Improv in the classroom

Emma Holmes has been a secondary school teacher of English and French at the Phorms Campus München for seven years. Apart from her teaching career, the UK native is passionate about improvisational theatre (or improv, for short). She shares this passion with students, incorporating ‘improv’ into her lessons, and rightly so, because, as she explained to us in an interview, improv has positive effects on learning and students
Photo: Heinz von Heydenaber | 2018/2

What is improvisational theatre?

Emma Holmes: Improv is a form of theatre in which, as the name implies, the scenes are freely improvised by the performers – in other words, they have not been previously staged or rehearsed. Based on the imaginations of the actors and the associations they make, and sometimes also with the help of the audience, various scenarios are presented on stage. There are many different formats of improvisational theatre, short-form games, long-form and free-form, which can last an hour or more.

How were you introduced to improvisational theatre?

I have always been very interested in theatre and music. Since childhood I have sung and played the piano, and I began to act at the age of seven. Two years ago, I came across an English-speaking improv group through a work colleague, and was a member for two years. Now, I have created my own group called ‘That Improv Thing’ and perform with other English and German groups in Munich as both an actress and musician.

What skills do students learn in improvisational theatre?

Improv can help people progress in many areas of self-development. First of all, the students have to pay attention and listen attentively; if you are standing together on stage with people, and you are not listening and watching carefully, then the scene might well fail. Everyone’s contribution is important to the overall success of the endeavour, and you have to pay attention to what has already happened and to your counterparts. Another important aspect of improvisational role-play is how to deal with mistakes and this is perfectly normal, because nothing is perfect at the first attempt. In order to progress through life, you must be able to deal with set-backs and mistakes, and learn from them.

How can improvisational theatre be used for education?

This school year I am running a P-seminar (definition on page 22) for the Q11 cohort called ‘Improv your life’ with improvisational theatre at its heart. Many large companies have tuned into the fact that the skills one learns through improv are vital to developing a creative, modern and flexible team. I designed the course with this in mind and our aim, at the end of the third semester of the P-seminar, is for Phorms students to offer a three- to four-hour applied improv course in a corporate environment. By transferring the skills that they have learnt in the P-seminar, the students will be able to pass on the valuable techniques that they have gained through demonstration and by encouraging the participants to take part in a number of games.

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Photo: Private