Fun but far from Frivolous

I’ve just got back from a 3-day conference in Amsterdam of the Applied Improvisation Network.  A gathering of about 200 people from all over the world, who use Improv not just for entertainment, but to bring about social, personal, political or organisational change.

Now, if you’ve read my page on Applied Improvisation, you will understand that training in theatre Improv promotes and nurtures a number of very pleasing characteristics in people, including openness to others’ ideas, a willingness to try anything, a sense of adventure with little concern for failure, and above all a truly playful outlook and a huge capacity for fun.  And now I’ve discovered what that means when you multiply it by 200!

This was my first AIN conference, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect.  So imagine my delight to arrive at the opening plenary session at 10.00am on day one, straight from my overnight ferry and train, to be greeted by a keyboard player entertaining the delegates with popular Dutch tunes.  The locals were singing along gleefully and unselfconsciously in their native tongue, and all the non-Dutch-speakers were just as lustily singing along too, in whatever language or gibberish they could muster!

This sense of play and fun pervaded the entire conference.  Between each speaker that first morning, the same musician improvised ditties of praise and thanks for their contributions.  We played bingo between presentations, and prizes were duly distributed.  A little later on we were asked to clear our chairs to the side of the hall, and the pianist decided to play a little polka to help us along – within a few bars a 10-minute impromptu barn-dance was under way.  For the next three days I laughed, danced, sang, told and heard stories, and played along with all the other Improv-trained delegates.  This was the most fun I have ever had at a conference in my entire life, bar none. 

But be clear – this was no frivolous or silly waste of time.  We had all spent good money to get there, some travelling in from the other side of the world.  There were attendees there who work at high-to-stratospheric levels in Business, in Government, in Education, in Health and in Social Welfare.  The topics under discussion were serious and far-ranging, and included social exclusion and cohesion, business productivity and leadership, economic growth and sustainability, workplace assertiveness and bullying, organisational and social change, neuroscience, and much more beside.   

It is vital we don’t confuse fun with frivolity – in many ways the opposite is true.   By definition, active members of the Applied Improvisation Network understand at a profound level that learning is at its best when people are having fun.  That collaborative ideas are more likely to emerge when people are being playful.  That a roomful of supportive, playful people will learn quicker, retain more, solve problems faster, teamwork better and network more productively.  And now I have seen it with my own eyes, and experienced it viscerally.

That is why I am redoubling my commitment to ensure that every one of my training and facilitation interventions will be fun, lively and permeated with the joyous spirit of Applied Improvisation.

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