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Groton business owner directs improv toward scientists, ‘others who want to have fun’

December 6, 2018

Groton — “The sky is green today,” asserted Bridget K. Brown, owner of StoryMatters LLC. Ignite Program Manager Emma Palzere-Rae replied, “Yes, and it looks like it’s going to rain.”

“The rain will come down in poodles.”

“Yes, and my cat will be doubly upset.”

Anyone remotely familiar with improvisational comedy knows that “Yes, and...” is the first rule, meant to signify that a participant should always accept the premise of another participant, and then expand on it. But Brown’s style of improv is not about comedy.

“We’re not trying to teach you how to be a character. We’re not trying to teach you how to be a comedian,” she said. “We’re trying to increase your ability to listen, respond and focus.”

This is the premise behind her class “Improv for Scientists and Others Who Want to Have Fun.” Brown, whose business offers workshops on public speaking, corporate storytelling and more, runs the free, public session once a month from noon to 12:50 p.m. at BioCT Innovation Commons.

Wednesday was the third time Brown ran the class, and nine people showed up. That included a former UConn School of Medicine associate dean and her homeschooled 12-year-old daughter, a local playwright, a software engineer and the owner of a health and wellness company. A few work out of the Innovation Commons but most do not.

Current or former theater kids may be familiar with at least one of the games Brown directed Wednesday: Zip Zap Zop, which involves passing the sounds around a circle one at a time without balking — Brown is big on not balking — or saying the wrong word.

One game involved participants simultaneously passing four imaginary objects — a red ball, green ball, wet cat and stinky baby — at random to others in the circle. The exercise emphasized the importance of eye contact, concentration and listening.

“I’ve had the stinky baby too many times!” lamented Susan Hackett, who works at the Women’s Business Center in New London.

Another game was a repetitive, collaborative recitation of the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme, in which each participant says one word, and can control whether the nursery rhyme continues to her right or left.

Participants entered the class on Wednesday feeling tired and/or hungry — their words — but were laughing throughout. Brown noted that doing improv can help improve skills like listening, focusing, thinking on one’s feet and speaking extemporaneously.

She struggles to get the involvement of the scientists in the building, who tell her they’d feel awkward participating.

But Brown said improv can help with “the ability to pivot to deliver their science, without dumbing it down, to people who might fund them, to people they might need to work with who are in a different discipline.”

She encouraged participants to come back at noon on Jan. 9, Feb. 6 or March 6, noting that it takes time to see the benefits of improv. (She also has invited people from Pfizer.)

“Improv is stealth,” Brown said. “You don’t realize it’s training your brain and it’s focusing your brain until you do a lot of it, and then it starts showing up in other parts of your life.”

Catherine Weber, the former medical school dean, said it’s good to be able to talk to another person’s viewpoint. Her daughter was interested because she is an aspiring actress.

Hackett feels it will help with the networking that is part of her job, and Kristin Harkness, the software engineer, commented, “I think getting people out of their comfort zone is always a good thing.”

e.moser@theday.com

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