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Improv’s Roots in Social Work

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For me, improv isn’t mainly about what it looks like.  I’m much more interested in what it allows you to discover inside yourself, the connections it builds, and the shared joy we can create together.

This was also true at improv’s origins.   It wasn’t originally about performance.  Improv as we know it began as an approach devised by Neva Boyd and Viola Spolin to build the social skills of immigrant children in 1940s Chicago. 

There’s a wonderful piece on Viola Spolin and the history of improv here and a documentary film about it here and on YouTube below.

Some quotes from the article below.

Don’t try to be funny

“Comedy, to a certain extent, is insight”

Anne Libera, Second City

Improv often is funny.  Not because anyone is trying to be funny, but because being human is funny:  How we worry about trivialities and fail to ignore what’s important; our little obsessions and habits; the delicate non-verbal dances between people.  We find joy in being free and in that freedom to explore the oddness of being  human.

Release self editing

“One of the reasons that people … fall in love with improvisation is that it’s a place of connection where you are genuinely yourself.  It’s meditation in connection with other humans.” 

Anne Libera, Second City

We have different systems in our brain and body – creative expression and editing.  They’re both useful in different ways.  Most education tends to encourage us to do both at the same time.  This can get us jammed – like pressing the accelerator and the brake at the same time.  Improv helps us tame our overactive editor so we can release the brake a little and practice creative expression without editing and surprise ourselves with our own discoveries.  This connects us with others who are doing the same thing.

 “Sometimes … the ‘average’ person has been known to transcend the limitation of the familiar, courageously enter the area of the unknown, and release momentary genius within [themselves].”

Viola Spolin, Improvisation for the Theater

There’s also a biography of Viola Spolin here

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