Will Hines was in town this past weekend and relayed a story in which Michael Delaney listed the following characteristics of a good improviser:
- A good improviser tends to accept offers.
- A good improviser tends to make the interesting or active choice in a scene.
- A good improviser justifies.
Hines then introduced an exercise he called Sensei that’s designed to condition improvisers into emulating these characteristics. In the exercise, there is a back line of improvisers to perform a set, and to the side stand a group of three improvisers that are observing the set. Each of these three observers holds playing cards of a distinct suit, where each suit corresponds to one of the qualities of a good improviser listed above. As the back line goes through the set, the observers hand out cards to improvisers for any moves that demonstrate the characteristics that correspond to their specific suits. At the end of the set, the improvisers count up their cards to see how many of each suit they received. If repeated, improvisers can track their progress over time in acquiring cards. Assuming improvisers have a positive association with receiving the cards, over time, the above traits could even become something of a Pavlovian response.
Note that if one feels a different set of skills should be a team’s focus, the same exercise can be run with the different list.