Photo Credit: Stephanie Evelyn McKellar

Photo Credit: Stephanie Evelyn McKellar

By: Stephanie Evelyn McKellar

In the container of improv, anything can happen. Such are the very bones and basis of improvised comedy: it is made up entirely on the spot. Never before has this show been performed, never again shall it be revisited. The epitome of you-had-to-be-there experience, even the performers are unaware of what is about to occur between them when they step out on stage.

A typical improv show involves inviting a suggestion from the audience: an inspirational thought from which to run and with which to play for the duration of the improvisation. The performers display their tools of craft not by memorization and precision, but by demonstrating their prowess of being fully in the moment, of listening well and responding to that which is in front of and within them.

Improvised comedy is the practice of process, not of content.

The work is in the container-creation. In this container, the performers say yes and build piece by piece. They tap out and walk on, participating in the elaborate scheme and story unfolding before everyone’s eyes. The scene grows until a zenith of laughter is reached, then along comes the edit, a new exploration of play ensues.

Housed in this space lies an abundance of trust. Trust builds the container where the individuals come alive to themselves, their ideas, to the moment, and to each other.

It is tempting to relinquish this trust and try to control the entire process. In the process of control, rigidity replaces fluidity, life is squeezed out for predictability. In the container of improv we relinquish the practice of exerting control (over the other or the outcome) by embracing the practice of helping to co-create the container.

We are creating a container where people can grow, where bravery can be possible and practiced.

We are creating a container where courage and creativity are anticipated—we are preparing to learn something new, be surprised, challenged, impacted, and perhaps even inconvenienced or caught off guard.

While this may be uncomfortable, this space is crucial.

Give an employee the container in which to dream, imagine, and fail, and find a team player and capable leader who contributes to a nimble and innovative organization.

Give a child a container in which to safely explore, play, contribute, and share their ideas, and grow a human who knows how to love themselves and one another.

Give a friend the container in which to talk freely without being bombarded by advice or resistance, and discover a human who can find their way through difficulty, grief, and setback without losing their sense of self and resiliency.

Katey Rudd writes in "Unexpected. Interrupted:"

All of us, staff and friends at Missional Wisdom Foundation, are strange enough to place ourselves in this position every day, all day, because we have this wild vision that community itself is a means of grace. This sounds fantastic as an outward theology, that creating community opens an avenue for people to experience God, each other, and the world, no evangelical agenda required or desired.
The real kicker is this theology absolutely demands dedication to an inward practice of patience, grace, listening, and humility before community even hits the scene.

Our collective goal is to create a container for community to create itself. Easier said than done. There are myriad variables. This theology only has power if it effectively bears an ecology. (Ecology: The set of relationships existing between any complex system and its surroundings or environment.) Our theology in our contextualized ecology must be translated to momentary practice that has no end point for community to become our culture. We make space for the unexpected. We make space for the interruption. We don’t TRY, we ARE present.

This theology I’m also learning in improv: to nurture a container that is open enough to evolve, disciplined enough to be sustainable, welcoming enough to hold diversity and appreciate harmony among differences, safe enough to see someone emerge and brave enough to invite their contribution.