Are You a “Quick Change” Artist?

February 4, 2011
Living in a time of fast-change requires us to flow with what is happening while participating in the creation of a new and better world.
“Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. And there’s no such thing as an ordinary moment.”Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP: cabaret performer, actress, singer, comedian, therapist, etc. and today’s guest blogger
Jude Treder-Wolff, therapist, actress, cabaret singer

Last March, I took an all-day workshop on improvisation at a conference in Washington, DC, put on by the Psychotherapy Networker Magazine. Jude Treder-Wolff led us through several exercises that opened our minds to the potential for seeing new possibilities in familiar situations. Wells Hanley, who is a free-lance musician, played wonderfully original compositions that matched what we were creating in the moment.

I asked her if she would write some articles I could use in the blog and newsletter. She graciously gave me three, of which this is the first.

As the daily news demonstrates, the world is going through a period of extreme uneasiness and our daily lives reflect that uncertainty. Learning to adjust to constant new realities is a great skill and this article can help you find a new balance in a world out of balance.

I had originally called this post “Are You a Quick Change Artist?.” Then I decided I liked the title Treder-Wolff suggested because it reflects a statement she makes (see bold paragraph below) that there is “no box to think out of anymore.”

Especially if you are one of a growing number of “free-lancers and independent contractors” that Treder-Wolff mentions, I recommend you find a local improvisation group you can join. Trust me, you don’t need to be an actor to have a great time learning to shift from moment to moment in order to enjoy yourself as the situation sifts and you learn to adjust to new circumstances.

Arlene Harder, MA, MFT

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Improvisation Matters: Uncertainty is the “New Normal”

For the third time since it opened Off-Broadway, I recently saw The 39 Steps – in which 4 actors play multiple roles within the same scene and sometimes in the same sentence – to tell a complex spy story based on an early Alfred Hitchcock film. Balancing slapstick comedy with communication of important details about the serious throughline, the cast displays a seemingly infinite capacity to switch gears – and hats and identities, including accents – with split-second timing, and to use the same objects in a thousand different ways.

Using a few set pieces -e.g. chairs, boxes, flashlights – and the actors’ physical commitment to the scene, we experience a chase atop a moving train, a car, a Scottish farmhouse on the windy moors, and the London Palladium among many others. This hilarious and inventive show expresses a world of ideas about improvisation in the real world when so many of us are having to adapt to changes we never anticipated would complicate our lives, and make the most out of existing resources.

These actors’ ability to move in and out of various identities is a “quick-change” skill developed and expanded through training in improvisation and theater games. And as actors on the stage of 21st century life, in which uncertainty is the “new normal,” we need exactly that kind of creative competence and rapid-response mental agility to meet all sorts of unpredictable pressures and demands. Of all the experiential methods I have studied over the past 25 years – which include music therapy, theater, psychodrama, and writing – improvisation emerges as the most effective match for the urgency, pace of change and unique challenges of life in these times.

Technology has dissolved the old boundaries of time and space, there is no box to think out of anymore, and in today’s world mental health has more to do with our capacity to connect with an increasingly complex social world, manage uncertainty and exploit the opportunities for growth and expansion within the unpredictable and unfamiliar than it does with symptom reduction. Improvisation accomplishes this and more with a generous dose of humanity, humor, and warmth.

The May/June 2010 issue of the Ivey Business Journal promotes music and theater improvisation as a way to “learn a great deal about flexibility and agility in the face of ambiguity and time pressure. Consider jazz musicians, who jam, or work collaboratively to co-create music in real time. Or consider the theatre improviser who doesn’t have a script but creates the storyline with the other improvisers. The improvisers have learned to deal with diversity, ambiguity, interconnectedness and flux.”

As free-lancers and independent contractors progressively make up more and more of the workforce – recently estimated at 35% with business leaders predicting this trend will continue–rapidly evolving technologies and seismic economic and social shifts are redefining the rules and the structures through which we create our professional lives. With uncertainty as the new normal, improvisers have a significant advantage as we live through this great reshaping of the way things work.

The mind and skill set gained through improvisation-based training is ideally matched to meet intensifying demands for innovative and inventive thinking on the fly, the ability to break down barriers to people across a wide range of social and cultural gaps, reach for resources and search for hidden connections linking “what is” to “what is emerging,” to new directions and inventive solutions that are the mark of innovation.

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