listen harder.”Carman: Scot Coar discusses listening in his essay, but whatdoes “listening harder” mean to you? The Moment-Michael: Players don’t have to be chattering constantly,which sometimes is a nervous impulse. Do not be afraid topause—to take the moment in.Carman: Discussing pausing and breathing sounds clichéd,but it’s very helpful. Ira Glass, host of This American Life,often admits that, “We edit out people’s breaths and pauses in 35
  41. 41. the interviews before they go on air.” It shows what a bigimpact silence can have on a story—really anycommunication.Michael: Pauses and silences are very important in Life-Play.It provides the Guide with an opportunity to “slice in” and forthe Player to indicate that he or she could use some input atthat point. By Example-Carman: How can a new Player be put at ease when teachinggames over the phone rather than through the comfort of face-to-face improvisation?Michael: Generally, when I teach improv, I always tell mystudents that I’m not going to have them do anything that I’mnot willing to do myself. That helps, most of the time. No Right or Wrong-Carman: We don’t want new Players to worry about screwingup. When I explain the rules, I take responsibility if the rulesare not understood. Improvisation is about turning offfunctions of the brain that monitor performance. There is not aright and wrong way to play. Life-Play is not performance.There is no audience, only your partner, your equal. Explore,have freedom! Let your subconscious float to the surfacethrough the games.Michael: It’s improv. There’s a limit to intellectualizing.Nothing in life is quite as important as you think it is while youare thinking about it. ~ Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate (discussing his “fortune cookie maxim,” aka the focusing illusion) 36
  42. 42. Skills: Active ListeningBy Scot Coar Scot Coar listening actively.Active listening is imperative to play the games honestly andto allow both Players to harvest the benefits. In everydayconversation, it’s natural to formulate thoughts while the otherperson is speaking, so that a response can be constructed andexpressed. In Life-Play, a meditative focus on the speakerallows for a more genuine, emotional experience. Be Present-Good listening supports your fellow Player in constructing—through words, inflections, pauses, and breathing—acomplete landscape to communicate more fully his/heremotional experience. Blocking out external distractions andinternal thoughts in order to focus on the speaker builds asense of trust between Players and allows the listener to havea much more immediate and, at times, more profound listeningexperience. 37
  43. 43. Listen ... Surprise-When playing the games, I have found that when activelylistening, I am often surprised by an emotion: a sudden bellylaugh, a pang in the chest, a sense of joy, of pain. I find theexperience is not unlike when one approaches a work of artopenly, without expectation, and is moved in a profound,sometimes life-changing way. This, I feel, is the potential thatlistening holds within the context of Life-Play. Afterward,when the Players are finished, there will be time forreflection—for each to more deeply appreciate the other’sbackground, both culturally and personally. Commonchallenges to listening include thinking about one’s own turn,doodling, or multi-tasking/half-listening. Listening Together-Some of the games require a back-and-forth between thePlayers. Although this may seem a more difficult occasion tobe an active listener, I think it actually helps the flow of thegame, purity of expression, and the happy surprises that canoccur. If one were thinking of a clever line while the otherperson speaks, the play would have no real continuity. But ifboth Players are listening actively and respondinginstinctively to what they hear, then something strikingcan occur. Some truth can be discovered—a real connectionbetween Players can develop.Through ... emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as wellas others—we foster respect, attentiveness, and empathy, andengender a mutual desire to give from the heart. The essenceis to be found in our consciousness … not in the actual wordsthat are exchanged. ~ Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication 38
