Sacred Arts: Session Thirteen – Improvisation and the Art of Letting Go

Email to Participants

Our next session is on [date]. Imagine what happens when creativity, relationships, and new ideas are encouraged rather than denied. Imagine what happens when we let go of expectations. Imagine what happens when we set aside our egos and embrace imperfections.

We can build these skills through the art of improvisation. For our session today, we’ll look at some videos and writings about improv that challenge us to let go.

Readings and Videos

Exercises

  • Engage and encounter some improv; you may go to a show, or watch a program online (some suggestions: Whose Line Is It Anyway, Improv-a-ganza, any recording from Upright Citizens Brigade). As always, remember to follow the process:
    • Observe in silence. Look with your heart, mind, body.
    • Initial impressions. Note what you have observed.
    • Learning: learn about the art – who made it, when, why, the style/school, etc.
    • Sharing: reflect in your journal on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making with this piece of art.

Questions for Reflection

  • Are there similarities in your spiritual practice and the “letting go” that Fey explores in improv? How does letting go deepen your spiritual life?
  • In UU Wellspring we are called to listen deeply and fully to one another without judgment. How is this similar to Hunter’s rules of improv in “Be an Improviser, Change the World?” How are the results similar? different?
  • Reflect on the question Keely asks: “How is God calling us to attend to patterns, to take risks, and to use our imagination to meet the challenges we face?”
  • Price talks about living in authenticity to live into our beloved community. How does our perfectionism keep us from living in beloved community? How does “having each other’s backs” share power? How do you do this in your own life?

As a Reminder

Our shared observation during our last session was the delightful jokes we told one another.

I look forward to being with you!

In faith,

Session Plan

Gathering (5 minutes)

Note for Facilitators:

Allow for some chatter, settling in, and other busy-ness;be gentle but firm as you call people in to listen to the reading and check in.

Chalice Lighting, Opening Reading, and Check In (25 minutes)

Our opening reading is “For When I Don’t Really Want to Learn This” by Elizabeth Nguyen (queer, Vietnamese-American, UU) ():

Spirit, I would really rather not learn this.
Didn’t think I needed to.
I thought someone else could do it. Thought a leader was coming to do it. Thought the young people could do it. Or the elders could do it. Or the professionals.
Or I don’t want to learn it ‘cause it means letting go of something I hold dear.
Letting go of being someone who knows the answers.
Letting go of being someone who doesn’t know.
Letting go of the way I see the world.
Letting go of how I might have to change.
Letting go of certainty, of logic, of facts, of control.
Of the myth that you can live on this earth and not harm.
Or the myth that I can’t learn anything new.
Help me to learn it. Please.
And then help me to live what I have learned.
And do right by the gift of being taught.

What are you carrying in your heart tonight? How is your spiritual practice going?  Your work with your spiritual director? Do you have anything to share from your creative work- either something you’ve observed or something you’re working on?

Covenant Review (2-5 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Use whatever process your group has established to stay current with the covenant, including reading it out loud together at each session. Note that you may choose from the activities that might best suit your group.

Is there anything about the covenant that we should address?

Exercise (30 minutes)

Today we will be playing some improv games. The good thing about these games is that anyone can play them: you don’t have to be good at them, you don’t have to be funny, but you do have to adhere the basis rules of improv: start with responding “yes-and,” accepting offers, and letting go of expectations with the goal of making your improv partners “look good” as Rev. Julie Price explained in her sermon.

We will begin with some warm-up exercises, then move on to some other games. After each game, we’ll pause to reflect for a minute or two. At the end of our games, we’ll have more time to reflect on the experience as a whole.

Note to Facilitators:

Whether you’ve done improv before or not, these exercises should be easy to figure out and pick up. As much as possible, I’ve linked to videos of the various exercises so you can see how they go. Additionally, when a suggestion is required, I’ve offered some options if the participants can’t think of any.

Be cognizant of people with different abilities, from physical limitations to speech or vision limitations. You may choose to do some of these while sitting, or pre-select subsets so that everyone gets a chance to play something they have a good chance of doing well.

Most importantly: There is no such thing as failure here; any time a game doesn’t go well is an opportunity to talk about expectations and process.


Finally: All times are approximate; some games may go longer than others, but be aware when there’s a natural end or a sense of boredom. You may only have time for a few of the exercises.

1. Zip Zap Zop (2 minutes)

This is a very popular warm up to get our energy going. To begin, stand or sit in a circle; players are ready when their hands are pressed palms together in front of the chest. The initiating player points at another player and says, “Zip.”  That player then points at another and says, “Zap.”  That player then points at another and says, “Zop.”  That player starts over again with, “Zip.”  Play continues with energy building.  Everyone should try to give off more energy than the person before them and keep an even rhythm. 

Focus: Energy and awareness.

Note for Facilitators:

Watch it being played here.

2. Counting Circle (2 minutes)

To begin, stand or sit in a circle. Everyone in the circle looks down at the ground and closes their eyes. Start by saying the number one. Then someone else will count off the number two. No one knows who will speak the next number. If two people speak out at the same time then the group must start again at one.  How high can we go? 

