Improv skills lead to success

Posts Tagged ‘David Mamet

Theatre, Sensationalism, and Double Standards

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Like many of you, I was surprised to see Lindsay Lohan had been cast to play the part of Karen, the manipulative temporary secretary, in a London production of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow. It’s not unusual for British actors to shoot a movie during the day and do a play at night, but it’s different for Americans and I think of Lohan as a movie performer. There’s a huge difference between memorizing a few lines (that might have been changed two minutes ago) for a movie shot and preparing to do a major role in a live performance.

Lohan’s performance during the first preview appears to have been a bit ragged. Reporters at the performance agreed that she was nervous and messed up a few of her lines. That’s not unusual for a first preview…it’s the cast’s initial run with civilians in the house and everyone’s nervous. The pressure must be even more intense for someone who is trying to turn her career around. Given Lohan’s issues, I imagine the production paid a substantial sum for insurance against her ability to fulfill her contract.

That said, a few flubbed lines is nothing to be ashamed of in a first preview. My wife, another friend, and I saw several shows in London just before Lohan started her run. A very well-credentialed stage actor in Great Britain, a play based on the News of the World phone hacking scandal, jumped his lines twice in about ten minutes. In Richard III, Martin Freeman, the beloved actor who plays Dr. Watson in the popular BBC version of Sherlock, mushed his way through a line during a heated exchange and closed with “…or something like that.”

Both Great Britain and Richard III were well into their runs (in fact, Richard III just closed), so there’s nothing to say except that it’s live theatre — things happen. No one reported the other actors’ errors, so let’s give Lindsay Lohan the benefit of the doubt for a while. If she’s still missing lines after the show officially opens, then we can complain. Until then, let’s hope she can model her recovery after Robert Downey, Jr. and enjoy some success after a long string of bad decisions.

Improv and Gamification: Meaningful Choices

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I’m taking the free Coursera course on Gamification, taught by Kevin Werbach from the Wharton School of Management. The book For the Win, which Werbach coauthored with Dan Hunter, mentions four basic elements of gamification:

  • Motivation
  • Meaningful choices
  • Structure
  • Potential conflicts

The second item, meaningful choices, is a foundation of well-being and self-esteem. Everyone likes to feel that they have some control over their lives — that their choices make a difference in how events turn out. Improvisers’ choices have direct and immediate impact on the show, for good or ill. Your scene partners can find ways to exclude you, of course. A former member of our group was a guest performer in another city, but the other players on the team apparently didn’t care to have him around. They were polite to him before the show, but after he exited a scene, one of the other players stepped on stage and said “You know the guy who was just here? I killed him.”

So much for collaboration.

It’s little better to have teammates ignore offers you make within a scene, preferring to wait for another player to come on and further the action. It’s hard to make progress when no one listens to you, even if you are the junior member of a group.

The same considerations hold true for the office. I’m not saying less experienced workers should be given complete autonomy, but they should have their opinions given a fair hearing. There’s very little that’s more demotivating than disappearing into the bowels of an organization and losing the connection between your work and a company’s success. Of course you can add points, badges, and levels to attach some (albeit artificial) meaning to their tasks, but Werbach and Hunter point out that it’s possible to gamify work unethically, in such a way that the “game” structure works against the employees’ best interests. Much like the sales competition in the movie version of David Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross (first place is a car, second place is a set of steak knives, third place is you’re out of a job), you can use gamification for good or evil. One of their colleagues turned down such a consulting assignment. Rightfully so.