Founder of Roses In Concrete, Jeff Duncan-Andrade shares his work with Improvisationally Speaking
Improvisationally Speaking: Episode 5 with special guest Roses In Concrete founder, Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade
Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade, founder of Roses In Concrete, a community school that serves black and Hispanic, inner-city youth in Oakland CA, giving them an educational opportunity that rivals it’s wealthy suburban private school counterparts. With classes in dance, music performance and arrangement, and athletics, in addition to the core curriculum. Jeff is a national keynote speaker and his council is requested by education departments across the country who are trying to build a more just, equitable education system for all.
Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien on Improvisationally Speaking
Improvisationally Speaking: Episode 4 with special guest, Seattle City Councilmember, Mike O’Brien
Seattle City Councilmember, Mike O’Brien has a tough but rewarding job. As a council member, it is his job to serve his constituency and to do what he knows in right. But sometimes doing both of these at the same time is impossible. How does he communicate effectively and effect the kind of change he is charged to bring to the city of Seattle while being under the microscope of the public eye? This discussion reveals some of Mike O’Brien’s methods, and they are surprisingly based on the principles of improvisation.
Have you ever fantasized about quitting the career you know—leaving the security and the comfort of a predictable life that you may lead and following your bliss…doing what you’re passionate about, knowing that your basic needs like food and shelter and clothing will be met…somehow?
Well, on today’s episode of Improvisationally Speaking podcast, we meet Nicoletta Crisponi, a woman with more careers than most of us have light switches in our houses. She’s a guerilla marketer, waitress, brand manager, au paire, translator, bartender, reality tv actor, entrepreneur, travel blogger and occasional babysitter. She’s made a career out of her life…and a life out of her career. She’s currently on a one-year trip around the world, relying on the kindness of her connections through social media out to four degrees which is her friends all the way through her friends of her friends of her friends of her friends for places to stay and local guidance through dozens of countries, eventually linking herself all the way around the entire world—from Milan, Italy to Milan, Italy.
From Improv Alive Studios in Seattle, I’m Julian Schrenzel, and this is Improvisationally Speaking the Podcast.
Julian: Nicky, first and foremost, you are on a one-year adventure around the world and I wanted to know: where are you currently? And where are you in your overall adventure?
Nicky: Currently I’m in Nepal. I just started two months ago, so I’m really at the beginning and ten more months to go to get to the end of my world tour.
Julian: Wow, so you’ve been on the road for two months and you have ten months to go.
Nicky: Yeah, exactly. Still a while. If I think about these two months, it looks like six months because in two months, I changed four countries and every two days, I change places, I change people and it’s just keep on going, keep on going.
Julian: Do you get tired?
Nicky: I am. A lot. Yes, because when you have to organize the logistics, get in touch with people and then organize, so it’s about taking picture, editing the picture, writing the blog, making the social media—it’s a lot of work. So of course I’m tired but I’m so happy that it doesn’t matter, you know?
Julian: Yes, I totally understand. This is a really interesting, um, I would not dare ask you what you do for your work or your living because I know you don’t like that, and I don’t blame you. You’ve done so many things, it’s dizzying how many things you’ve done from being a bartender to being a marketing specialist to being a business development manager to doing guerilla marketing to being a waitress and a translator and a babysitter…so I know that for you, it’s not like you have a career that defines who you are, it’s more like who you are defines…it’s the other way around, in my opinion of this. And I wanted to ask you something: I’ve done some research, I’ve kind of traced what you’ve been doing and what you’re passionate about, what’s your—how you build your life—and I wanted to know: everything that you do seems to have a structure of a campaign, and not surprisingly, that’s kind of what you studied and what you do. You have a real talent for developing a campaign around things and building that. And I wanted to know from you—everything that you’re doing being kind of around a campaign—it’s all about, the centerpiece seems to be about communication and it always seems to be about opening up your personal life to the public. And I’m wondering how do you decide what you’re going to do next?