Focus: The focus is focus; also failing without judging.

3. Bunny, Elephant, Chicken (3 minutes)

The third of our warm up games builds on the focus, energy, and listening of the previous two games. Remain in your circle. One player becomes a bunny, putting their thumbs against their temples and waggling their fingers like bunny ears.  They repeat, “Bunny, bunny, bunny” as fast as they can.  The adjacent players join in, each only using their outside hand.  When all three are in synch, the middle player passes the bunny to someone else in the circle by pointing to them.  When that person is in synch with their adjacent players, they pass it. 

Once everyone is comfortable with how the game is played, offer two variations – the chicken and the elephant. When the game is ‘passed’, the person who ‘catches’ it decides whether to continue with “bunny, bunny, bunny…”

…or to switch it up to ” buc buc buc” and makes a chicken (the player mimes a beak and the adjacent players flap wings)…

…or to switch it up to a silent elephant (the player makes a trunk by putting one hand across the other, and then bending the lower hand so that they can grasp their own forehead.  The two adjacent players lean in and form the ears with their outside hands by making a fist and bending their arm so that the fist is against their temple).

Focus: energy, listening, and peripheral awareness.

4. Do a Verb (5 minutes)

Our next game will build into the next one; in this one, each person should pick a verb and act it out. They can do it sitting or standing, walking or staying still, big or small. The player’s turn is over when someone guesses the verb they are doing.

Note to Facilitators:

If someone in the group is blind, ask the participants to make sounds. If someone in the group is hard of hearing, ask the participants to refrain from making sounds. (These two adjustments help even the playing field.)

If the group feels comfortable, they can choose their own verbs. Alternately, print and copy this sheet of words, cut and put them in a basket, and have them choose one.

5. What Are You Doing (5 minutes)

Now that the participants are comfortable doing verbs, we will complicate matters a little.

One player begins by acting out a verb. The next player approaches and asks “what are you doing?” The first player responds with something completely unrelated to the activity they are doing (for example, if Player A is miming washing the dishes, and Player B asks “what are you doing?” then Player A might respond “reading a book.”).

The second player then starts doing the spoken activity (in our example, reading a book). Another player comes up, and the process continues until either everyone has gone or there is too much repetition or the game has gotten ridiculous.

Focus: Doing one thing and thinking another, challenging expectations.

Note for Facilitators:

Watch it being played here.

6. Questions only? (5 minutes)

Two players start a scene in which they can only ask questions. (Get a suggestion from other participants or select one from this sheet of scene suggestions (print, cut, put in a basket). If they make a statement, hesitate, or ask a non sequitur, a new player replaces them, takes over their character and continues the scene.

This game should go at least until everyone’s had a chance to go once. If a player has ‘eliminated’ three other players, they should tag out and let someone else go.

Focus: listening, asking inviting questions, yes-and.

Note for Facilitators:

Watch it being played here.

7. One Word Story (5 minutes)

We’ll end with this fun game for listening, the one word story. The game is simple. A player begins a story with one word; the player next to them must add a word to continue the story. The game continues until the story is told, or it gets too silly.

Focus: listening, yes-and.

Note for Facilitators:

Watch it being played here.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What were you thinking and feeling before we began the games?
  • How easy was it for you to let go of your anxiety, expectations, etc.? Was there a particular moment when you felt yourself letting go? What was that like?
  • What did it feel like to make mistakes?
  • Many of these games required listening or watching to know what to do next. Thinking back to the active listening we learned in Sources and practice in all of our different UU Wellspring classes, how easy or not was it to do in this different situation?

Reflections (50 min):

Note to Facilitators:

Invite participants to choose the prework observation, reading, or reflection question that most intrigued them. (Participants often reflect that the readings inform their observations and experiences but don’t necessarily lead them into deeper discussion; often, they set the stage for the individual and shared observations or their own creativity.)

  • In the prework, you were asked to watch some improv. What piece caught your attention? What did you observe? How do you connect with this building?
  • How do you connect with this art form? Are you a practitioner, spectator, first timer? How does that affect your approach to this art?
  • What lessons might this form teach you?
  • Are there similarities in your spiritual practice and the “letting go” that Fey explores in improv? How does letting go deepen your spiritual life?
  • In UU Wellspring we are called to listen deeply and fully to one another without judgment. How is this similar to Hunter’s rules of improv in “Be an Improviser, Change the World?” How are the results similar? different?
  • Reflect on the question Keely asks: “How is God calling us to attend to patterns, to take risks, and to use our imagination to meet the challenges we face?”
  • Price talks about living in authenticity to live into our beloved community. How does our perfectionism keep us from living in beloved community? How does “having each other’s backs” share power? How do you do this in your own life?

So What? (10 minutes)

How does this reflection relate to your spiritual journey? Your creative work? What are you inspired or challenged to do next?

Gratitude and Closing (5 minutes)

As you prepare to pack up and clean up, each person, as moved, says one or two words about something from this session for which they are grateful or how they are feeling in this moment. After everyone has said a word, close with a brief statement of thanks and appreciation, and clean up art supplies as needed.

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