John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology
The Psychology of Improvisation
Dr. John Suler and Dr. Richard Homan
Baccalaureate Honors Program
Textbook: The Courage to Create, by Rollo May
In improvisation a small group makes a progressive series of decisions, beginning with "Where and when does this scene take place?" Each individual decides for him/herself, "Who am I?" and "What am I doing in this place at this time?" In an imaginary setting, through pantomime, each member of the group enters the scene in turn and enacts his/her intentions. Neither the group nor the individual ever make any attempt to decide in advance what the outcome of the improvisation will be. Members of the group interact, come into conflict, or cooperate depending on their respective intentions. Improvisation is not acting, but rather a technique used to train actors. Previous acting experience is not required.
In this course we will use improvisation to explore a variety of psychological concepts about creativity and group processes. What are the cognitive, personality, and social factors that influence creativity? What are the factors that determine how groups function and how people behave in groups.
This course is self-exploratory. Students will be encouraged to understand their participation in the improvisations, including a personal exploration of their own creative abilities and the ways in which they react to and affect group dynamics.
There will be a variety of writing assignments for the course - some based on specific topics or questions assigned by the instructors, some more open-ended. All writing will take place in your journal. See the guidelines below about how to keep your journal.
The journal contains informal writing. You will use it to explore your thoughts and feelings in reaction to what happened in class, and to create ideas to bring to class. In normal class notes, you write strictly about the subject. In a diary, you write about yourself. In this journal, you write about yourself in relation to the subject and vice versa. You "think out loud" about the subject and what it means to you. Because it is partly personal, you always have the option of removing any pages before showing it to us. We will read and respond to your journal, but not "correct" it. Completeness is the only criterion for grading.
Some guidelines for the journal:
A complete journal will include:
- keep the journal entries in a looseleaf binder
- start each entry on a fresh sheet of paper
- start each entry with the date/time/place
- use pen (pencil smears)
- leave a margin on both sides
- write on only one side of the page
- number the pages as you go along
- insert new pages to respond to our feedback (or use the back of pages)
- in addition to responding to the specific writing assignments indicated by the instructors, always feel free to write about whatever strikes you as important
- bring your journal to class every meeting
- a table of contents
- reactions to each chapter section in the textbook (place these in a separate section in your journal)
- reaction to each class meeting
- assigned writings to prepare for classes
- reactions to our feedback on your journal entries
- "looking back" entries (approximately every two weeks)
- a conclusion, written at the end of the course, where you write about what you liked and disliked, what you learned, where you improved and could have show more improvement, what you might have done different, etc
Examples of the kind of improvisations we did for the class:
- Freeze - scenes spontaneously enacted from any simple scenario suggested by a randomly chosen member of the class (also see other applications of the freeze exercise)
- Emotional Recall - a scene improvised from some specific emotional event (anger, sadness, joy, love, etc.) recalled from one's life
- Childhood memory - a scene improvised from an early childhood memory (also see the childhood memories exercise)
- Dream Enactment - a scene based on a dream, including a recurring dream, nightmare, childhood dream, etc. (also see the manual Working and Playing with Dreams)
- Moods - each student mentions one word describing how they feel that day. The class is divided up into groups where each person in a group shares the similar mood. Scenes are enacted based on that mood.
- Ticking Clock - chairs are placed in a circle. On one chair is placed an egg timer that is ticking. The group improvises a scene based on this scenario.
- Body Language - scenes improvised using only body language. Speech is not allowed.
- "God is not Dead" - this line is the starting point of the improvisation
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