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Improv in Focus

My improv team Crawlspace Eviction does a warm-up called “Pass The Clap” (very unfortunate name, I agree). The rules are very simple: 1) stand in a circle with your team 2) the person starting the exercise turns to the person to his right, they face each other, and clap at the same time 3) the person to the right of the starter then turns 180 degrees and repeats the process with the person to her right. This effectively passes the clap from person to person. After it’s gone around a few times, a rhythm gets established. To make things more challenging, allow people to redirect the direction of the clap by clapping twice when someone passes a clap to them. This action sends the clap in the opposite direction.

It might sound confusing in words, but it’s a rather simple activity. Or is it? Inevitably new groups struggle. Folks who say they don’t have rhythm will of course slow things down a bit. Some will make a joke about it and find ways to sabotage themselves or others. Those things are major obstacles to claps really getting going. Once those things are removed, getting to the next level requires that sought after skill: focus. Hank Aaron, the ball player said, “I think what separates a superstar from the average ballplayer is that he concentrates just a little bit longer.”

We often play a round of PTC before shows. It’s got a great physical component to get some energy into the group. The more important thing it does is get everyone focussed on a single task together. It forces everyone to put aside all other thoughts. All the thoughts of the day need to be gone. Even thoughts about the show, must be purged. To pass the clap at maximum speed, you have to focus only on that. And believe me, when this warm-up gets going, it’s kind of a spectacle to see. And, when it goes well, the show typically goes well. How do you focus your energy? There are so many distractions at your fingertips. How do you purge them all so you can focus on the task that you really need to do. Multi-tasking wastes energy and doesn’t yield the most effective results. What do you do to focus? How do you get in the “flow state” that all those motivational speakers talk about? If you don’t have a method, find one. If you do have a method, engage it.

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