Black Box Improv

Last Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Black Box Improv Theater visited Wittenberg, and the founder of the theater, Justin Howard, taught a master class in Shouvlin 105.

Howard, a Wittenberg alumni, started the class by giving a little background to his time at Wittenberg – where he majored in communication – in addition to teaching classes on improv at Harvard and his journey to creating his own theater. He told attendees that he teaches classes not only to persons interested in pursuing improv, but also to businesses and organizations to gain better skills in communication, trust and listening.

According to Howard, most people only listen to 25 percent of a person’s sentence.

The six Wittenberg students in attendance were called to the front and paired up. Howard had the participants act in a slew of exercises intended to build trust and listening skills. The first exercise had the pairs listening to one another and repeating each other’s sentences verbatim. The second exercise asked the students to listen to one another’s sentences, but create a new topic sentence based on the last word of the previous partner’s sentence.

At this point, Howard had the pairs switch partners. Next came exercises to build a connection between the persons in the pair: mirroring – in which one person leads a plethora of silent body motions and the second partner follows as if he/she were the first person’s mirror image. The partners took turns leading, and after each had a chance to lead, Howard instructed the partners to switch off leader roles in the middle of performing in one of the exercises. Having built that trust and connection, Howard said it would be easy for partners to switch off on silent cues they would subconsciously give one another.

After these exercises, partners rotated once more, and Howard had the partners act in a simulated scenario in which they had to plan a campus-wide party for St. Patrick’s Day. He said the guest of honor was set to be “America’s Sweetheart,” Miley Cyrus, and partners had to plan accordingly for her arrival.

This round of exercises was intended to build communication and understanding skills. In the first round, partners had to respond to each other’s ideas by saying, “no, but.” The second round called for partners to respond to each idea with, “yes, but.” And the final round asked partners to respond, “yes, and.” This was intended to show how different responses to each other’s ideas can help build a system of trust and respect between two parties.

The final exercises of the night split the six into two groups of three. The groups simulated as persons in charge of the advertisement of their new products, creating names, slogans, etc. The first group had to sell a remote-controlled frisbee; the second group had to sell a self-cleaning blender. The two teams took the skills they had learned over the course of the hour and a half to communicate, respecting one another’s ideas, to sell their product.

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