What a better reflection of the uncertainty of life than Improv Theater. Improvisation is a type of theater in which the plot, characters, and dialogue are made up in the moment. Like life, you will never see the same improv show twice.
This month, I got a chance to take some of my favorite adult self-advocates with Down syndrome out to a local Improv Theater. We got to see our very own Communications Workshop Educator, Stephanie Radford (heavy on the “RAD”), perform and boy did she steal the show. It’s a great precursor to this month’s workshop that focuses on improv skills. Read more about our past workshops here.
Although improv can be down right scary, with no sense as to what’s coming next, it’s also been shown to build confidence and decrease anxiety.
This seems oxymoronic, but it’s true. The lack of planning and structure requires role players to depend on each other.
Psychology Professor, Gordon Bertmant, explains “if all play authentically to each other, fear of failure loses its sting—a net of support is constructed from the openness, trust, and acceptance.”
For individuals with Down syndrome, who often struggle with small talk and conversational speech, improv may seem unattainable but the net of support makes it worth learning.
The goal of our monthly Communications Workshops is to prepare our self-advocates to lead our Buddy Walk. This will require thinking on their toes and good conversational skills. Improv adds another tool to our tool belt.
“When you think of Improv remember the ‘Yes, and….’ Rule,” explains Communications Workshop Educator, Stephanie Radford. “You want to agree with the person you’re talking to and add something to their line of thinking.”
Radford had the self-advocates practice having a conversation with a peer who always said “NO!” This “denier” proved that a good conversation cannot thrive without the “Yes, and…” rule. The self-advocates practice this rule, and agreed that a conversation flows much better when you agree and add something to the conversation.
This was perhaps our hardest workshop to date. At least one self-advocate was petrified to get on stage. Others had a hard time adding appropriate information to a conversation to keep it going. Still, by the end of the session self-advocates were doing a better job of understanding that all good conversations rely on the support of each person participating. Even our most scared self-advocate took the stage at the end and used her improv skills to tell us about her recent road trip to South Carolina.
We’re so impressed at the progress our self-advocates have made in four short workshop sessions. A positive net of support and a new toolbox full of communication skills have nudged our self-advocates to be more self-confident in their interactions with other people. I can’t wait to see them in action at the Buddy Walk this year!