A few weeks ago I was asked to join a team of people working on a project toward political diversity and understanding. The project will entail creating and facilitating a workshop(s) fostering listening, compassion, and communication between people of opposing political beliefs. It is quite an honor to be invited into this leadership team. And while the development of that workshop is fascinating, that is not the subject of this blog. There will be more to come about that project down the road.
Today’s topic is the process of working with the leadership group as we are planning the workshop to come. The team consists of 8 (at least) people. Yes, that is quite a lot of leaders and I do worry too many cooks could spoil the broth. But since we are working on a seminar with the goal of communication and harmony, it is a good test for us to see if we can effectively communicate and create together. So far we have passed that test well. No fights have broken out in our efforts to create peace in our world!
Of course there are a variety of work methods and creativity types in the group. Surprisingly I find myself to be the most structure-oriented creator among us. I am the one writing outlines, seeking meeting minutes, and asking for clarification on the purpose of each activity as we go. I say this is surprising, at least at first glance, because I am the “Improv guy” of the bunch. I am the only one with a background in training and performing improv comedy. There are no scripts and no planning in the art of Make-em-up on stage! Shouldn’t I be the one wanting to just go with the flow. All we need is the crux of an idea. Then we can get out of the way and let the magic happen. Nope. I want details! I want all the roles assigned in advance. And I want lists of materials and tasks to come.
The more I think about this though, the less surprising it is. Of course the Improv guy wants more structure. Improv is scary as hell. To perform it you need a solid basis of agreement to stand upon. There are rules and expectations we all understand. This is even true when players are improvising together for the first time. There is (hopefully) an immediate level of trust established. If I throw you the ball I know you will pick it up, though I have no idea what you will do with it. If you create something in our universe you know I will see it there. The trust agreement is even stronger among players who have a history of working together. There are rules and boundaries, spoken and unspoken, about how we will play together. One of my favorites is to perform with my long-form team, The Other. (For those in Improv, we do what is known as a Harold.) We have a precise format laid out with an opening, three rounds of scenes starting along three storylines, palate cleansers between rounds, and some-sorta-somehow closing. We stumble and make mistakes. Occasionally it all comes together and gets tied up in a bow. Often it looks like some contorted neo-abstract impressionism. My teammate Patrick lovingly said, “It feels like we’re making fun of a Harold.” In other words we don’t care about what the end results are. Yet we DO care about each other and the agreements we have. We CAN get out of the way and allow the magic to happen because there is a strong platform for it to dance on.
So now I find myself on a new team striving to build bridges across the political spectrum. Naturally I desire to find some firm footing to play on. I must remember why it feels scary not having an established set of rules. We are figuring out the rules. I must trust in the process and trust each of them as we build our foundation. Undeniably I already have a solid respect for each of my fellow cooks in the kitchen. I look forward to tasting what we cook up.