  44. 44. Skills: Smart PlayBy Carman Dewees Honesty-Have the courage to be honest! Openly share youremotions—verbally and nonverbally! Our western cultureoften looks down upon expressing emotion, judging itchildish. For example, playing Event Puddle often makes mefeel like a narcissistic child. So what? It’s in the context of asafe game. To me, not expressing feelings seems far morepersonally immature and socially limiting. Nonverbal Vocalizations-Nonverbal vocalizations are one method of tapping into youremotions. The technique encompasses breathing, gutturalsounds, gibberish, sighs, coughing, and/or shouting.Nonverbal vocalization is used in Emo-Pitch, but it may alsobe used to begin any game. Time to Pause-Pausing to breathe before beginning a game fostersnaturalness. For example, while playing Believe It, an 11-year-old boy discussed “loving” the Red Sox. (He was really abig Yankee’s fan). I stopped him and asked him to start again,but this time to pause and breathe before beginning. Thesecond time, it was believable and without sarcasm. Also,within a game, a pause and breath allows your partner tohear you thinking—to hear the wheels cranking in your head.It also allows the Guide to slice in. Colors, Details, Feelings-Colors and details help paint clear pictures of whatsurrounds us and conveys imbedded feeling. For example,Four-Sided Where help me communicate inner feelingsthrough description of the world surrounding me. Thistechnique can also push the Guide to take every vocal 39
  45. 45. inflection and read meaning into it between games. Judging isthe most common challenge new Players face when learningLife-Play. Present Moment-When I’m feeling a judgmental impulse, rather than expressdisapproval toward my partner, I try to be aware of thatfeeling. Then I show curiosity toward what the person hasplayed. I ask questions that I’m curious about and listencarefully to the answers. Because improv is an art form of thepresent moment, it’s most desirable to give positive (and notfalse) feedback, as the past cannot be changed (see David’sdiscussion in About Feedback) and the future can only beinfluenced through the present moment. Keith Johnstone oftenwrites about how improvisers need to get rid of fear to playfrom their own power. For example, playing Tomorrow Iffrom my own power often leads me to realizations about how Iwant to live differently going forward. Discovery-Often, Players find a magical moment: a pause, an emotion,words, and/or vocalizations with meaning beyond what isexplicitly stated. It’s not about moments from the past; it’sabout discovering part of yourself in the present moment. It’sa balance. It’s engaging, surprising, and fun!Through spontaneity we are re-formed into ourselves. Itcreates an explosion that for the moment frees us fromhanded-down frames of reference, memory choked with oldfacts and information, and undigested theories and techniquesof other people’s findings. Spontaneity is the moment ofpersonal freedom when we are faced with reality, and see it,explore it, and act accordingly. In this reality the bits andpieces of ourselves function as an organic whole. It is the timeof discovery, of experiencing, of creative expression. ~ Viola Spolin, mother of improvisation 40
  46. 46. Skills: The Guide–PlayerRelationshipBy Carman Dewees and David ShepherdDavid: Last night we were warming up with Emo-Pitch and Igave you the emotion “Love. You sang for almost a minuteand said “Period” before I had a chance to guide you.Carman: I secretly wanted you to say, “Detail” or “More”before or even after I said “Period.” Follow Curiosity-David: I was curious who the girl in the song was and whereyou were sitting or lying.Carman: Why didn’t you speak up … and ask?David: I was intrigued by your song and forgot to slice inshortly with “Color,” “Where?” “Action,” “Dialogue”… soyou wouldn’t feel interrupted.Carman: I often forget how uncomplicated a short commentfrom the Guide can be … especially if done with a supportivespirit.Move Together-David: It’s important that Life-Play games come out of twopeople moving together.Carman: It’s a dance. It’s surprising to me that learning toplay the Guide is more challenging than learning to be thePlayer. 41
  47. 47. Possibilities-David: Yes, when you play the Guide, you are under morepressure than when you are a Player. Whether an objectglistens colorfully, has texture, sound, and taste depends onwhether you are awake to such possibilities.Could the Player reveal more feeling without getting false? Isthis the time for the Player to slip into song or dialogue? Is thePlayer revealing character?Can you slice into the Player’s play without interrupting thePlayer’s flow? If you wait another second, you lose theopportunity, and you may be buried under the Player’screative rush.Carman: What’s the most important thing for playing theGuide? Lean in, Slice in-David: The trick is to whittledown your supportingcomments to a second or twoand speak them withemphasis: “Feeling!”“Color!” “Character!”Anticipate where guidancewill be required. Lean in. Ifyou wait for a Player to pause,you will miss your chance.Sometimes a whole game willbe finished without yourgiving a single comment! Andwhen you ask the Player whyhe or she didn’t do this or Carman and David playing Believe It atthat, a question comes David’s 85th birthday partyback: “Why didn’t youguide me?” 42
