I spent much of this week co-leading a Living Compass training retreat in Chicago, something I do on a fairly regular basis. In addition to people from Chicago and the Midwest, others come to these trainings from all around the country. This week we had participants from upstate New York, a rural community outside of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, north central North Carolina, downtown Los Angeles, California, and the greater Chicago area. Everyone was coming to get trained in our Living Compass approach to wellness and wholeness so that they can then go back and offer Living Compass wellness programs in their own local communities.
At these trainings we especially like to give visitors that come from farther away a little taste of what makes Chicago special. Free time is given to visit sites such as the Chicago Art Institute, Millennium Park, or perhaps to go to the top of one of Chicago’s many famous skyscrapers. The highlight of our time together seems to be however, when we offer people the opportunity to not just to see something that has a long Chicago history, but to participate in something that is a signature creation of Chicago-and that is improv comedy.
Chicago has long been recognized as the home of improv comedy, a tradition that continues at comedy centers throughout the city such as Second City and the iO (Improv Olympics) Theater. Many of the original cast of of Saturday Night Live came from Second City, including Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Chris Farley, Dan Ackroyd, and John Belushi. At our trainings in Chicago we bring in a team of four improv actors led by the Rev. Jess Elfring Roberts, deacon and youth leader in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. These four creative geniuses entertain us first and then, in no time, have us up participating in various improv games and scenes. As the evening of improv begins, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say that they will not be participating in any of the improv games, only to find themselves flopping around the floor pretending to be a fish a short time later.
Improv comedy is not just great fun to watch and participate in; there are also great bits of wisdom about life and about wellness that it can teach us. An essential principle of improv is to have a “Yes, and…” mentality. This means that when your partner in a sketch says or does something, you always “go” with it, adding to what you have been given by your partner and further developing the scene and the action. You never block or question what your partner has just said or done, even if it seems ridiculous or impossible. If you are partner turns to you and says, with her hands out, “Here’s a bowl with my pet goldfish in it, will you please take my goldfish for a walk,” you don’t say, “But I don’t like goldfish,” or, “You can’t take a goldfish for a walk.” Instead, you say something like, “Oh, I love goldfish-I think I have a goldfish leash in my drawer, let me put it on your fish right now.”
With improv comedy, like life itself, we rarely know what someone else is going to say or do next, and so we have to remain totally present to what is being presented and completely open and flexible as to how we respond. These skills of a good improv actor are completely applicable to life in general. Being fully present to someone else and staying open and flexible as to how we will respond are true gifts that we can give to others and to ourselves.
Life doesn’t come with a script. Life is improv. It unfolds and happens in the most surprising of ways and we are always creating the script as we go along. Being able to say, “Yes, and” to whatever life presents us, and being able to stay open and flexible in our responses are essential keys to wellness in our personal lives, our homes, and our places of work.