Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You're the Expert pt.1

For the past few years, every semester, I have given a lecture/demonstration on improv to a Health Science class at SUNY Brockport.

I usually get up and write my name on the white board, introducing myself. But then I add "Ph.D." after my name, explaining that I have degree in "improvology." I continue adding other honorifics like, MD, MA (in astrobiology), Esq. throwing small snipets of information of why I have the title. I go to the front of my name and start doing the same with things like "Lt.", "Rev.", etc. Eventually, I stop and tell the class that at least one these thing up there is not true, polling people to tell me which one is the least likely to be true.

As soon as a person expresses doubt, I invite them to question me as only a person with that qualification could answer. (I learned this technique from watching the real Patch Adams give a lecture once.) Suddenly the class of doubters becomes silent. Most people are willing to believe that I am an expert at most things. Many times I get easy questions. Sometimes, I get questions that even the questioner does not know the answer to. (I usually call people out on that to prove that it's not a good question because I could simply lie and they wouldn't know the difference.) Sometimes, someone asks a question that they believe is a real stumper.

For those times, I usually have an answer--a confident answer. I was once asked to prove my "MD" status by answering "where is the best place for a subcutaneous injection?" From my little knowledge of Latin, I responded kind of flippantly, "under the skin." Some laughed, others rolled their eyes. I then followed up with the (right) answer: "bend in the arm." Most people were impressed.

I was once asked to prove that I was really a "Reverend" by naming all the books of the Bible. I paused, smiled, and waited long enough for the class to believe that they had trapped me. I then let loose a torrent of the books of the old testament... in sequential order. Pin-drop silence.

After "proving my worth," I release the real bombshell: I admit that nothing on the board is true... including my own name. I then explain why I do improv: "Because in improv, I always get to be the expert!"

1) does not mean you are right!
2) mean you have a bold opinion!
3) is based on observations of what you know.

It is this sense of being "wrong, but strong" that I believe is the most liberating act of improv.

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