Dinner and a Show: Set Your Table with Improv
This summer, Megan and I taught an improv summer camp at our school. We've taught similar camps in the past, but this year we invited younger students. We had a blast.
One of the highlights of the week was when a mom shared with me that her son who was in our class had brought improv to their dinner table. Each evening of the week, the young boy brought home the games and lessons of the day to share with the family. The activity brought laughter and lightheartedness, renewing the dinner table for them!
With busy schedules, it’s not always easy to assemble the family at the same time. Even so, family dinners are worth fighting for! Do you struggle with keeping the conversation going with your children or grandchildren? Well, maybe you need to introduce a little imagination and creativity.
Today, I’m going to teach you a simple improv game. But, first, what is improv? Improv is simply acting without a script. Improv doesn’t always have to be funny, but it often is! Actually, one of the rules of improv is don’t try to be funny. Learn the rules and the funny will come.
So here’s the game: it's called Expert. One person volunteers (maybe it’s your daughter Emma) to be an expert in something, and the audience tells us what that expertise could be by yelling it out!
St. Augustine grass.
There really are no wrong answers. Emma decides on one of them and now she is the expert, assuming the character.
Emma: "Hello, my name is Geraldine Pea from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I'm an expert in St. Augustine Grass."
Has Emma become an expert in St. Augustine Grass? Of course not! But one of the rules (yes, there are rules!) of improv is to assume competence. Practically, what this means is that once she becomes Geraldine Pea, you know everything there is to know about St. Augustine Grass. The words, "I don't know" should never come out of her mouth. Commit! Commit! Commit!
Next, you, the family, become the audience, and you get to ask questions!
Family: "How long have you been studying St. Augustine Grass?"
Emma: "35 years!"
Family: "When did you know you wanted to study this grass?"
Emma: "I was on a family vacation in St. Augustine, Florida, when I ran across the lawn of the hotel. As my feet sank into the tender grass, my heart just knew: I want to know everything about this green phenomenon."
Family: "What are some common mistakes that people make when trying to care for St. Augustine Grass?"
Emma: "What a great question! I recently answered this question on my podcast, "Green Machine." If you're interested, check us out on Apple podcasts. Anyways, here are three ways people accidentally kill their grass. 1. You mow too short after it's nice and long. This shocks the grass. Don't do that. It's like throwing dry ice on someone fast asleep in bed. 2. You put too much fertilizer on the lawn! Stop that! If you can't see the grass, you know you've put too much fertiliser on it. If people start asking whether you opened a dairy farm in your backyard, that's your hint. Finally, and this is the worst offender, you water it too much! You do realize that we're in a drought, don't you? Grass is a living, breathing, entity that deserves love and care."
Family: "Do you cut your own grass or do you hire someone to do it for you?"
Emma: "I hire my barber, Fernando, from The Shortcut on Bardston Road. He has his doctorate from Princeton and loves to cut things. And he loves animals. Every stray cat in his neighbourhood has a monthly shampoo and cut. Because he’s a proud artist, he buzzes his initials into every one of their bellies. Back to the grass - you should see him cut it! He refuses to use a mower and brings a long extension cord so that he can plug it into his electric clippers. It takes him four days to complete my 14 x 30 lawn, but after he's finished, it rivals the garden of Versaille."
That's it! Expert is a simple improv game that you can bring to your dinner table this evening. When someone is finished being the expert, let someone else try!
Remember, the improv rule: assume competence, that means we shouldn't hear the expert say, "I don't know!" Your coaching should be: “You do know! You are the expert!”
If you try this at home, let me know how it goes! If you like that game, I have more to share.
Dane Bundy is president of Stage & Story and Director of Fine Arts at Regents School of Austin, a K-12 classical Christian school in Austin, Texas.