Back in June, Hayley Kellett, director of the Making Box improv incubator in Guelph, Ontario, gave a talk to the ragged ensemble that regularly attends Thursday breakfast at Breezy Corners restaurant. In the process, she got members of the ensemble talking to one another. Really talking.
She proposed a game in which the people were asked to sort themselves into threes and take turns stating stated a preference for breakfast. The first player, for example, might say “I like to have toast and jam.” The second player then had to come up with a sentence on the same theme but the first word on his/her sentence had to start with the last letter of the last word uttered by the first person. In this case, the letter would be “m.” And so on for a couple of rounds.
The point of the game was soon evident. In order to play, we had to listen closely to what the other player said. In the process of listening, we made eye contact. We were actively involved in trying to understand the other person’s words and responded in a way that made sense – which is to say, they made sense in the rather absurd context of the game. It was fun. It was also instructive.
It’s a game that has a direct application to improv. Comedians constructing crazy narratives on the fly have to do exactly what we did at the Breezy Corners breakfast. They have to listen closely, pay attention and think fast. What they can’t do, with any expectation of success, is ignore their colleagues and utter canned responses conceived long before the event.
Which, of course, is what politicians are apt to do. Especially in this, the age of the sound bite, the talking point memo and the central party line.
Hayley Kellett put her name forward as a Green Party nominee earlier this year. She didn’t get the nomination; Steve Dyck did. But her message, the message of this game, was one that anyone participating in the present political conversation could profit from.
Listen. Pay attention. Respond directly to what others have to say.
Maybe we should ask all our candidates to take up improv.