  48. 48. Skills: About FeedbackBy David ShepherdOften when playing, we feel our partner is taking a wrongturn. For instance, a story may not be building in spite of ourclear signals, or our partner is not taking an opportunity toexplore conflict. When the time comes for feedback, we’retempted to lay out our opinions: This is what you could havedone, or this is what I would have done in your shoes. If oneLife-Player has more experience than another Player, then theguidance seems to mean more. Feedback: What Happened-Limit feedback to what did happen—in detail. Ignore whatshould have happened. Help the Player learn exactly how thegame went and see how she or he will play it differently nexttime. Feedback: What You Heard-Feedback can include questions about what you heard; forinstance you might ask, “Were you hoping to take youradventure outdoors?” Or, “If you wanted to add more colors tothe face of the old lady, could you do it now?” Toward Greater Skill-Your role is to lead the Player into greater skills. WhenPlayers ask whether their performances were weak, you have agreat opportunity: Reassure them or say exactly where theperformance was weak or strong and why. Now you’re notgiving feedback; you’re answering questions. Positive (and Not False)-Feedback is tricky; the more positive it is the better—solong as it’s not false. If you can, pick out even tiny momentswhere the Player achieved success. 43
  49. 49. Know the Rules-Know the game’s guidelines so that when you go over themwith a Player, you can point out how the game is usuallyplayed. Use the metaphor that accompanies rules; forinstance, in Event Puddle the metaphor is “puddle”—thepuddle of unrelated emotions aroused by one event. If a seriesof events are chosen, insist on the Player choosing only one! Help the Player Uncover Insights-The Guide should also encourage the Player to uncoverinsights by asking the Player questions like: “What was yourexperience?” “Did you know where you wanted to go whenyou started that game?” “How did you come up with threesuch strong emotions? Did moving around help?”… And such. Balanced, Fair, and Quick-Make sure feedback is balanced, fair, and quick. It’s thepillar of a program that attracts and holds newcomers, whothemselves will become expert Players and expert at givingfeedback. Let us rather embrace one another in our basic humanness and strive in the workshop to release this humanness in ourselves and our students. Here, then, the walls of our cages, prejudices, frames of reference, and predetermined right and wrong dissolve. We look with an “inward eye.” ~ Viola Spolin, mother of improv 44
  50. 50. Connect: Your Fellow PlayersBy Howard Jerome GombergWho are the people you like to play games with? The peopleyou can have fun with? The people you can go to the movieswith, fight with, and make up with?These are your fellow Life-Players.Who are the people who’ve been through some of the sameexperiences you’ve been through? The people who understandyou? The people you trust?These are your fellow Life-Players.Your fellow Life-Players do things together—whether it’splaying poker or telling jokes. Your Life-Players pick up onyour vibes, and you pick up on theirs. You’re on to eachother. You’re probably very creative already in your ownway—whether you’re creating a picnic or helping a friend introuble. And all I really wanted to do back then was rehearsal. I was in it for the process, and I really resented having to go out and do a performance for an audience, because the process stopped; it had to freeze and be the same every night. It wasn’t as interesting. ~ Barbara Harris, actress and a member of CompassRoger Bowen and Barbara Harris 45
  51. 51. Connect: Life-Play with TeensBy Michael GoldingIn Los Angeles, I work with at-risk inner-city teenagers. Manyof my students are resigned, suspicious, and emotionallyguarded. I find myself seeking out games that students caninstantly connect with on a personal and emotional level.Life-Play, within my classroom, has been extremelysuccessful in that regard. Intimate Conversations-Life-Play games help students to bond with each other.Students don’t view Life-Play games as “tasks,” but rather asintimate conversations. For example, with the game IdealMeal, salivation is common, providing awareness to the bodyand specifics of a kitchen environment.When they did I Dream,some teens chose to do anightmare. Initially, I wasthrown. In the set-up, Ididn’t say they couldn’tdo a nightmare—but whywould you choose to doone? Nightmares areabout scaring andtraumatizing people,right? The class taughtme that nightmares are aninsightful way toempathize with thesensitivities of fellowstudents. The content ofthe nightmares sharedfollowed the paradigm of Michael, in the moment… his natural environment.the overburdened 46
