Whistling in the Light

Box of Frogs has been meeting for 6 months now. There are around a dozen regular attenders, and about another 20 or 30 who drop in occasionally. We’ve been talking for a while now about performing in public. Because it’s one thing to amuse ourselves, it’s another to stand up in front of a real audience and see if what you do has any genuine entertainment value. So I approached a local venue who has a cabaret night once a month, and got us a 20 minute slot in early September.

Last night we held tryouts. The difference between a normal workshop evening and last night, was the whistle. Instead of being in the role of workshop leader/facilitator who is focussed on giving encouragement, gentle feedback and positive support, I played the brutal Ringmaster who callously blew the whistle every time anyone hesitated, stumbled or was just boring.

The result was fascinating -people loved it! Trying to survive the whistle was not the agonising experience we thought it might be – it was fun! Being whistled off was not only painless but usually quite joyful, as it was quite clear to everyone that it was a) justified, b) an act of mercy for someone who is failing out there, and c) just plain funny. Watching someone giving it their best shot, failing cheerfully and spectacularly, and, crucially, not being upset by the failure but instead embracing it geefully, is a delight to behold.

Everyone agreed that not only was the evening great fun, but also a brilliant learning experience to get such direct, instant feedback on what works and what doesn’t. I shall definitely start to include “whistle” sessions in all my regular Impro workshops.

As ever, there is a lesson for everday life here. How often, at work, at home, are we given such instant, direct, impartial feedback on what we do? Are there ways that such feedback be given so that instead of feeling like a criticism of the person, it is a genuine objective response to that particular moment of action or performance? And how can we create environments in which we feel so safe, where we are so comfortable with the possibility of failure, so personally unattached to the outcome, that we are gladly willing to give it our best shot, and be delighted when we are “whistled off” because of the great learning and fun it has provided?

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