It's February 2: Happy Improv Day!

It's February 2, and I've got my annual hankering to watch Groundhog Day, one of my top ten favorite movies. Unfortunately it's not available on Netflix Instant. Ah well. (By the way, what do we say about the experience of watching a movie over and over again... that's about living the same day over and over again? Deeeeep.) I'm at a conference this week with other pastors who received Pastoral Study Grants from the Louisville Institute. As some of you know, I'm studying improvisation as a practice for life and spiritual formation. You can read a lot about my interest in improv at this blog.

My project will be threefold:

  1. taking improv classes in the DC area and weekly intensives at Second City in Chicago this summer and summer 2017. I'm doing this not because I want to be an improv performer--I really don't--but because I'm interested in how improv provides a set of tools for creative, intuitive, and wholehearted living. I've taken a handful of improv workshops over the years, but I'm glad to dive into more intensive study and play. (It's hard. I feel like I'm all thumbs. And I'm having a blast.)
  2. interviewing people who use improvisation in their field of work: actors, engineers, jazz musicians, entrepreneurs, doctors and nurses, parents, etc. I'll also be interviewing various people who've had to improvise in their daily lives when things didn't go according to "the plan," whether in large or small ways. How have people said "Yes And" in difficult circumstances, and what can we learn?
  3. putting together these stories for broader consumption. I keep hearing good things about this new-fangled podcasting technology, so I'll be jumping on board with that.

So on this Groundhog Day, I've been thinking about improv. Meanwhile, people have been posting clips and images from the movie on social media. (Don't drive angry!)

And I'm realizing that the movie Groundhog Day is really a movie about improvising your life. (No coincidence that director Harold Ramis and star Bill Murray are alumnia of Second City.)

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It's always February 2. And there's nothing I can do about it.

Here are a few thoughts:

  • You can try to block reality... for a while. Phil lives in denial for a while, not quite accepting his reality. He tries to figure out an escape--remember all the attempted suicides? This is a very dark period for him, though there are moments of breakthrough too:

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  • But then you learn to accept. Ultimately Phil accepts that he's stuck in February 2 and he starts to have fun with it. Accepting something isn't the same as liking it, by the way. He makes the best of a bad situation.
  • The gift comes in learning to embrace--to "Yes-and." Phil lives life as fully as he can. He learns to play the piano, improving each day. He befriends a homeless man and administers a well-timed Heimlich maneuver to the town mayor.
  • Structure isn't the enemy of improv. It's essential. Phil understands the rules that govern his reality (even if he doesn't understand why it's happening--much like our own lives, eh?). And with this understanding he's able to make his way as best he can.
  • At the same time, it's usually a mistake to try and force things. Planning and preparation are fine and often necessary. But there's something to be said for learning to go with the flow. Remember that scene in which Phil tries to manufacture the perfect day with Rita? The previous day was effortless and fun, so he tries to hit all the same marks in order to recreate it: having a snowball fight, talking about all the same topics. But it becomes strained and creepy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-fyMqpuE0k

  • Improv, like a life well-lived, is other-focused. I'm learning that good improvisers don't go for the cheap laugh or the best lines. Good improvisers understand that their job is to support their fellow players on stage and help them to shine. Phil learns to love the people of Punxsutawney, especially Rita. He gives himself to their happiness and welfare. And only when he reaches this level of compassion is he allowed to get off the hamster wheel (groundhog wheel?) and experience February 3 at last.

So perhaps in addition to February 2 being Groundhog Day, it can also be Improv Day.

It's always your life. And there's nothing you can do about it. But that's OK. It can even be great.