  52. 52. teenager: being late for school, taking a test but not knowingany answers, and feeling anxiety about dating. Layers-The insecurity of being judged comes to the surface with Life-Play and peels away a layer that opens up self-awareness.With Believe It, some would play it half-heartedly, as a way ofindicating that’s not how they really feel. Those who played itwith conviction apologized afterward, making sure the classknew that wasn’t how they felt. Then there were those whodiscovered, after some probing, that they were actuallyconveying the views of someone close to them—a sibling,friend, or parent. Within my classroom workshops, surprisingrevelations have become a common and gratifying byproductof Life-Play.I plan to explore additional potential within Life-Play.Arranging the games in a particular order, I will examine howLife-Play can tell a story or survey a specific theme oremotion based on the identity of the group I am working with.Imagine Life-Play as an improvised play, soap opera, ormovie. Anything is possible.Understanding grows from personal experience that enables aperson to see and feel in ways so varied and so full ofchangeable meanings that one’s self-awareness is thedetermining factor. Here one can admit more readily that thesubstances of a shadowy world are projected out of ourpersonal thoughts, attitudes, emotions, needs. Perhaps it iseasier to understand that even though we do not have thewisdom to enumerate the reasons for the behavior of anotherperson, we can grant that every individual does have hisprivate world of meaning, conceived out of the integrity anddignity of his personality. ~Virginia M. Axline, author of Dibs in Search of Self 47
  53. 53. Connect: Life-Play for GroupsBy David ShepherdWhy would seniors embrace Life-Play?Although I am 85 years old, I am mostly with people half myage, so I don’t often play with seniors. However, I know why Ibenefit from play: I like to imagine I am adventuring throughmy life as I move with a partner from game to game. Though Ihave almost no physical mobility, with games I can pounce onwhat happened last week, or stride into what I hope or fearwill happen next. An Opportunity-I used to tend a small stable of characters—exuberantmillionaire, dry professor, disturbed teen, German cynic,mother of my own age. Now our character game requires meto visit these persona (and others) just as Emo-Pitch gives mean excuse to open my lungs and sing or churn outgibberish.I rarely write a poem, but I play Repetition Poem again andagain for as long as I’m given a topic. Being a MadisonAvenue WASP, I was taught not to express anger or tears orany excessive emotion, but Emo-Pitch puts what I feel into thehands of my partner. I rarely cook, but Ideal Meal hasconvinced me to concoct dishes.Two years ago, I spent two months in a rehab center, where Ilived and dined with seniors. I remember a few of them well.My roommate made good sense, dictated complex letters tothe United Kingdom, lunched with a young woman, andrelated coherently to his wife every afternoon. But come 6 PM,a change came over him, which I was told was a “sundown”effect. For a couple of hours, he seemed unable to focus, whilehis speech was slightly garbled. 48
  54. 54. What I now assume is that the imagination and speech ofseniors can shift from hour to hour. We can play brilliantly atone time of the day, but not at another. For us, list easy gameson one shelf of your mind and difficult games on another. Beready to abandon a game that’s not working. It’s not thereputation of Life-Play that’s at stake; it’s the pleasure andgain of Players.At my rehab I also discovered that one very coherenttablemate, who read a newspaper daily cover to cover, couldnot remember his daughters’ names. What he could rememberwas the day his father introduced him to a business he wouldrun for decades. My other tablemate had been a collegeEnglish teacher but remembered little about it. What he didremember was rhyming tetrameter—a form of verse that hecould recite for hours. Invent a Game-What do my memories have to do with Life-Play? Just aswe’ve invented games for our own use, so we can inventgames for seniors. For instance, a game that plunges a Playerinto youth—say, at a 10-year-old’s birthday—or a game thatrequires a Player to describe his or her family down tograndparents and great-grandparents or a holiday game or astory that involves everyone. For seniors who boggle at detail,make up a game that grows nouns into adverbs and adjectives.Let games engage seniors during the long hours they may sitalone in a corridor where people pass with carts or trays butnever interact.Accept these as my theories and come up with your own—whether senior or junior. 49
