Improv Theatre and Emergence

I normally find it hard to enjoy stage performance / show normally but the dinner performance in the IAF EMENA conference in Stockholm was indeed amazing, even inspiring!   They did improv theatre. I find them to be very creative in how to improv e.g.

  • Randomly started a conversation between 2 actors. Another actor called ‘pause’ anytime and replaced any in-action actor by himself / herself, and carried on the conversation
  • Asked audience to shout out a scene to start with.   Started a random conversation among the players.   Whenever an audience threw a flower onto the stage, the player who just spoke would sing a song using the words he / she just said.   They called it ‘Feel like a song’
  • Two players stood together and moved like one individual. When they spoke during the play, they looked at each other and spoke at the same time. Funny words and meaning came out.

In doing the above, they achieved quite a few things.   They interacted with the audience and kept them engaged.   In fact, they co-created the ‘stories’ with the audience.   And they managed to keep the ‘stories’ entertaining.

Most importantly, apart from being entertained, I saw emergence.   They created the environment where new stories could emerge – stories which even the actors did not know before the show.   I am most amazed with their mindset (just my inference).   One said confidently in the beginning along the line of ‘We are going to perform on stories which we do not know’.

This is exactly the mindset needed to deal with “Complex” problem (under Cynefin Framework) – the cause-and-effect is so unclear that existing practices do not work.   The leaders need to take time to experiment for emergent practices.     To me, the most challenging part is to be mentally prepared e.g. to go against the urge to adopt any ‘best practice’ or ‘technical fix’ which could easily be Work Avoidance.

The way how the improv actors carried themselves provided me a great example and reminer to such way of thinking.   On the other hand, I also learn from them on the technical aspect.   I reflect on how the actors managed to co-create the stories:

Diversity – They designed ways to tap into the different inputs from the floor e.g. timing on when to sing a song.   Other than being engaging, the inputs forced the actors to create something new.   It broke the inertia.

Team – In a way, their task is to convert the crazy inputs into digestable and entertaining performance.   Working in a core team who knows each other well makes it much more possible.   The 4 actors both challenged and supported each other.

Technical – Allowing things to emerge needs solid foundation. The actors could work on new inputs since they have strong performing capability. They sang well. They spoke clear and loud. They made melodies from the piano which their team members can follow. We needed readily available lego pieces in order to emerge.

(Note: The performing team is called Aktör Entertainment.  But somehow, I could not find them on the internet)

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