Keynote at AIN Conference 2019

Dr. Holmes will be a keynote speaker at the Applied Improvisation Network Conference that is being hosted by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at SUNY Stony Brook. This is the hallmark conference for improvisational theater practitioners who work in organizational development, leadership training, and numerous other areas of life.

We share below Dr. Holmes' interview led by Beth Boynton thanks to the invitation by Jude Tredder-Wolf, AIN conference chair:

  1. What should people read if they want to understand your work?

You can hear what I say about my work. I have been having conversations with scholarswomen leaders and computer engineers. I invited the independent scholars of the Ronin Institute to “Create, Perform Life Theater." I spoke with Felicia Davis of the Black Women’s Collective on elevating Black women’s voices. I spoke with Drs. Kyla McMullen and Jeremy Waisome, hosts of Modern Figures about becoming a scientist and creating improvscience.

For those committed to reading, these linked articles from both mainstream and academic publications put my work in context: Nature article on Spontaneous Scientists, comments on Black Women in Computing and the academic journal article STEAM: Using the Arts to Train Well-Rounded Scientists.

  1. What inspires you most to do what you do?

I am inspired by scientists who are passionate and generous in their work. And I am motivated because many are limited by the techniques they possess to share their thinking and engage in productive dialogue, particularly when constrained by work hierarchies. These bright scientists have a hard time asking questions and sharing ideas and don’t know how to get around it. I help scientists work within these boundaries, and it’s by using improvisation. I’ve seen the change happen. Together we create an environment in which they can grow and give their technical expertise with their humanity. They become better communicators and collaborators. Their work, their lives and the world improve. That’s inspiring.

  1. What do you love most about the idea you are presenting/speaking about?

I love sharing the philosophy and the results of our work helping people talk confidently about things that they thought they could only say to themselves, or that they dreamt about but didn’t know how to bring into existence. I love sharing that it’s possible to build environments and teams that help people become greater at what they do, whether they are graduate students learning to speak about their ideas assuredly, women seeking to advance their careers or leaders of science organizations who need to grow and innovate. It’s what I’m working on all the time with my clients and with the folks who participate in the Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research conference that I chair. These are hundreds of professionals who are removing boundaries between science, art and the public. Some I work with directly, yet everyone leaves these environments having discovered a new lasting approach to their work.  

  1. What thoughts do you have about the conference theme: Communicating Beyond Borders and Barriers: Applications of Improvisation in Society?

I love the theme. Too often we see borders or barriers where they do not need to exist. In the world of science, it can be that our areas of expertise are different, so we don’t have a common language. Or that our work is done independently, so we go for long stretches without talking with others, and our conversational muscles are weak.  Building ensembles in science helps us move beyond our silos to be part of the larger world picture in a tangible way. The trick in communicating beyond is that to succeed we have to focus not on beyond, but on where we are, on the person in front of us who we need to reach. That’s where improvisation comes in. Improvisation in society helps us to see what we have to offer and supports where we want to go. Beyond.

  1. Favorite form of communication?

Does play count? We learn so much about one another in play, but I don’t think it’s formally recognized as a mode of communication. Otherwise, I love conversation. Short, meaningful, interested in one another conversation.

  1. Share at least 2 reasons why you think the world needs improv.

    1. Through improv people can see that it is possible to create new things in the world. Together, we can create more than we can imagine or do by ourselves.
    2. There’s a calming, caring experience that comes with creating things together. That is why improv can be socially therapeutic.
    3. Improv gives us the courage and the means to step out of our boundaries—both self-imposed and culturally-imposed. 
  2. What else are you doing in the near future?

Going to Japan! At the Global Faculty Development initiative at the University of Tokyo, I will teach about integrating improv in science education. Before that trip, I will be in New York City leading the conference: Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research. Artists, performers, scientists and engineers will be sharing playful, creative works in progress. We’re excited to be international and inclusive. I think together, AIN and CESTEMER, are a beautiful version of Arts and Science.