I have an abundance of notes from the Applied Improvisation Conference a few weeks ago in Austin. Suffice it to say it was all-around great. I have to compile these notes for a meeting next week, but they’ll be too detailed and improv nerdy for most people reading this post. What would be more useful, I think, is to give you a series of impressions of how it was, how it went down…

I could have turned around and gone home. When I got to the Austin airport on Wednesday prior to the conference, I ran into my frequent collaborator, Jessie Shternshus, and her buddy, Brent Darnell, who’d been on the same flight from Atlanta. Before I got my luggage, I’d learned enough about e-publishing from Brent that, if I’d turned right around and taken the next flight back to L.A., the conference would have been worth it.

The humanity!  The full group presentations on Day One of the conference set the tone. Belina Raffy’s vision for healing the world with improvisation; Pablo Suarez’s desire to bring improvisers to the Red Cross/Red Crescent; Gabe Mercado and Mary Tyskiewicz’s work with survivors of last year’s typhoon in the Philippines…ennobled everything that happened for the next three days.

We took lots of pictures. No one can out-photo-booth improvisers. Large piles of food, refreshments, snacks went untouched, but we wore that photo booth out. I personally took pictures of 168 different improvisers wearing the same cowboy hat.

Gary Schwartz channeled Viola Spolin. Viola Spolin is the goddess of American improvisation. Gary Schwartz is her protege. He became her for a minute during his session. “You’re drawing us a picture. We’re seeing it and you’re not.” and “Save it for the coffee klatch, honey!” I could’ve sat there all day. and listened to Gary trance out like that. I love everything I know about Viola Spolin, and yearn to know more.

– Laurel Felt (and so did I). My wife, and co-founder of GameChangers, Dr. Virginia Kuhn, was on Laurel Felt’s doctoral dissertation committee at USC. Laurel conducted a session where we played a game called “Triz” that was about fast learning. It was cool. I had major feels to be in Laurel’s session.

– Everyone yes-ands. I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be around a couple of hundred people who are so expert in finding ways to connect. To agree and add. Who have so much game. It is like playing in the world’s biggest featherbed. You are so supported, so buoyed by the energy of the people around you, the experience was one of flying. You wonder why every group, every organization, every team can’t be like that. And then you realize it can. And that’s the work. Getting there.

The Barbara and Simo Show.  Dr. Barbara Tint of Portland, Oregon, and Simo Routarinne of Vantas, Finland, showed us their new training program. It’s a beautiful way of looking at leadership. These two are like Streisand and Siegfried playing Vegas. Very theatrical, kinetic, intense. There were cards involved. Their first client: Pixar, baby!

 Katherine’s reality improv. Our new friend, Katherine Kasmir, of Thousand Oaks, CA, does a program where kids play themselves at a house party, and parents can take a tour of the party to see what’s going on in their kids’ lives. Pretty damn awesome, I’d say.

Greta and Gerta, kidnapped. My housemates Jessie and Gina, who had taken to calling themselves Greta and Gerta, who said “Yes and” to each other in Swedish accents, texted me late one night to say they’d been kidnapped and were in Houston at an all night tech store. I considered this status quo for them and went back to sleep.

BigStory. I presented our BigStory model, which uses story to help our clients get more value out of data. As a result, I made several beautiful new connections. And isn’t that the purpose of what any of us do? I don’t care what your job is, that’s the purpose of what we do. Make the new connections. And make the old connections new.

Daniela and I had magic bugs in our brains. You had to be there. The amazing thing is that in a 5 minute activity, Daniela Kauer of Munich and I made a connection that we both insist will last the rest of our lives.

We fed the homeless. I think maybe it was Belina’s, Pablo’s, Gabe’s and Mary’s presentations on Day One that set the tone. Someone started it. By the last day of the conference, there was a lot of food for the homeless folks on the streets around the Courthouse. Loaves and fishes anyone?

I could have stayed forever. When Caitlin McClure got stuck at the airport on Monday after her flight out was grounded, she posted a notice on the Facebook page for any other improvisers in the airport to join her at Gate 18. Andres Marquez-Lara and I were the first to find her. Before long there were eight of us. It was one of those magical, unexpected moments that improvisers live for–turning the “mistake” of Caitlin’s mechanically defunct plane into an opportunity that became The Airport Session. Though I have to say, it made re-entry into the real world of Blockers, Deniers and Yes-butters that much more painful. So thanks for that, Caitlin ; )

Don’t believe everything you think. Buttons courtesy Patricia Colley.

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