Beginning a week of performance in New York.

I arrived in New York City on Oct. 3rd for a week filled with performance. It started with the class led by one of the Principals of Performance of a Lifetime, Maureen Kelly. The  class “Let's Improvise! Bringing Innovations in Ensemble-Building to Coaches, Teachers & Facilitators (and anyone who works with groups)” was one of the many classes and training opportunities offered by the East Side Institute. When I learned that I would be in the city for a class with Maureen I was very excited. Performance of a Lifetime has been an inspirational company for my work with scientists and the creation of improvscience.  As well, Maureen led the improvisation training for scientists and educators at the beginning of my National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Improvisational Theater for Computing Scientists . How exciting to be coming to Maureen’s backyard for a conference on performance (Performing the World) to which scientists and artists that had met through the course of this NSF grant were coming to share their own work. 

I walked into the building where two years prior I had been a part of the International Class of the East Side Institute. I was enveloped by familiarity and at the same time ready for something new. What would I discover in this class? Who would I meet? Mary Fridley a staff member of the East Side Institute, co-host of Performing the World, greeted me with a warm statement of “There sure is a lot of science at Performing the World this year.” I grinned large and proud. I have presented on technology and science at three of the previous PTW conferences, often as one of two or three sessions focused on the topics and the interplay of science, technology with learning. This year I was “bringing” and six colleagues to the conference as part of a panel, two of whom organized their own sessions. The panel and colleagues had been part of the culminating meeting, Cultivating Ensembles in STEM Education and Research (CESTEMER), of the NSF grant.  

There is much to say about the three sessions that grew in some way from the CESTEMER meeting, yet had their own roots. Stephanie Pulford’s work on Scientists as Storytellers is a developing trend in the training of graduate students and Jenifer Alonzo’s Science Alliance Live! Gives us another means of looking at and developing our relationship to science, public policy and education.  More on these in other blogs. What was tremendous beyond my own pride was the number of people and sessions that I met that I knew nothing of. 

Time warp back to the class with Maureen.  Grinning at Mary, waiting for the class to start, in walks a woman of energy, who sees me and nods in a most knowing way. I smile. We must know each other. How do we know each other? “I know you,” she says. I think. “Yes, facebook? LinkedIn?” “Yes, these and I know you because I do improv with scientists!” I smile (we know I like to smile), perhaps laugh. Wonderful! We take time to enjoy each other’s existence.  Helene Zinszner, a molecular biologist, an administrator, a project manager and an excellent improviser. 

We participate in the Let’s Improvise class with Maureen. We with others who lead and facilitate groups in culture change, personal and professional transformations, practice working with permission, dealing with frustration, and doing something new in our invitations and work with our groups. We improvised new beginnings to our workshops. What did we want to give our audience? what did we want to do new? I was happily envious and challenged by the verve that Helene brought to her performed introduction and importantly to the redirection. Helene and I stand in front of scientists and those training to be scientists. We have been taught in our careers to justify our credentials as scientists. Yet, that is the least of what we have to bring when we lead our workshops. Maureen, “I think you should start with you are an improviser.”  Helene took the direction. As she re-performed her introduction, she transformed her rich French accent and became before our eyes a new character, a character who introduced her without description as the wonderful improviser she is.  I want to be in one of her workshops!  

I had to go next. What a lovely performatory gauntlet. For those of you going to the SC12 conference and participating in the Broader Engagement sponsored Mentor-Protégé program, here’s a preview of the intro for the session “Building Functional Professional Relationships.” As we know, the sessions I lead often include at least one if not an entire session of improv exercises, where people interact with one another in games that stretch their creative, collaborative and social muscles. What my audiences do not necessarily know is how I feel about being in these kinds of events myself. So, possibly a little known fact, I do not go running, skipping and jumping to improv workshops, ice breakers etc. No, I sit and say to myself, “oh no…I hate this”. So, why, why, why do I do these? They are transformative! I am passionate about our ability to grow as human beings, as scientists (Shhhh, don’t tell. Scientists are human beings). Improvisation, performance, our ability to create silly faces, different characters, different ways of walking across a room, of saying hello, ways of disagreement and exploration while building with one another is phenomenal.  

The workshops I lead say: Let’s create science and science life together. Let’s Play!