  55. 55. Invent: How to Develop GamesBy Carman DeweesOur phone adventureshave been indevelopment since thesummer of 2008.Every day we learnmore about them andabout our tastes,feelings, and ability toplay them. It’sexciting.Anyone can send in anew game descriptionthat includes a role forthe Guide and thePlayer. I put theirsuggestions on a sheetfor testing. This beginsa process of play,discussion, andrevision that can go on Madie plays outside.for months—led by theperson who suggested the game. Once we feel that weunderstand the rules of the game and that it can be quicklylearned and is fun to play, the new game is put on the Menusheet.Inventing a new game often starts from a personal need,challenge, insight, longing, or a skill someone would like tosharpen. Other times, the inventor begins with an existingimprov game and makes adjustments to it. (There are manyonline improv game encyclopedias to peruse.) 50
  56. 56. Structure-A common development hurdle is structural problems with agame. For example, Ideal Meal lacked surprise. So weencouraged the Guide to offer a person as a surprise diversionfor the Player, if the Player doesn’t introduce someone. Metaphor-Another common problem is lacking a clear metaphor. Iplayed Event Puddle, one of our oldest games, incorrectly forsix months. I did not understand how I should feel playing thegame and would frequently turn to intellectual rationalizationrather than unraveling emotions. After some heated groupdiscussion, David uncovered the metaphor of “a puddle” ofemotions, which later became the name of the game. Personal-A problem with a game frequently arises out of a personalchallenge. For example, I found Event Puddle challengingbecause of my frequent rationalizing, and Event Puddle madeDavid feel that his life lacked events to explore. He delvedinto what this meant to him and came to realize that smallevents, deeply explored, made vivacious Event Puddles.With new games, focus on asking questions that matter toyou and respect the process. When first suggested, new gamesare often a bit off, hence the game does not intuitively flow.This is normal. Adventures that can be played many timesand in different ways are ideal, so the game and your lifeconverse and evolve together. 51
  57. 57. Invent: The Future of Life-PlayBy David ShepherdWhat next? Our future is based on sharing Life-Playleadership with Players like you who will play with moreexpertise than I do, and who can handle newcomers as deftlyas Carman. To grow we will need a manager—to give us aprofessional stance. And we will need funds—throughfoundations as well as my theatre contacts. We see moreopportunities for Players living near each other to lunch orparty together—churning up a warmth and exhilaration thatmay not always be possible on the phone.Some people think when they are acting it’s an intermissionfrom their life. It’s not an intermission—it is your life! ~Suzanne Shepherd, actress and director, and member of Compass, Howard running for Mayor of Toronto (Summer 2010) 52
  58. 58. About: Bios of Contributors David Shepherd- spent most of his life inventing improvformats such as COMPASS cabaret in Chicago, which wasreplicated 1000 times worldwide. From New York, his ImprovOlympix was carried to 300 Canadian high schools.MOVIExperience brought him to Massachusetts, where henow develops Life-Play. Carman Dewees- wandered Asia and also pestered peoplefor National Public Radio. He is currently an independentradio producer and web designer. Carman lives inNorthampton, Massachusetts, and develops Life-Play, runs thewebsite, and produces the podcast. Michael Golding- is a teacher, writer, director, and lifelongimproviser. He currently teaches improvisation to at-risk teensin Los Angeles. Michael was recently given the title“Canadian Improv Games Ambassador to the U.S.A.” Scot Coar- is a marriage and family therapist and recordingproducer/engineer. He lives in western Massachusetts. Howard Jerome Gomberg- lives in Toronto, where he actsin big movies and makes small voice-overs. Ana Maria Salicioni- was born and raised in the Patagoniaregion of Argentina, the southernmost part of the country. Sheholds a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Ana Maria and her husbandlive in Amherst, Massachusetts. 53
