The Power of Improv & Fun

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The Power of Improv & Fun
by Charlie Smith

     It was an unexpected question; one that forced me to improvise, asked by my direct supervisor at the Omaha World-Herald. “When did you have your light-bulb moment that you wanted to leave journalism?” The answer was easy. It was during one of those periodic (and, given the nature of newspapers, more frequent these days) times when managers decide that the workers need to expand their abilities and work, seeing how they adapt to new duties and responsibilities. For me, the work didn’t go well at all. You see, copy editors, that odd and rare breed, are a sort solely unto themselves. We’re slavishly devoted to a routine, wholly reliant upon our right-brain “word” skills and nature. Take us out of that environment, and we flail helplessly. That’s what happened to me when I was given the duty of “drawing” pages on the design desk – sketching out a picture of what the page would look like with stories and pictures.

     There were many troublesome details about that duty. First, imaginative folks who like design and pictures rely not on their “right brain,” word side, but their “left brain” imaginative side. Thus, like that classic exercise in which you try to fold your arms the “opposite” way, I was asking my brain to undertake a task for which it was woefully underdeveloped. I could do it – but it took me three times longer than anyone else on the design desk. In the painful process of closing my eyes and trying desperately to “imagine” what a page might look like, often as not, I simply reproducing the previous day’s version. And then, as I breathed a sigh of relief, handing my finished product to an editor, I was told, “Oh, there were three breaking stories that got added a few minutes ago. So now you’ll have to redraw the page all over again.” Pure agony! And a lesson – whether wanted or not – in improv. Basically, making it up as you go along. And adapting. Adapting. Adapting.

In this day and age, as things continue to change at lightning speed all around us and interruptions abound, we are all having to become masters of improv, aren’t we? In her book, God, Improv and the Art of Living, Presbyterian pastor MaryAnn McKibben Dana says improvising is what we’re called to do in our own lives continually to survive.

It’s easy to dismiss this idea of improvisation. When we hear the word “improv,” most of us think of the silly TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” What does that have to do with us? But improv isn’t about being clever or witty. It isn’t spontaneous. It isn’t a free-for-all. And it certainly isn’t frivolous. Instead, improve is creative. It’s invigorating. It’s character-forming. It’s risky – and it is playful. It’s all about saying Yes-And, not No-But. Improv is hard, though. It goes against our reserved human nature. It involves risk, fear of failure and exposure. We’d rather die than be put on display for others’ judgment or scrutiny. Yet we are called in life to be improvisers. Improv helps us in the battles of life, adapting to constant change.

Let’s be honest. Many of our difficulties stem from the constant barrage of distractions and interruptions. Yet what if we thought of distractions as a way to rediscover fun? That’s the premise of The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, a book by Catherine Price.

Price outlines how good fun is for us: reducing stress and increasing our happy hormones. Fun is good for our body and our brains; so it’s even good for our work and our families and pretty much everything we might do with our day. Fun and delight also build resilience in the struggles we have with the world around us. Price also outlines three key components of fun: Playfulness, Connection and Flow.

What stops us from having more fun, from engaging in more improv, from making more space for playfulness, connection and flow, not just in epic moments but in everyday life? Often it may be something as simple as our own negative self-criticism.

I’ll be honest here: Coming to the Tuesday luncheons of Oklahoma City Rotary Club 29 counts as fun for me. I look forward to them – and not because I’m expecting some improvisation from the podium! As the moderator of the Newsletter Committee, I hope that our dedicated cadre of volunteer authors will engage you in many ways with deep questions, interesting ideas … and, yes, some fun.

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