Using Improv For More Than Entertainment
Whose Line Is It Anyway? Wild ‘N Out.
Improvisation is widely known as a form of comedy and entertainment, but how can it help you in your career? Can it help medical students?
Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership’s Dr. Amy Baldwin, Campus Director of Phase 1&2 Curriculum, and Ed Sperr, Clinical Information Librarian, have been bringing improv into the professional field with the University of Georgia’s Improvisation for Teachers and Learners Faculty Learning Community (FLC).
“Improv can have other important functions as well,” said Baldwin. “For example, it can help people become more comfortable with public speaking and thinking on their feet. Importantly, as improv requires one to focus on the present moment, it can also be thought of as a technique for practicing mindfulness.”
The Improvisation for Teachers group as been part of the FLC since 2016, and Baldwin and Sperr have been members for four years. The group consists of UGA faculty and has even featured Partnership students as affiliate members.
“We start our session with a series of simple warm-up exercises, just to get our brains and our mouths working,” said Sperr. “Afterwards, we move on to more complex games. With the kind of short form improv that we usually practice, these games center around a discrete interaction between two or more folks. The game part comes from the fact that these interactions must work within a particular constraint. For example, two people are having a conversation, but each line they say must begin with successive letters of the alphabet, or (when we were in person) a scene is played between two people who have to be angry, sad, or scared depending on which part of the stage they are standing on.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the group met in George Hall on the Health Science Campus where they could perform on an actual stage.
Once the pandemic hit, the group moved to virtual sessions.
“Needless to say, this posed some challenges, as a lot of our improv practice involves reading body language,” said Sperr. “One warmup involves pointing at a distinct individual and making direct eye contact, which is a very difficult thing to do on Zoom! Nonetheless, we found ways to adapt our existing exercises to the new reality.”
Baldwin and Speer also see improv as a tool for medical students.
“Becoming a clinician requires not only mastering a large knowledge base, but also figuring out a number of softer skills as well,” said Baldwin. “Probably the most important of these skills is the ability to communicate with colleagues and patients. Listening is at the heart of effective communication, and it is also central to improv as well— if you’re not paying attention to your partners, a scene quickly falls apart. Improv structures provide an excellent framework for students and faculty to practice and enhance these skills in a deliberate way.”
The Improvisation for Teachers group hopes to return to in-person sessions this fall.
“We are all very much looking forward to it,” said Sperr. “It was nice to be able to do some things over Zoom, but in-person improv is more rewarding.”