An Emergency Lesson in Improv

paramedicWhat do we do when an emergency happens? We improvise.

It began like a normal improv class, but little did we know what was about to happen would require everyone to think fast on their feet, and work as a team — because someone’s life would depend on it.

Last night I was teaching class 2 of our Improv For Everyone series at The Box Theater. I love teaching new students because there is a unique wonder and hunger for learning that often allows them to be truly captivated and engaged. I’m always surprised at how quickly I am enamoured with my new students. This class was no different.  We met last Tuesday for the first time and I couldn’t wait to see them again this week.

Like most beginner improv classes, we also focus on the core principles of improvisation each week. Last night, we were talking about the importance of listening, giving good gifts and supporting one another. About halfway through the class one of my students asked if there was a water fountain and I let them know that there was,  but quickly pointed out that there were some bottles of water in the theatre.

He picked one up and turned towards me when I noticed something was clearly off. Like I said, this was only week 2 but from what I could tell-this student was already taking the concept of commitment to heart. He participated in exercises in the first hour with full vocal and physical commitment so when things went awry, we had a split second to decipher if he was acting or if this was indeed a serious condition.

When we realized it was serious, the whole class zipped into action. One student called 911. Another student offered a sweater to prop his head up, and still another stood as a guard so he wouldn’t fall.  One person from our class rushed to the main door of the building to await the arrival of the medical staff. I quickly ran to another part of the building to solicit help from two friends who work in the medical field as well.

It turned out that the student was ok in the end.  Though we were all shaken up a bit, we managed to take what life threw at us, listened and supported one another. We improvised.  Much like improvisation, we never know what is going to happen in any given moment.  So for week 2, the values of improvisation stayed true even thought my lesson plan was completely useless.   I believe this at the center of all of improvisation lessons. As instructors of improv, we are equipping people with essential tools for life.  I couldn’t have planned for this.  The students worked together, focused on their partner, and listened to what was needed for the situation.

Life sometimes throws extreme situations our way.  When this occurs, living in the moment is essential because occasionally someone’s life hangs in the balance.   We don’t have the luxury of time to make a strategic plan.  We have to improvise.

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