The Dangers and Benefits of Patterns

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Humans survive because of their ability to analyze situations, relate them to a previous experience or training and react accordingly.  Our memories are powerful muscles.  In order to keep them fresh, we need to exercise them.  Improv does just that.

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Yesterday, I took a workshop led by South Florida’s own improv legend, now Chicago All Star improviser, Jeff Quintana.  It was a “Harold” type of workshop, but that wasn’t what it was to me.  Yesterday was about pattern recognition and the ability to justify anything that makes a connection.  It was about observing our conscious and unconscious choices to follow patterns in a scene.

We performed three scenes in a row.  All three were completely separate and different from each other in my eyes.  Different scenarios, different characters and completely different subject matter.  We finished the scenes and Jeff asked “What themes did you find?” As a class, we tried our best to make something up, but it was clear that Jeff had seen something that we all missed.

“Did you notice that every scene started with one person seated.  In that chair.  Almost in that same location?  And then the character needed a reason to stand?  Maybe to stand up and take status?”

That was 10 minutes in.  The flood gates opened and every single thing we did for the next 110 minutes made total sense and increased my improv powers by 10.  If that’s measurable.  I felt like an improv superhero.  I mean, that is until Jeff and his improv team “Denver” took the stage later that night, followed by the Groundlings and Messing with a Friend and pretty much everyone that we opened for, but for like 2 hours…. superhero.

The lesson was this.  Find the pattern, then find lesson.  Find the pattern, then find the theme.  Then you can use the theme to manipulate the pattern or demonstrate the theme with a new pattern.

What I think I was doing previously was identifying a theme, then trying to hammer my demonstration with artificial pattern making that my team couldn’t recognize because they weren’t involved in the thought process.  However, when were given the freedom to just “go” and discover the patterns together, it was really easy to know EXACTLY what we were saying.

It made me realize that in life, I probably do the same thing.  I have a premise or a thought or a theory and I go out into the world (let’s be honest, the internet) and I begin to find patterns or statistics or articles that support my point of view.  So, maybe instead of searching for articles that support your point of view by searching “Number of gun deaths in america”, why not search for “guns”?  Read what comes up in front of you.  Look for patterns.  Look for trends.  I promise that the simple input will generate such a spectrum of results, that you’ll be forced to read things that go against your current thoughts and if you do it right, you’ll be far more honest with your opinion.  Which, by the way, will still probably be totally different from someone else that genuinely tries to do the same thing.

Patterns.  Dangerous when you use them to support an existing thought.  Beneficial when trying to create an opinion.

Thank you Jeff.  If you’d like to see this improv magician at work and possibly do another horrible Japanese impersonation or be the oldest skateboarder ever. At 30.  See him and “Denver” on Sunday night at Just the Funny at the Miami Improv Festival.

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