Nicky: When people say, “I don’t want to be on Facebook because then everybody knows about my private life,” this is not true. People know what you want them to know. So I just put online what I think might be interesting and what is not so personal to touch my really personal life, so it’s half and half. And it’s true that it’s a lot about campaign because what I would like to do is create a very strong brand around myself, around the person I am. So to be the value of what I do. It’s not like…I really think that normally when people create something, they do for a good reason. And this is normally what I do and when I work with my clients, is this, is find what is the real meaning that took them to that point, and work on it and tell their story. And then try to do the same over myself now, to be that specialist that can make the difference. That’s why I work on campaigns with what I do.
Julian: Yeah, I see.
Nicky: Because for me, important point is explain people that I have a value. It’s not just the skill that I have, but it’s also the way I use them and the way I communicate with people and the way I do the things I do.
Julian: You mentioned a book called ‘Love Marks’ by Kevin Roberts that was one of the inspirations of the way you think about campaigns and branding, or not branding. ‘Love Marks’ really, the basis from what I was understanding is to create mystery, and to create—it centers around mystery, sensuality and intimacy built into experiences that are kind of the next thing. If a company wants to create brand, it’s not about creating brand, it’s about creating experiences that involve mystery, sensuality and intimacy. And I’m wondering, do you follow that when you do what you do and create campaigns for your life? Are you following the ‘Love Marks’ principle?
Nicky: Uh…not yet. I mean, I got into this, I discovered…everything started this way: I was starting services design and furniture design and I have this way of communicating things and they couldn’t give a name to it. And they couldn’t find a way to explain what I wanted to do. Then I just ran into this book that was explaining exactly that—that communication is about creating relationship with people and get this kind of empathy and empathy that can create connection. And this is exactly what I want to do. So it started from there. But now it’s more going with the feeling. It’s not just following a structure that’s made by someone because I’m not working under such and such, I still not meshing to that kind of structure, I’m still free, that of course, it comes from there.
Julian: When I looked at the…your blogging around what you’re doing right now which is traveling around the world using social media to find friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends and friends of friends of friends of friends—I think that’s four levels of connections—to find people that will allow you—to put you up, people that will show you around and people that will assist you in your way around the world. I know that you’re using social media. I know that you’re heavily using communication technology for social media, you’re talking to me today, and I’m wondering with all of the technology that you’re focusing on as such a central part of your travel experience, I’m wondering if you…does it take away from your focus on the experience and on a connection to the people that you’re meeting and the new experiences you’re having as you’re going along? Is there a sacrifice in focusing so much on the technical side of it?
Nicky: It’s half and half. That’s what I was telling you before, like it’s very tiring because of course, I have to create this first connection through social media and then I have to skip to the personal part and then I have to skip again to social media to tell the story that happened. Hopefully when you meet somebody, you meet somebody—I mean, you have a Coke, you have a beer, you have a chat and the mobile phone is no longer with you, until okay, now we have to take our selfie to put on the blog and tell the story. So hopefully no, hopefully I can still like half and half. But it’s very difficult because this is one of the main problems that can happen, that you’re with somebody having a coffee and it’s kind of talking with him, you’re looking at your mobile—mostly this is what’s happening today, but here, no because also when you’re traveling, all that input you have all around you are so many that it doesn’t make sense to look at your mobile phone.
Julian: I can imagine. I totally can understand that. I’m wondering: what role—I mean, you know improvisation because I know that you actually spent time doing some, building an event for Improv Anywhere in New York City which is a organization that enlists the use of many, many people to go out and just do something altogether that’s interesting or unusual. And I’m wondering what was the project that you coordinated with them and what is your personal experience in relation to improvisation?
Nicky: With them, I work on three projects. One was the mp3 Experiments. That’s one of the most famous things they do and then I went to the Black Tie Beach and Say Something Nice that was a project with the…I don’t really remember anymore…it was with a museum. So improvisation was half and half, like I think improvisation works very well when there’s a good preparation on the base. You cannot improvise if you are not ready to know what can happen and you don’t know very well the subject you’re doing.