  59. 59. About: Recommended ReadingImprov Books- • Coleman, Janet. The Compass (Chicago: Centennial Publications of the University of Chicago Press, 1991)—discusses the founding of the first improv cabaret in Chicago. • Halpern, Charna, and Del Close, et al. Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisation (Colorado Springs, CO: Meriwether, 1994)—Improv Olympic’s bible, with basic explanation of the Harold, a type of long-form improv. • Gwinn, Peter. Group Improvisation: The Manual of Ensemble Improv Games (Colorado Springs, CO: Meriwether, 2003)—former Improv Olympic Teacher’s instructions for group exercises. • Johnstone, Keith. Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (London: Routledge, 1987)—excellent book on improv (chapters on status and masks are must reads). • Johnstone, Keith. Impro for Storytellers (London: Routledge, 1999)—sequel to Impro (the Theatresports format is explored). • Keefe, Joseph A. Improv Yourself: Business Spontaneity at the Speed of Thought (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2003)—improv for Business training, by former head Second City Communications. • Kozlowski, Rob. The Art of Chicago Improv: Short Cuts to Long-Form Improvisation (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Drama, 2002)—history of IO (Improv Olympics) and its teams. • Libera, Anne. The Second City Almanac of Improvisation (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2004)—essays and instruction by Second City directors, producers, and actors. 54
  60. 60. • Lynn, Bill. Improvisation for Actors and Writers: A Guidebook for Improv Lessons in Comedy (Colorado Springs, CO: Meriwether, 2004)—groundling’s approach to improv and sketch in comparison to The Second City and Improv Olympic. • Napier, Mick. Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Drama, 2004)—a concise and clear book by Second City director and Annoyance Productions founder. • Patinkin, Sheldon. The Second City: Backstage at the World’s Greatest Comedy Theater (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2000)—book with two audio CDs covering the history of The Second City’s first 40 years, with sketches in audio. • Shepherd, David. That Movie In Your Head: Guide to Improvising Stories on Video (Shutesbury, MA: Gere, 2005)—improvised movies. • Spolin, Viola. Improvisation for the Theater: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1983)—the basis for most other work in improv, specifically The Second City. • Sweet, Jeffrey. Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of The Second City and The Compass Players (New York: Limelight Editions, 2004)—early interviews with Second City alums. • Sweeney, John. Innovation at the Speed of Laughter: 8 Secrets to World Class Idea Generation (Emeryville, CA: Aerialist Press, 2005)—a book on using improv for corporate needs by The Brave New Workshop.Improv Audio and Video- • Spolin, Viola. Spacewalks (CD)—guided improv meditation. • Nichols and May: Take Two (DVD, 1996)—biography and work of the two brilliant improvisers and comedians. 55
  61. 61. • Second to None: 10th Anniversary Special Edition (DVD, 2009)—documentary on The Second City’s production of Paradigm Lost, directed by Mick Napier. • The World According to Keith (DVD, 2003)— documentary about Keith Johnstone. • Keith Johnstone Teaches: Trance Masks with Steve Jarand (DVD, 2010)—excellent instructional video on mask work. • In The Moment (DVD)—a documentary on the Canadian Improv Games (features David Shepherd).Drama Therapy- • Axline, Virginia. Dibs In Search of Self (New York: Ballantine, 1967)—an amazing story about play therapy. • Blatner, Adam, ed., with Daniel J. Weiner. Interactive and Improvisational Drama: Varieties of Applied Theatre and Performance (Bloomington, IN: iuniverse, 2007)—showcases the broad uses for improv. • May, Rollo. The Courage to Create (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994)—the classic on psychology of creativity.Audio Storytelling- • Biewen, John. Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010)—public radio producers discussing the current golden age of audio documentary. • Ira Glass on Storytelling (current TV)—tips on storytelling (available on •—large archive profiling public radio audio producers. 56
  62. 62. Emotional Intelligence- • Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (New York: Bantam, 1997)— the modern classic on emotional intelligence. • Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (New York: Hyperion, 1994)—classic book on meditation. • Rosenberg, Marshall B. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (Encinitas, CA: Puddledancer Press, 2003)—explores clear communication and fostering healthy relationships.Listen. What can you hear right now? How many sounds orvoices? You may have tuned them out while you were reading,but you were receiving them. We are open and vulnerable tosound. A voice can sneak in, bypass the brain, and touch theheart. ~ Jay Allison, NPR producer 57
  63. 63. About: Contact Phone-413-248-7529We’d love to hear from you! 58
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