On the road we have the awesome opportunity to teach workshops about improv or musical improv to people in that community. Usually these workshops are targeted to students or community members, but almost always, the participants are young and eager to dive into the world of improv comedy. Typically we work with the local college or high school students, very often young people who have actually seen an improv show.
On a recent tour down to Florida I was delighted to work with a group unlike any that I’ve worked with before. Our show was in The Villages, in Ocala, FL. It was a large group of delightful senior citizens. My first worry was about the physicality and stamina of the participants, and how that might impact the playlist of exercises I had planned. Honestly though, aside from a couple times where we sat in a circle (where we normally would be standing), the afternoon was very close to what I would have done with a group of teenagers.
The Doing and the Reasons for Doing
What I found so interesting was how receptive the group was to talking about the theories behind improv, about the approach to why, and how we do what we do. With a younger group the desire is to just do. Whereas with this group in the Villages, they wanted to understand the why before diving in. It was so enlightening for me as the teacher, because some of their questions made me think about my work from an angle I haven’t before.
Typically at the end of a workshop we’ll leave 10-20 minutes for questions, and almost always we are asked about what it’s like to be an actor, what life in New York City is like or what our coolest gig has been. The standard questions often come from a place of awe and almost envy - the thought that our lives must be so glamorous and something to strive for. With this group of seniors, the questions were more about the actual work, what our rehearsals are like, how do we prep for a show. I loved it. It was so refreshing, and I found myself getting more excited to do the show for this community than I normally do.
Customizing the Focus for Older Students
The actual learning portion of the workshop was also so similar and yet unlike what I normally do that I found myself changing the order of exercises and adding in more cerebral options than I would with a group of college freshmen. I challenged the group with games that forced them to approach something very familiar from a surprising angle.
Mick Griffin and his wife, Char, attended the workshop and were gracious enough to talk to me after. Neither had ever tried improv before and they both enjoyed themselves immensely. When I asked what it was that they liked the most about our time together, Mick said “some of the later games that required the silent interaction with the rest of our team gave me a tiny taste of how trust might be built and how - through observation - a synchronized storyline might be formed.”
Contrast that response to when you ask a high school student what they liked the most the answers are almost always about how fun it was, or how physical, or how funny, or energetic.
This group was so easy to talk with because they took the time to understand our work, our approach and our artform. I loved working with them, and hope to be back in the Villages again sometime soon!