Nicky: So with them, of course, it’s a lot of improvisation because when you have so many people coming out without really knowing what is going to happen, you cannot control them. What you can do before is to make a very nice plan and be ready to go with the flow and just find the best way to make accomplish. Because most of the time it’s exactly what you didn’t plan is what is going to make it special because it’s so natural and so unexpected that it’s also unexpected for you so people will feel it. And it’s how I think things should work. And it’s something that really is connected with my job also nowadays. I was talking the other day with a guy that, he said to me something like, I thought he was much more structured, but then I see that he is just improvising every time and it was yeah, he can improvise just because I got structure on the base because if I don’t know what I want to do and where I want to go and no plan a, b, c, d, e, I cannot improvise—especially when you’re a girl alone in the world—lost. So you cannot just, “Okay, let’s go.” You have a plan.
Julian: How are you, today as you’re traveling around, how does improvisation play a role in your day to day this year?
Nicky: If you want to know, it’s like eighty percent because one of the most interesting thing that I discovered, especially traveling is that if you have a plan, you’re stuck. If you just go with the flow, the things happens. Like for example, today I went out just to go and see a temple because there’s a very big celebration in Nepal for Shiva, it’s Shiva day so I wanted to go and see the temple, the big celebration. In the end, I didn’t see the big celebration and I end up in an engagement party. But this is part of the flow, like okay, you know what you want to do, so I passed through on the festival and I saw what it was about, but of course when I met a friend of a friend that was just around and he told me, “Ah, you know what, I’m going to this engagement party, do you want to come?” Of course, yes. It doesn’t matter if you gonna lose this party, I saw enough, but I’m ready to do something different. And when you travel this way, I just get to my host place, of course I know more or less what are the most interesting things to do in that place, but it’s just talking with people that you discover the most interesting things. And you just be ready to catch what is comes to you.
Julian: Totally. Do you ever have an experience, have you had an experience in your travels where you have had a situation that was negative to where you were able to work through it off script, as it were, in an improvisational way that turned out well, but perhaps would not have turned out well if you weren’t able to go with the flow and roll with it.
Nicky: I think, more or less, everything, but I’m thinking about something very bad, because you know, I’m a very positive person so it’s very hard to finding something very bad that’s gonna happen to me. I always find like something nice that’s going on. Something bad that turns…okay, maybe can be this…two days ago my phone got stolen, so I was completely cut off. I’m here to make my life on social media and telling my trip and I was without the phone. The good part has been that because I was so desperate—not really desperate but I was so sorry and I really wanted to find my phone back, I started talking with everybody because I understood that talking with people is the best way to let things happen. I started talking with everybody so now I have a nice story with a bad ending because I didn’t find my phone. But I got a guy that just dropped me on the motorbike and took me to the local newspaper and wrote for me a very heart touching message asking to my…please give phone back to this girl, she really needs her phone to work. And from there, this man just took me to the police office and also there I become like the girl that really needs to have her phone back so I have a nice story to tell, like okay, there are bad people everywhere, but if you just talk with people, they can be very helpful so I found this amazing man that just left everything that he was doing, he just said, “Okay, jump on,” he took me around and now I have my very nice piece of paper that I will keep for all my life to remember the day that I went to the newspaper asking please give me back my phone and of course, it didn’t work, but…
Julian: But it became something of an experience you’ll never forget, right?
Nicky: Yeah, this for sure. This for sure. And at least I know how they handle here. Like…and also I saw the difference between people because this guy that took me to the newspaper because he really believe that it’s possible to touch human soul with words and so convince them to give me back the phone. And there was other people that were just looking at me like, “You’re really desperate and like you will never find your phone again.” So it’s half and half, but it has been an interesting experience.
Julian: I want to ask you, do you ever have to worry about having what you need? In your work, which is so different in so many different directions, you don’t have a 9 to 5 job, you know, with a paycheck that’s steady, but you’re finding your passion and executing your passion and being able to get what you need, to get what you live on, I think based off of that…and I’m wondering do you ever have to worry about having what you need—money, food, healthcare—those kind of things in your work?
