Fourteen years old, gifted, autistic, gender non-binary – I remember the moment that they allowed spontaneity to happen. they went from nervous and tense to free and flowing in an instant. They laughed and came alive, transforming from feeling withdrawn and unsure to feeling accepted and seen. My heart swelled, and the whole group smiled.
This was during Improv for 2e+ Teens (I42e+T), a Zoom room full of twice-exceptional adolescents – all of their intensities coming unmasked through structured play in a community of people who welcome the chance to be together.
Improv can be defined “as the form of theatre, often comedy, in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted: created spontaneously by the performers.” Through a series of structured scenarios, everyone participates spontaneously.
It came to another teen’s turn, and I saw him freeze. Thirteen years old, gifted, autistic, he paused and said, “Not sure…”. The next person, without missing a beat, said, “Nice shirt. That IS a nice shirt!” He relaxed and smiled, realizing that the rest of the group truly had his back. He realized that he couldn’t make a mistake. From that point forward, he began showing up in all his exceptionalities.
Improv is built on two primary principles: Yes, And & Got Your Back. Yes, And means that whatever is offered will be received and built upon. Got Your Back means that the whole group will support each other to keep things flowing no matter what happens. There are no mistakes in Improv. We use everything.
Because she’s enthusiastic about sharing the power of Improv with more people, SENG Board Member Sylvia Bagley interviewed her son, Dale about his experience in I42e+T.
Dale, can you tell me what your gifted improv class is all about? What do you do each week?
Every week we do a few activities based on a set theme, like last time the theme was stories. Some of the games we play include “Fortunately, Unfortunately,” “Absurd Animals,” and “Five Things.”
Share one of your funniest stories from gifted improv class so far.
My first week we were playing “Absurd Animals Doing Absurd Sports” and there was bunny baseball… Bunnies were taking over the world! We were teaching them baseball so we could be friends.
How about this “Dr. Ology Ology” I heard you mention last night?
When we were playing our weekly Five Things game last week, someone was supposed to name five sciences and was struggling with the last one, so I put “ology ology” in the chat – Dr. Schwab got her Ph.D. in “the science of science”.
What do you like best about interacting with the other kids in the class?
It’s completely random! Everything that happens in class is very random, and it leads to
completely unexpected stories.
And do you like that?
Because I had no idea anything remotely close to this would happen – like bunny baseball taking over the world so we want to befriend them, as an example!
What have you learned from improv?
I have learned that spontaneity is the best way to live life.
Oooh! That’s cool. Do you think that’s changed since you started, like you went in with ideas and had to shift? How did that work for you?
Well, I still kind of plan ahead for stuff that I want to do, but like it’s not anything specific.
What is “Yes, and”?
“Yes, and” is where one person says that this could be a thing, and then the next person says, “Yes, AND what if this also happens?”
What’s the point of that?
To get us to agree with the person before us and add on to it instead of saying, “Well, we could do this instead of that…”
Should other kids consider taking improv?
It’s super fun!
So, you say yes, go, improv?
Yes! Improv is essential.
I’ve been offering Improv classes for gifted adolescents and adults for two years. Almost all of the participants identified as 2e or 2e+, and we’ve seen remarkable transformations. In addition to folks coming back week after week and series after series, they have reported marked increases in self-trust, self-acceptance, cognitive flexibility, tolerance of uncertainty, social connectedness, and fun in their lives. They have also reported decreased anxiety, worry, and perfectionism. The strength of the community has led to friendships outside of the Improv structure, an ongoing Facebook community of current and past participants, and plans for future in-person gatherings to improvise and nurture these relationships.
“I feel like I can bring all of my complexity, intensity, and drive to the table and know it’s not only okay, but welcomed.” – I4GA participant, L.B.
I’ve found that the gifted people who find the most surprise, excitement, and benefit from Improv overcame their doubts to sign up. “I’m not funny,” they think. They wonder, “What if I can’t think of anything?” Or it’s, “I’ve never done anything like this before. What if it’s not my thing?” Everyone quickly learns that it’s a space that is so fun and supportive they can simply allow the next line to fall out of their mouths. Then the delight and expansiveness opens up.
We’re starting up a new run for Improv for 2e+ Teens on September 18th, and I’m excited to share with SENG just how fun self-development can be.
I stumbled into Improv on the front end of the pandemic lockdown. Searching for ways to build trust and intimacy in online spaces, I sampled various groups, and one day found myself in a Second City, four-week class with the person who’s now a co-facilitator with me, Lisa Bany. I took several series of classes, joined the Board of Improv Therapy Group, and began facilitating Improv for Gifted Adults.
Within minutes, I saw gifted people who have spent the majority of their lives protecting themselves against the pain of being misunderstood open up and begin to play – spontaneous, trusting, and feeling free. This is why Improv matters.
“Improv may well be the first interaction wherein a gifted person feels their wildest response is the most respected. As gifted folk, we live a life riddled with expectations; in improv, total disregard for expectation is fully embraced and enriches the experience. It’s like a car wash for your sweet little neglected gifted soul that’s been covered in societal grime.” – I4GA Participant, S.Z.
When we’re in a room full of people who we KNOW are going to accept us and build on our contributions, there is a felt-sense experience of safety that’s often hard for gifted people to find. Over six weeks, these gifted improvisers get hours and hours of practice occupying a place of safety, spontaneity, and play. They can practice Yes, And’ing in their lives away from the classes, and they can feel what happens when we open up space for more connection.