Do you actually need a Theater to play Improvisation?

In our latest blog The rise of Urban Playing we were discussing the possibility to take activities outside that normally would be inside. What would the impact be to the activity (and business model)  by just transforming the surroundings. At the end Jan Raes posted the question “Rutger, as for your cherised hobby, do you actually need a theater to play improvisation?”. The answer is of course ‘no’. 

The greatest thing about improvisation theater is that you play it with (in stead of only for) your audience. You can play wherever and whenever you want, just like a lot of people are great actors when they visit their family-in-law. But if we really look at improvisation as an activity that is normally performed in a theater, then a good example of playing outside the (theater) box is the famous Improv Everywhere from New York. There slogan is ‘we cause scenes’. My favorite example is their ‘Best Game Ever‘.

Cast or Audience?

What I really like about this video is that is the distinction between cast and audience has completely disappeared. The little baseball players, the cast of Improv Everywhere, the ‘normal’ audience, …, everybody is acting and enjoying themselves at the same time. The focus for all is to perform as good as they can, and to give their audience / target group the best time ever. They all depend on each other to make it the Best Game Ever. This would never have been possible in this way if they didn’t get rid of the idea that you have to play in a theater and asking people to pay for your performance.

The new question to the blog visitors: Do you have an example in which you have paid your customer / audience?

Playing with models

In my search for the Innovation game I want to create a board. Some kind of structure to define what is part of the game, and what isn’t. So I can cheat, because it has rules. just like a story, a game has always has a beginning, middle and an end. It helps us to know where we are in the process. The level of detail can make it more controlled or more flexible.

The games people play are often described in business or psychological models. Let´s have a look to see weither there are some similarities between them that we could use for our Innovation Game.

Most of the models follow some kind of a lifecycle, and are visualized in the shape of a U or a circle. Examples are: Gestalt Psychology (Contact), Kubler-Ross (acceptance), Situational Leadership (leadership), Tuckman (team development), Greiner (organization life cycle), Theory U (emergent processes), etc. etc. Just open any book, and use will find two axes and a U or circle. Sometimes the model has a three dimensional shape, but then there is too much information in one model in my opinion.

But are there also similarities in the content, or is it just coincidence that they all look the same? They all describe the same phenomena, but projected onto a different subjects. Just like a story that always has a beginning (platform), a problem, a solution, and an ending. Most of them follow four phases:

  1. Start / Control: We are trying to control our environment to keep it the way it is. We try to keep things familiar. Familiar is warm and safe.
  2. Problem / Struggle: We encounter differences with our environment, and “fight” with these because we want to continue in the way that we were used to. We create rules to keep things organized and clear.
  3. Solution / Letting go: We let our control go and open for what is really needed. We develop new ways of looking at things. There is no need to control the situation any more, because the old way of doing things doesn’t work anymore for you.
  4. Ending / New paradigm: We step into the world with our new way of looking at things, and interact in our new way (the beginning of a new pattern, that we love to control again…)

You could say that these are in some ways laws of nature. We always try to protect what we are used to, what keeps us safe, until this is no longer possible, and then develop ourselves further. To make it really biological: You are safe when your life is not threatened and you know what you can expect in the near future. That is why even rotten situations can give a sense of safety because it is bearable and we know what is coming next: more rottenness.

A game about Safety?
So can we conclude that the core of our Innovation game is about keeping things safe? This sounds very illogical, but at the same time: in most games there is some kind of tension between taking risks and just following the yellow brick road. It makes me curious why people want to innovate…