Viola Spolin inspires me

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

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A year ago I met Gary Schwartz at a conference in San Diego and I saw him again last month in Toronto. Gary introduced himself at these conferences in a way that is quite unusual… barely talking about him self at all and instead talking about his dedication to his former teacher Viola Spolin and to the propagation of her ideas. Gary inspired me to pick up a copy of Spolin’s bible, Improvisation for the Theatre and I’m now working through it.

It’s a breathtaking book, full of insight. I love working with teams using Improv exercises to develop collaboration; it’s a method that never fails to surprise and delight me with how it gets people to connect and create something between them that is more than the sum of the parts. They create in a simple way the kind of outcomes that are described quite bafflingly in tomes of work on complexity and human psychology.

Spolin devoted her life to this work, and her insights resonate. Here are a few juicy quotes I’ve enoyed so far

It is highly possible that what is called talented behaviour is simply a greater individual capacity for experiencing. From this point of view, it is in the increasing of the individual capacity for experiencing that the untold potentiality of a personality can be evoked.

When a goal is superimposed on an activity instead of evolving out of it, we often feel cheated when we reach it. When the goal appears naturally and comes from growth rather than forcing, the end result, performance or whatever, will be no different from the process that achieved the result. If we are trained only for success, then to gain it we must necessarily use everyone and everything for this end; we may cheat, lie, crawl, betray or give up all social life to achieve success. How much more certain would knowledge be if it came from and out of the excitement of learning itself? How many human values will be lost and how much will our art forms be deprived if we seek only success?

To keep the word “intuitive” from becoming a catch-all word which we throw around… use it to denote that area of knowledge which is beyond the restrictions of culture, race, education, psychology, and age; deeper than the “survival dress” of mannerisms, prejudices, intellectualisms, and borrowings most of us wear to live out our daily lives

The fear is not of the unknown, but of not knowing.

(If some of this seems baffling to you, don’t worry, but do take any chance you get to play the games and have the experience. Gary keeps a cool website – related to Viola Spolin. And if you are in Europe, contact me and I’ll play one of the games with you by phone…)

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