Nicky: No, because as you said before, I did everything. It’s not like I started from the waiter and then I got to manager. They are really mixed. Like I can be like a business manager during the day, and the day after being there giving leaflets to people. I don’t really mind. I think that, on the contrary, I think it’s very important because the day that I go out at six in the morning to give leaflets to people, I really remember how hard it is so when I have to organize this kind of job, I know how to handle with the people that are going to do it and I really remember that we should smile and take every day that our world give to us because it’s very hard to do. No, because I’m ready to do really whatever kind of job, I don’t mind because it’s not because I studied, it’s not because I got to some point that I’m not ready to start through the beginning again. Maybe what is going to happen after this year going around and blogging is that I’m ready to go and apply for a McDonald’s.
Julian: I’ll bet you are. To those people who might look at your life and work and coming from a steady paycheck, and kind of dreaming of doing the kind of thing you’re doing, but are scared to do that, scared to leave the security and the routine of that, what would you say to someone who was thinking about and wanting to do that?
Nicky: That this is exactly the difference between me and them. And between them and somebody else. If you’re not ready to risk, nothing will ever change. And of course you need to do it, but with cautions. So it’s not like okay, you want to leave and you leave. For me, it took two years to organize the trip, to find a good story to tell, to make all my presentation to find a sponsor. It’s…it takes time, but it’s a very good investment. So anybody can do it. If I did it, anybody can do it. The real difference is have a plan, really believe in it, work for it, and when you’re ready, just go. And just push to go because if you don’t do it, you will never do it. You just need to put a date, buy a ticket and then it’s too late to come back. I still had a problem with my ticket, I bought it last week and I start telling everybody I was leaving for a world tour so everybody was expecting this from me and it was too late to say, “Ah, no I’m sorry, I just changed my mind.”
Julian: You burned the ships, as it were. What are you afraid of?
Nicky: What I am afraid of? I am afraid of become too independent because I think that trusting people is one of the most important thing. But when you get used to count on you, all on you, every day, the risk is not be able to just live your life in the hands of somebody else at some point. This is something I’m afraid of. And I’m afraid that going very far away will keeping me very far away from my family. This is very Italian, I know. But it’s true, for us family is very important. So those are the only two things, that something can happen to my parents and that I can be so independent that I will be alone forever. Sounds good?
Julian: It’s hard to separate your traveling from your life, your work from your life. You kind of, your life is your travel and your life is your work, so my question to you is there, is a love and passion that drives you to be you and do what you do, and I’m wondering what is that?
Nicky: I think it’s the person I want to be. Maybe. Because if you really do what makes you happy, you have this kind of good energy that you give to the other people and you can feel it because, like right now, I have so many people that I just crossed through my way and I growing a lot with them, but I also feel they are taking something from me. Like what you saying, a good example, if I did it and I’m not special, I’m exactly like whoever else, so if I did it, somebody else can do. And this give you a lot of energy and makes you feeling very well about what you do. And also when you feel that you’re doing the right thing, you’re giving to your life what you are supposed to, you just feel very well. Three years ago, I had a car accident, just a car ran over me, and I ever been the person that I need to do today what I want to do, but after that, it becomes even more and during this three years that I was working on the project, I was really loving my job in the agency, but for me working is something that cures me. I need to have new things every day to let my mind keep growing, keep growing. And if I feel that I stop, it doesn’t, it doesn’t go anymore. So if it is traveling, if it is working, if it is whatever it is, I just need to have new information and new things that’s happening every day. So traveling and working are my passion because I keep on growing and becoming a better person, becoming the person I wish one day I will be because I’m still a lot to run. But sometimes I really feel that I’m going the right direction and it is happening where I have nice exchange with people.
Julian: Nicky, thank you.
Thank you for listening to Improvisationally Speaking where you can also find us now on itunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Next week, we are going to be interviewing Tessa Frost as our special guest. Tessa uses improvisation in her dual professional careers, one in politics on the Hill, as in Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, and the other as a singer, songwriter and performer. It promises to be an excellent episode 3.
This podcast is a production of Improv Alive LLC, Seattle, Washington. See you next week.
