We have all heard the adage, “The most important things in life are not things.” This sentiment applies to improv and really good scenes. I have also found a way to apply this adage to really good parenting, I hope. As I started taking improv classes, and watching student shows, I noticed scenes got really boring when the performers only talked about stuff and things. This is especially noticeable in so-called “teaching scenes” when the focus is on a process instead of people. The more classes I took, the more I tried to notice what made professional improvisors so interesting in their scenes. One thing stood out: they made statements about their feelings and relationships - the “who’s” and “why’s” of a scene, not just the “what’s.” My favorite scene was set in space. The two players went through an elaborate process to enter a space ship through an air lock. But instead of focusing on the cool process and their surroundings, one player simply stated, “I love you!” This made the scene so much more compelling, and so much funnier! It was a perfect illustration of the principle that focusing on your feelings and the relationship with your scene partner really improves entertainment quality. Of course these principles are true in real life. When we focus on how we treat others, and improving our relationships, everything gets better. After taking improv classes, and watching “the pros,” I realized many of my conversations with my children related to stuff and things. It was only through improv classes that I began to analyze this situation. When I asked my children to quickly do their chores, the subtext was "please respect me." When they were lazy, my disappointment was not about the work not done. It was about their relationship with me. Still, we would fight and argue about the messy room (stuff and things), even though the real issue was our relationship. (And if you want more info on how I improved our relationship, read my post about Match, Mirror, Duplicate).
Have you ever fought with your kids about stuff? Maybe you fight about the clothes they wear or the stuffed animals they insist on dragging everywhere. I have. Rehashing the same argument about stuff is exhausting and frustrating. Our family life greatly improved when I focused on my relationship with my kids and the question why.
My boys never wanted to dress up. They wanted to wear workout shorts and sneakers everywhere. Sometimes I would insist that a special outing required different clothing. I finally made progress when I explained to my boys why. I explained that we need to show respect for their sister and the play she is in. I focused on their relationship with her. I explained why we wanted to dress up for her show. Dressing up showed her and others that we respect and love her. When they understood that, they were willing to wear less comfortable, more formal clothes (thank goodness!). It warmed my heart when one son eventually insisted, “I have to wear this shirt, mom, to show respect for my friends.” Whether on the improv stage or parenting at home, it’s not about the stuff and things. Focusing on the relationship makes shows (and life!) more interesting, fosters progress, and helps everyone be happy.
Sarah (front center) with her Arizona long-form improv team Hot Girl Summer shortly before the team's first improv festival.