This month’s Improv Tip is from Cary Paul, Chief Improv Officer.
An Emotional Symphony: 6 Easy Steps
- Solicit volunteers. You’ll need five volunteers for this exercise. Don’t just choose the eccentric extrovert in the front row, dig a little deeper for the hidden gems on your team. Look for the folks who are more likely to lean back and let others lead. To entice people, bring up the musical theme of this exercise—let them know that anyone who sings, who has ever played an instrument, or who watches American Idol will easily relate to this one.
- Introduce the activity. Invite your volunteers to stand on “stage,” all in a row. Explain to everyone—volunteers and audience alike—that you will be conducting a five-person symphony, of sorts, only for this exercise, the volunteers won’t be playing cellos or cymbals. Instead, this unique little symphony will be made up of the tools of your trade.
- Involve the audience. Ask the audience to shout out items you’d commonly find around your office. For example, they might offer up “laptop!” and “printer!” as well as “stapler!” and ”copier!” Assign one item to each volunteer. Then, ask the audience to shout out emotion, and assign one emotion to each item/volunteer. For example, perhaps the laptop is confused, the printer is passionate, the stapler is anxious. Each volunteer has an “emotional” office item.
- Finish setting the stage. Explain that each that each “musician,” when directed to do so by the conductor (you), is to wax poetic about their office item, in the tone of their emotion. For instance, if you have a confused laptop she might say, “Ever since I upgraded to Windows 8 I just haven’t felt like myself! My apps don’t fit right, and I seem to have lost that intimate connection to my aircard. It’s all very confusing and I feel so lost!” Note: the example provided here is just for you; your volunteers will amaze you with what they create in the moment without any examples—in fact, it’s better if you don’t constrain them.
- Conduct your symphony. Now, the “musicians” are ready. Begin by conducting them with simple hand motions. With the upward wave of your imaginary baton, invite the first musician to “play.” After a few moments, bring the baton down and move to the second musician. Continue until the end of the row. Then, return to each musician at random and explore changes in volume and pace: crescendo (louder) … allegro (faster) … pianissimo (softer). Now, play with musical combinations. Create a small ensemble—a duet or trio.Mix it up in short intervals. At the end, invite all five musicians to play full out, all at the same time. Silence them, and end with one lone musician in a brief and final solo. Finally, lead your volunteers in a well-deserved bow.
- Debrief the experience. Here are some questions to consider:
- What was it like to be one of the musicians?
- What was it like to be a member of the audience?
- In what ways did the conductor contribute to the music-making?
- How does the emotional state of one musician affect the group?
- What real life work patterns were given voice in the symphony?
- How might emotions best be expressed and channeled on our team?
Tuning the Orchestra
It’s not uncommon for groups to dig deep with this exercise and discover meaningful insights into their own dynamics. Sometimes, group members will point out that there is at least a little bit of truth in even the most “over-the-top” performances. If they don’t land there, guide them to it. Not only is it almost always true, but discussing it in a thoughtful and constructive way is almost always helpful in breaking through some tough topics.
Give it a try and let us know what you learned. We love to hear stories about how an improvised moment can add a little concerto to your office life.
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