January 20th is swiftly approaching.. I can’t think of a better way to spend a presidential administration change than to focus on your friends, teammates or co-workers. ZIP-BOING-SCHBLAMY! is an attention focusing, teamwork centric game that is as ridiculous and fun as it sounds. If you can get your whole team in one room for 15-minutes this Friday, I recommend giving this game a try. If nothing else, you’ll have had 15 minutes of fun, smiles and laughter, and end up with a sharp, focused team!
This exercise is especially helpful for teams that are having a challenge loosening up with each other. Another great thing about Zip-Boing-Schblamy is that it completely stands on it’s own as an exercise. You don’t need a warm-up, give much of a preface, or anything. Just a team who is willing to give it a try. Giving your team permission to play a little, especially before a serious office meeting or client engagement can dramatically alter their mood and performance for the better.
ZIP-BOING-SCHBLAMY!: (a teamwork exercise by Improv Alive) All in a circle. 1 person starts by pointing to their neighbor and saying “ZIP”, this continues until someone makes an ‘X’ with their forearms and says “BOING”, thus changing the direction of the action around the circle. Finally, one can send the focus across the circle by clap-pointing to anybody other than their direct neighbor and saying “SHABLAMY!”
The new year is on our doorstep. Is one of your new year’s resolutions to lead more efficient, effective team meetings? SLAP & CLAP is an extremely versatile and fun corporate team focusing improv exercise that promises to prime your team for an energized and positive kickstart to any meeting. Taking it’s inspiration from PASS THE FOCUS (see our last blog entry), SLAP & CLAP adds an additional level of complexity into the mix, requiring a higher focus and concentration by each player. SLAP & CLAP is all about maintaining a CONSTANT, DISTRIBUTED FOCUS on each player while the game is in play. It is a terrific add-on to PASS THE FOCUS, to continue developing an ice-breaking, team bonding company culture. The greatest thing about this improvisation game is its ability to occupy your employees senses so fully, there is no option for anything but positive, joyus engagement, (which is what this season is all about, right?)
This exercise is especially helpful for teams that tend to get bogged down in negative dialogue in meetings. We suggest preceding SLAP & CLAP with PASS THE FOCUS, allowing your team to first become acquainted with the simpler version before attempting this slightly more involved version.
Engaging your team in or out of the corporate office in a quick 5-10 minute session of SLAP & CLAP, especially before an important meeting, or collaborative event can dramatically boost the energy and positivity of the overall experience. This game works equally well for Vice Presidents, HR Managers, Business Development Specialists, Consultants, and support professionals alike! Enjoy and Happy Holidays & New Year from Improv Alive.
SLAP AND CLAP:All players stand in a circle. 1 player starts by either slapping his RIGHT thigh (sending focus to the right), slapping his LEFT thigh (sending focus to the left), OR establishing eye contact and clapping once in unison with anyone in the circle (other than immediate neighbor on either side). Then that person either SLAPS or CLAPS, thus sending the focus on to another, etc.. The idea is to establish a rhythm and always keep your focus broad so you are open and ready to establish a connection with anybody in the circle to slap or clap in rhythm.
Company Team Building, Communication, Improv Alive exercise
Despite a most unfortunate name, this is possibly the greatest teamwork-fostering, ice-breaking, group-energizing warm-up improv game ever created. We at Improv Alive like this game so much, we try to incorporate it, in one form or another, into almost every business improvisation workshop we lead. Pass the Clap is all about shifting your focus from internal (introspective), to external (extrospective), out to the other members of the team. It is a terrific ice-breaker and bonding exercise, but the real power of this exercise is in its ability to cause each player to forget about how embarrassed he or she is to be doing improv in front of his company co-workers, and focus fully on what everybody else is doing, and how he can keep the exercise going!
This exercise is especially helpful for teams that are challenged communicating with each other. We strongly advise engaging your team in or out of the office in a quick 5-10 minute session of Pass the Clap before an important meeting, or collaborative event in order to start things off with an extra boost of energy and team focus. This game works equally well for CEO’s, managers, sales professionals, customer service reps, developers and librarians alike! Enjoy and Happy Holidays from Improv Alive.
