I have recently been lucky enough to have a conversation with Ms. Connell about her new elective, Improv. I, along with seven other participants, am currently taking the course. Ms. Connell caught the improv bug when she attended a college orientation on the subject and has learned that improv can be integrated into everyday life. Along with her infamous saying of “yes and…” improv has taught Ms. Connell a number of skills.
DB: What exactly is improv?
Ms. Connell: Improvisation is broadly anything that you’re making up on the spot. Jazz music includes improvisation along with dance. The type of improv we are doing in the improv elective is called theatrical improvisation. Improv is a form of performing art were you create a dramatic situation by responding authentically in the moment instead of using a script.
DB: How did you hear about improv?
Ms. Connell: I was a theater kid in high school, I took acting class three to four times over the course of my high school career. During these classes we played theater games. Little did I know that these games were the beginnings of improvisation. The first time I went to see an improv performance was during a college orientation. I saw an improv team perform and I fell in love with it.
DB: What is your favorite thing about improv?
Ms. Connell: I really love the idea of group mind. When a team of improvisors work very well together, they can come up with scenes and ideas that no one person could come up with on their own. It is an inherently collaborative form of creativity.
DB: Why did you want to start an improv elective?
Ms. Connell: I sort of went from being a college kid who did improv to being an improv coach when I was at Millbrook, where it was an after school winter sport. I wrote my graduate school thesis on the connections between teaching and improvisation. If I could make everyone study improv, I would do it!
DB: What are your hopes for the improv elective?
Ms. Connell: My hope is that the eight students who are participating in it can catch the improv bug. Even more, I hope they learn how to listen, how to be brave, how to trust somebody, and how to earn someone’s trust.
DB: How do you hope to bring your experience with improv into the school and integrate it into the curriculum more?
Ms. Connell: You mean my master plan?! I believe improv immensely influences how I teach. It is really hard for me to separate improv from how I teach in my English classes or how I work with faculty. To me, improv is all about meeting another person where they are and moving forward together; that’s what I think teaching is about too.
DB: How can you relate improv to your life?
Ms. Connell: Sometimes you have to “yes and…” the things in your life. I have learned that when you practice accepting your shortcomings it cultivates resilience. I think that if you can’t rebound from someone hurting your feelings and you can’t listen to the people in your life then you can’t get anywhere. In reality life is far more high stakes than performing.
Ms. Connell’s bubbly and vibrant personality has allowed not only me but my fellow improv elective takers to learn so much from her. If I could say one thing I have learned from Ms. Connell this year it is the importance of valuing the journey of everything; that in reality, life is a big game of improv.
(Copyright 2018 Dylan Bentley)