Unlocking additional creativity

Impro­vi­sa­tional the­ater classes pro­vide a great way to enhance your cre­ative side. Unsur­pris­ingly, forc­ing one­self to make up con­tent with­out prior plan­ning will lead to some unex­pected results. It might appear chal­leng­ing to pull ideas out of thin air, but time spent onstage will prove it is eas­ier than most think.

In Keith John­stone’s Impro, John­stone observes that chil­dren rarely strug­gle with impro­vi­sa­tion. Kids love to make stuff up and hold con­ver­sa­tions with imag­i­nary peo­ple. What hap­pens between ado­les­cence and adult­hood that represses this skill?

Sup­pose an eight-year-old writes a story about being chased down a mouse-hole by a mon­strous spi­der. It’ll be per­ceived as ‘child­ish’ and no one will worry. If he writes the same story when he’s four­teen it may be taken as a sign of men­tal abnor­mal­ity. Cre­at­ing a story, or paint­ing a pic­ture, or mak­ing up a poem lay an ado­les­cent wide open to crit­i­cism. He there­fore has to fake every­thing so that he appears ‘sen­si­tive’ or ‘witty’ or ‘tough’ or ‘intel­li­gent’ accord­ing to the image he’s try­ing to estab­lish in the eyes of other people.

Soci­etal pres­sure to fit in and be “nor­mal” often leads chil­dren to aban­don their abil­ity to act on impulse and cre­ate fan­tas­tic sto­ries. Over time, this skill atro­phies and many adults find occu­pa­tions and lifestyles that don’t require cre­ativ­ity. Improv instruc­tors place heavy focus on revers­ing this trend and encour­ag­ing stu­dents to act on impulse. Through the use of games and basic exer­cises, teach­ers hope to cre­ate a state of play that wel­comes all ideas and rewards stu­dents for tak­ing cre­ative risks.

Rather than say, “I’m not the cre­ative type,” con­sider that you once were effort­lessly cre­ative. Improv classes cre­ate a safe envi­ron­ment where you can learn to get back in touch with that atro­phied mus­cle. Addi­tion­ally, there are some great solo exer­cises improv gurus like John­stone and Mick Napier rec­om­mend. Keith John­stone is a fan of auto­matic writ­ing, where indi­vid­u­als spend a ded­i­cated period of time star­ing a blank page (or screen) and writ­ing (or typ­ing) what­ever comes to mind. Whether ten min­utes or thirty, try to pick a time of day where you can iso­late your­self and write every sin­gle day. Many cre­ative writ­ers refer to this process as “free writ­ing” and empha­size the impor­tance of per­form­ing the activ­ity on a reg­u­lar basis. Qual­ity is not as impor­tant in the process as is the writ­ing itself. Give the activ­ity enough time and some incred­i­bly cre­ative ideas will rise to the top.

Mick Napier rec­om­mends a great activ­ity called “Dada Mono­logues”. I find it par­tic­u­larly appeal­ing when alone in the car. Try to give a speech that doesn’t make any sense. It’s much harder than it sounds. You should avoid words that fit together nat­u­rally in a sen­tence. For instance, a sky should not be blue. A sky should be some­thing impos­si­ble, like cheese. As you talk about noth­ing, try your hard­est not to make sense of the sub­ject. At first, try to give a 30 sec­ond speech. Extend that time as your skill grows and see how long you can go before you acci­den­tally make sense of the topic.

Many improv exer­cises focus on cre­ativ­ity, but these are two of my favorites. Give them a spin once a day for a few weeks, and con­tinue if you find them use­ful! Good luck.

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