In November last year, after the Applied Improv Conference, I wrote a note on my blog that said this: “There are so many applications for gibberish in facilitation that I don’t know where to start. Don’t know why I haven’t used gibberish much before – that’s about to change!”
Last week I finally got around to using gibberish in a workshop with people from all different countries – many of them with English as a second language. I was co-facilitating with Johnnie Moore and we were egging each other on to take risks (one of the joys of co-facilitating I discovered, much better than the critical voice in my own head!)
I was only marginally more experienced with gibberish than the participants, and they got it straight away. Maybe they liked how levelling it was, or how delightful it is to ask a partner to do something in gibberish and for them to understand, or how gibberish translator creates the sort of laughter that comes from deep inside, and feels oh, so good. Makes me smile just writing about it and remembering the playfulness and joy on the faces of the participants. How often do we see that in workshops?
Wondering what to do next I said, “there’s an app for that.” I wasn’t kidding. On my iPhone is the app iProv, 250+ improv games – shake the phone and it randomly chooses one. We looked up gibberish in the index and found Gibberish Reunion. Here’s what it said:
A group of improvisers enter a playing area speaking gibberish. They are at a reunion, not having seen each other for quite some time. After a few minutes of catching up in their native language, they gather in a circle and begin to sing gibberish songs they all know.
Neither of us had done this before, but what the heck – it was worth trying. There were four small groups. We introduced the reunion game and they jumped right in. Before long there were songs and dancing and eventually they ‘noticed’ the other groups and before long there was one huge reunion and everyone singing – all in gibberish. Brilliant!
Oh, and the purpose of the workshop, and why gibberish? Why games? There are lots of ways for me to explore my own reactions, strengths, challenges, what inspires me, what stops me dead in my tracks, and how I react under stress. But none of them are as good, or as much fun, as playing improv games. I see patterns of behaviour, in myself and others. I become aware of blocking, in myself and in others. I learn about myself and others.
And thanks to my playback buddies at Melbourne Playback Theatre Company for reminding me that we act our way into a new way of thinking rather than think our way into a new way of acting. Improv games provide the ideal vehicle to act differently, to be playful, to discover stuff about how we interact with each other and our work.
So when the brief asks for building resilience and confidence amongst the participants to operate effectively in chaos, what better vehicle than improv? Can we measure what they learned? No. Maybe even the participants are unsure what they learned. Learning and insight emerge, and can’t be regulated by the clock. Some people went away with huge insights about how they might respond differently, better even, in the stressful work they do. Others had huge ah-ha moments about themselves. For others, who knows? At least we know they had fun, and will remember the games. Maybe they’ll even remember them when next faced with responding to an emergency that requires all of their skill, attention, compassion and focus.