Crossing the Threshold of Normal

imageLast week’s ICE CaPS event was Improvisation with Fr. DavidCregan. Fr. David is the Department Chair of Villanova’s Theatre program. Having worked as a professional actor in NYC, studied Irish Theatre and Film, authored published pieces on acting and taught acting classes, it is an understatement to saycreativity has been an important part of his life.

Fr. David took the ICE cappers through a progression of activities. The first was simply shaking out their arms and legs while reciting numbers. The next involved having the participants respond to a series of commands, ranging from running around the room to following a particular person. These first two activities were aimed at loosening everyone up and heightening the energy of the room.  They were important Fr. David explained, because often students’ have the mentality that they should not be “wild.” They are encouraged by academia tostay within the boundaries deemed “normal,” often hindering their creativity. However, the point of improvisation is to allowoneself to go beyond these boundaries and let whatever words or actions that came to mind take place. So, Fr. David’s goal was to get students to push past “normal.”

After having thoroughly warmed up, Fr. David asked the participants to assemble into a series of small groups. He then handed each group a mask. He gave them one simple instruction: One at a time, put on the mask and act however the mask calls you to act. It was fascinating to see how each student behaved. Some almost immediately took the mask off; most made very subtle movements and a select few made more drastic movements, such as skipping. The boundaries which Fr. David had spoken about were visually apparent in the students’ actions. They exercised a clear restraint to stay within “normal,” very hesitant to act in a way which seemed extreme in any way.

Lastly, students partook in improvisation. Fr. David selected two volunteers and briefed the entire group on the situation: who each person would be playing, where the scene was taking place and a general gist of what was taking place. Then, he gave each person in the scene a different goal, unknown to both the audience and the opposing member in the scene. The scene then played out. In the first scene, two old friends were running into each other after having not seen one another since high school. The boy’s goal was to get the girl to go on a date with him. Conversely, the girl’s goal was to not go on a date with him. As the scene played out, it was interesting to see how each participant reacted and adjusted his/her approach to meet their differing goals.

This improvisation was the climax of the session. After having participated in the previous activities, students were a bit more comfortable with exploring their creativity. Fr. David’s methods had worked.

Beyond having learned ways to bring energy to a room or conduct a successful improvisation, the most valuable thing students gained was an awareness of their own boundaries. Fr. David acknowledged the risks we often feel when pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone. However, it is a risk worth taking every time. In fact, making the decision to cross the threshold of normal to creative is a decision we should welcome. It is a decision that allows us to express ourselves and think in a more dynamic and innovative way. So, next time you are faced with a difficult problem to solve or a situation which seems outside your comfort zone, ask yourself, am I crossing the threshold of normal?