Arts Entrepreneurship—Impro for People Skills

Now that the spring term here at Centre College is underway, I had a moment to sit down and read the January issue of American Theatre.  The essay, “Open for Business,” caught my attention.  It is about “arts entrepreneurship,” a growing field of academic study.  Arts entrepreneurship is basically about teaching theatre students business skills, empowering them to generate their own opportunities, and giving them the tools they need to capably promote their skill sets in a rapidly changing job market.  The professors interviewed for this essay talked about their arts entrepreneurship classes and projects assigned.  Their stories inspired me to blog about the “Impro for People Skills” course I just finished teaching.

Winter terms at Centre College are intense.  Three weeks, three hours a day, with a group of 16 students.  Not to mention my class took a 2-night field trip to Chicago to experience iO and Second City.  My course was offered as a first-year studies course.  So, all freshmen, most of which had very little theatre experience, quite a few athletes, and almost all Second Cityplanning to major in financial economics, government, behavioral sciences, or other fields not usually linked to dramatic arts.  The goal of the course was for students to learn and apply impro theatre theory, techniques, exercises, and games to enhance their people skills (i.e., the ability to authentically engage, collaborate, be flexible and spontaneous, take risks, motivate others, and to effectively deliver a story, idea, or product).  During the third and final week, this group of students partnered with and successfully pitched marketing campaigns, incorporating impro skills, to four local businesses.  After the “Pitch Presentations,” the students received positive, enthusiastic feedback from the business representatives in attendance.  And several of the marketing ideas are going to be employed, although this project was certainly more about process than product.  On the last day of class, after our wrap-up discussion, I had planned on letting everyone leave a little early, but no one wanted to leave!  Instead, we ended up playing a combination of impro games and staying 20 minutes over our scheduled class time!

This experience reminded me, once again, of the power of theatre.  In just three weeks, this group of non-theatre majors had become a team that could dynamically and spontaneously collaborate, create, and present together using improvisational theatre methods.  It is no wonder business schools, major corporations, and community organizations are increasingly applying impro and dramatic techniques to their training and processes.  As the article in American Theatre suggests, theatre educators should empower theatre students to utilize their skill sets in diverse ways and encourage them to connect/collaborate with students in other disciplines.  I am so thrilled I had the opportunity to teach my “Impro for People Skills” course at Centre College and I am really looking forward to creating future courses with an “arts entrepreneurship” focus.