Some participants brought their children to our impro workshops a couple times (mostly due to not having anyone else to leave them with). Observing children in impro context made me think and I made a number of observations about the connection between impro and childhood.
If you have no clue what impro is, here is my “Beauty of impro” post.
Obviously, at first the impro-workshop-with-children experience was suboptimal. Children misbehave. They shout, run, make noises, completely ignore their parents and others, bump into everyone, get into dangerous situations. For me and others this was quite distracting at first.
Then I understood that when we are doing impro, we are in some sense trying to be like these kids. I.e. we are scared of disapproval and rejection and try to get over this. The kids don’t know the rules yet, so they are in some sense free and, thus, can do whatever they like. I noticed this when we were trying to play a game and one kid was shouting really badly. Imagine 20 adults trying to play a game and one kid just shouts loudly making the game impossible. After that the kid went through the group completely ignoring everyone. I couldn’t do that and still can’t. I can’t just shout loudly whenever I want. This is definitely more plausible at an impro workshop than outside, but, still, if I misbehave too badly, I don’t have “being a child” card anymore and others will just stop inviting me. I can’t just bother others.
Thus, I now call kids the gods of impro. They are constantly in impro mode and don’t care about others’ opinion much. They also lose this ability with time.
It was extremely peculiar to observe all of this during the workshop. I felt like other people were not that happy about the situation. At the same time, they were actually implicitly trying to become like these kids. They wanted to come on stage and come up with stuff and do something unplanned (even if embarrassing or weird). That kid was doing exactly that and constantly (without even knowing that it may be considered embarrassing or weird).
I did impro as a kid
Another observation is that I used to do something similar to the scenes we are doing now during impro workshops (I already mentioned this in my “Beauty of impro” post, I suspect that the idea there is actually coming from this workshop with kids). We would just gather together and then build some shared reality completely on the go. I have no clue how this could work, because it must be very hard to agree on something. E.g. one wants to play as some medieval knights and another as futuristic robots. But somehow it used to work.
It is extremely peculiar that I lost this ability so badly. I clearly remember that it was very natural as a kid and now it is so hard. I definitely enjoy redeveloping this skill through impro. However, it may be hard to find someone to “play with” (especially outside of impro).
Playing with kids is hard
At the same time, playing with kids for me now is extremely hard. Somehow I find them to be extremely unpredictable. They also don’t follow any rules. E.g. playing a game where I need to catch them and then they should catch me can be impossible. I catch one kid and they just don’t react at all and run away as if I didn’t catch them. This feels frustrating.
At the same time, I loved to observe how limited I was. I just had these rules in my mind - “catch game” - “I catch him - he starts catching me” - and I was following this approach precisely - as a script. I speculate that the kid does not have this yet. I don’t know whether they even understood the rules (presumably, yes, because they did catch others somehow, they just didn’t react to me).
So, yes, playing with kids is hard, but it is not their fault, but mine.
Impro is cool for kids
What was also very peculiar that in the end many people at impro can play well with kids (I am curious whether this correlates with impro experience). They could play the same game kids play (including shared reality) and at a similar level. Thus, impro workshops are in some sense cool for kids too, since playing such games with adults must be quite a different experience. I speculate that adults outside of impro community may struggle more with such games (or even reject playing completely).
Overall, I definitely enjoyed observing kids’ behavior during an impro workshop and their interactions with other.