Some 30 people — strangers — standing in a circle turn their heads to the right, then to the left, then slooowly to the right. We walk in slow motion through the circle. Whenever we make eye contact, we make faces at each other and speak in gibberish. What is going on here?
It's warm-up exercises in a workshop called “Bringing Improvisation to Work,” organized by Performance of a Lifetime, a training and consulting firm that engages clients in improvisational performance (www.performanceofalifetime.com). “We all have the capacity to perform, to create,” says Cathy Rose Salit, POAL president and CEO. “In business, there's not a lot of openness to creativity. But we believe that if you invest in this, you'll be more productive and will be able to tap into people's talents.”
Participant Douglas Martinez, executive producer of Inflection Strategies, a tech consulting and training firm, was there to sample a POAL workshop, with the possibility of bringing such an event to his own clients. He was one of 10 brave souls who accepted the challenge to perform a 60-second improvisational skit on the stage in POAL's loft offices in New York City's SoHo neighborhood. Seated on a metal folding chair, using a tilted stool as a “steering wheel,” he reinvented himself as a New York motorist stopped for a violation by a decidedly unsympathetic traffic officer.
Queried later, Martinez commented, “People are more fulfilled when they feel they're being creative, and that helps productivity. When we're creative, the real innovative solutions come out.”
Following individual improvisations, the group was divided into three teams. We had 10 minutes to create and rehearse a three-minute play that we would perform for the others. “I was concerned that our play might not be good enough,” said one participant. “How important is the product?” Salit's reply: “We don't care at all about the product. The whole thing is the process. We want to help you learn to work and play together.
“As scared as people are,” she adds, “as hard as this may seem, people are so excited at the opportunity to be human beings together. We learn that even though we're uncomfortable, we can take risks.” Or, as Martinez put it, “I learned today to allow for the unexpected, the unplanned, and just keep going.”