This month’s improv tip is from Shawn Westfall, BossaNova’s Improv Guru:

The characters sitting at the center of our favorite sitcoms, shows, movies, plays, novels, short stories and improv scenes all have one thing in common: they want something.In most cases, they want something desperately. Indeed, that often is what informs the plots of the stories or scenes they are in. Hamlet wants revenge. Will he get it? Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman wants the respect he feels he so clearly deserves, something he feels he’s devoted his life to. Does he get it, in the end? That old “pretentious” actor cliché– the one that has him or her stopping a scene to ask “what’s my motivation?”—is actually useful information for the actor to know, another way of trying to discover what his or her character wants. And anyone who’s ever been part of a production knows that what a character wants in the play isn’t always clear, that what he or she says she wants may have little to do with what he or she actually wants.

Plays are texts that may seem to clarify this, but there’s usually a subtext involved, one best elucidated by the behavior of the actor playing him. And sometimes the complexities are readily apparent even within a text, and may hint at its subtext: Hamlet may indeed be the greatest revenge tragedy ever written, but Hamlet doesn’t simply want revenge – otherwise he’d make quick use of the numerous opportunities available to him throughout the play. No, he wants something else, and it’s up to the actor, director and the ensemble surrounding both to help clarify and communicate that.

Take a look at your organization. No doubt it has a mission statement or a manifesto, a text or a piece of writing to suggest daily aspirations toward an explicitly expressed overall organizational goal. Now, take a look at the steps you or your organization is taking to fulfill that mission, to help it get what it wants. Are you part of that? Or does your behavior or the behavior of your colleagues, sections, departments or even the entire organization suggest a subtext that might be completely at odds with the organization’s explicitly expressed goals?

Clarifying both those things might help you and your organization discover, exactly, what’s your motivation.

Originally published by BossaNova Consulting Group, Inc.
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Shawn Westfall

As The Get Real Project’s Improv Guru (a title that was bestowed upon me), I help bring the principles of improv comedy to life in a practical and inspiring way for our clients. I show people how being honest, truthful, vulnerable and authentic is not only necessary for successful improv comedy, but can understandably transform organizational cultures.

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