Improvise Through The Holidays

improvise-holidaysThe holidays are here and that means that many of us are forced it to interact with distant family members we see only around the holidays, weddings, and the occasional funeral.

Small talk is dreadfully painful when all your great uncle wants to chit-chat about is the Bears or the terrible weather. Then there’s the cousin that still asks about your new job (even though you got that “new” job 6 years ago), your grandpa that just gripes about how things used to be better before Obama, and your grandma that always ends up crying when a family argument breaks out.

To help prepare you for all this, I’ve put together some helpful improv lesson reminders that can maybe make things a little more bearable this year.

The number one rule or concept we are all taught in improv is ‘Yes And’. It’s a principle that helps us with our scenework to help avoid arguments and that can also help us do the same in real life. One of the take-aways from “Yes, And” is that one should accept the reality of what’s happening right now and build on it. So during the holidays, accept the reality that your older relatives may be out of touch and your younger ones may be too in touch with their cell phones. You won’t be able to change that, but you may still be able to have meaningful conversations with them.

If relatives ask you a question or compliment you on something, build on that positive conversation piece and add value to it. If the question is about how your “new” job is going, tell them in a little more detail what you do at your job. If they are interested it will spark more meaningful conversation than if you simply answered ‘fine’.

Sometimes I am worried that I won’t have much to say to relatives that I haven’t seen in quite sometime, but chances are a lot of them have plenty to say, which brings me to another improv principle that can aid you this holiday season: Listen and React. Listen to what your relatives have to say about their families, personal lives, or jobs. When you listen to someone you haven’t spoken to in awhile you can learn knew things about someone you have known for years: new passions, new struggles, or new major life events.

Small talk is boring on stage and off. Being vulnerable can be the scariest, but best way, to move from small talk to more meaningful conversations.  Often times we hide ourselves behind small talk because we don’t want to expose who we really are because we think that being vulnerable opens us up to potentially getting hurt.

It is the holiday season with your family, so you don’t have to open up to the point that you come out to your Fox-News-fanatic grandparents or tell your hippie mom you don’t think GMOs are harmful, but you can open up in less jarring ways. Talk about something you love; chances are if you are reading this you have a passion for improv. Talking about classes you took or shows you are in can open a lot of doors for conversation and shameless self promotion of shows. It’s a win-win.

This holiday season does not have to be full of boring conversations with distant relatives. Get to know your family a little better and improvise your way from small talk to real talk.

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