PASS THE CLAP (aka: PASS THE FOCUS):All participants in a circle. Doug establishes eye contact with anyone in the circle and he leads that person in a single unison CLAP. Then that person makes eye contact with another random person in the circle and leads that person in a single unison clap, and so on.. the ‘Clap’ (or Focus) gets passed randomly around the circle. The idea is to establish a rhythm and always keep your body ready, your energy high and your focus broad, so you are open and ready to establish eye contact and clap on rhythm.For an additional challenge, try it while moving randomly around the space.
A great game for the tactile and kinesthetic group, The Knot is a great bonding exercise, and the only way to solve it is to work together, and to improvise..
The Knot: Everyone in a circle. All reach one arm into the middle of the circle (either arm), & take someone else’s hand. Then, everyone reach their other hand in and take the hand of another (nobody should be holding both the hands of another). Without anybody letting go of another’s hand, the group must work together to un-tie the human knot.
Your workforce is under pressure. Each employee is doing the job of two, and the responsibility feels like stress. You’re starting to notice a drop in morale, which goes hand in hand with a drop in workforce efficiency. Getting your leaders and teams to engage in improv at work is one of the best ways to turn stress to joy and boost morale. Here’s another terrific, easy-to-play game that breaks the ice, encourages a team-centric focus, and is more fun than a photobombing seal:
The Name Game is a simple, fun and effective game to be played by 6-30 people. Here’s THREE versions of it to try out:
The Name Game I, II & III:
Breaking the ice, Focus & Concentration (6+ people)
I. Everyone in a circle. Doug says his own name and points to Alice, Alice says her name and points at Brian.. until everybody’s name has been said several times.
II. Doug points at Alice and says her name, etc.. (if the wrong name is said, the pointed tells their name and we move on).
III. Begins by starting a rhythm (group snapping their fingers). Doug says his own name and Alice’s name, Alice says her name and Brian’s name.., hence passing the focus around the group in rhythm.
In early December this month Improv Alive began offering a Business Improvisation boot camp for Puget Sound area businesses to send their employees to, in order to learn and practice some new and different communication & collaboration techniques. There were Business Consultants, Life Coaches, Marketing Directors, Tour Guides, and even a retired Fish & Wildlife Scientist! 14 people in all, and the range of personalities throughout the group couldn’t have been wider. It was a fun and successful morning of play and learning, and the reviews were positive, but one review caught me by surprise. I share it here:
“I wanted to just share an observation about my experience today in Boot Camp: What I noticed was that there were quite a few extroverts (makes sense for tour guides) who were really into the improvisational opportunities. In the moment, I recall feeling a little out of place, and I recall kind of taking a back seat, allowing others to just go for it while I hung back. After the workshop, I spoke to a number of the other attendees, and each of them complemented me on how outgoing and engaged I was during those same exercises. Thinking about this, I wonder which one happened. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this?”
This feedback made me acutely aware of how differently one person may experience an improvisational engagement from another. An engaging teacher with a masterful lecture may take a fiendishly boring topic like.. Taxes, (sorry accountants), and create an intriguing lecture that inspires a diverse audience. The feedback would most likely be uniformly positive, the audience would have had similar praises and critiques, but they will all have experienced the same lecture.
In my experience as a teacher of improvisation for people who are not “improvisers”, this that the common experience phenomenon I mention above simply does not occur when one is engaging in Improvisation. The reason for his is that when one is engaged in the act of improvising, they are operating at an elevated state of consciousness, just as an athlete, or an artist is when they are in the midst of their performance. It’s called “the zone”. The person is said to be “in the zone”. When one is acting “in the zone”, there often occurs a kind of amnesic effect that literally changes, or more to the point, re-writes the participants’ recollection of the experience.
When leading corporate teams in improvisation workshops, I rely on the zone to help people overcome their inhibitions and escape self-judgment (because what difference does it make if they can’t even remember how bad or good they performed anyway?!)